Asbestos impacts services at South Perth DPIRD site

Liz Wells July 2, 2024

The WA Government’s DPIRD site in South Perth is offering limited services following the detection of asbestos in tests conducted in mid-June. Photo: DPIRD

RESULTS from recent asbestos tests have prompted the Western Australian Government to temporarily suspend normal research, technical and administrative services at one of its key metropolitan sites.

Located at 3 Baron-Hay Court, South Perth, it is home to a raft of Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development services spread across multiple buildings.

Divisions impacted since mid-June include DPIRD Diagnostics and Laboratory Services (DDLS), which conducts animal pathology tests related to both routine procedures, and to suspect exotic and reportable diseases.

The closure has also impacted milling, baking, testing and tasting at the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre’s only facility outside Sydney.

Long-running issue

Some buildings on the DPIRD site are believed to date back to the World War II era, and the presence of asbestos has long been of concern.

Sources have said the WA Government ultimately hopes to sell the site for redevelopment, and has been scaling down occupancy, including the 2021 relocation of more than 100 administrative positions from South Perth to a modern office block in East Perth.

In December 2022, the WA Government announced that $320 million had been allocated to the building of a new DPIRD Biosecurity and Research Facility at Murdoch University main campus, around 8km away, ostensibly to rehome services currently based at South Perth.

A number of agencies have also been based at the South Perth site.

They include Safe Farms WA, which earlier this year relocated to the adjacent Bentley Technology Park.

DPIRD response

A DPIRD spokesperson said the health and safety of those at the South Perth facility, including departmental staff, external stakeholders and contractors, was DPIRD’s top priority.

While numbers at South Perth vary, more than 300 people were on site prior to the decision to restrict access as of close of business on June 14.

“DPIRD made the decision to restrict access to the South Perth facility…as a precautionary measure to ensure the safety and wellbeing of staff and those who use the site,” the spokesperson said.

“This decision was based on results received from recent testing for asbestos on site, as part of an ongoing testing program.”

The spokesperson said DPIRD responded quickly in making this decision and was undertaking further assessments, including working closely with WorkSafe.

“This will guide future decisions in respect to use of the site.

“DPIRD is working as a priority to identify alternative arrangements for staff and services.”

From June 18, some staff have been able to safely access specific facilities at the site, allowing for some activities and laboratory services to resume.

“DDLS is receiving priority diagnostic samples and is working directly with clients to make arrangements for this.”

AEGIC move possible

As a partnership between DPIRD and industry body Grains Australia, AEGIC is slated to move into facilities being purpose-built at Murdoch University as part of the DPIRD move.

AEGIC’s operations at South Perth are conducted in three separate buildings, each housing specialist equipment, and concerning levels of asbestos are not believed to have been detected in those spaces.

AEGIC is unable to use its technical equipment at South Perth until further notice following the asbestos-related shutdown.

AEGIC’s temporary loss of access to the South Perth site could see it opt to relocate its equipment in the interim in order to continue its important work for the Australian grains industry and its export customers.

“As of early July, we have secured an alternate site for AEGIC’s Perth office staff,” AEGIC executive general manager Courtney Draper said.

“Progress is being made on finding alternative arrangements for AEGIC’s Perth-based technical operations.”

“AEGIC’s incident management team is working with DPIRD and relevant stakeholders to prioritise critical activities and minimise disruption to our work, and staff are continuing to deliver value for our grains industry stakeholders.

“We are continuing to work with DPIRD regarding the South Perth site.

“Discussions are ongoing.”

A DPIRD spokesperson said that as of July 3, air monitoring and surface sampling has returned results within allowable limits in buildings and laboratories used by AEGIC.

Limited lab services available

The latest notification from DDLS was posted on June 19, and said all DDLS services were currently suspended.

“The department is working to restore services as quickly as possible,” the notice said.

“Unfortunately, some services may experience ongoing disruptions for some time.

“While direct provision of DDLS services remains suspended, we are now able to receive samples that have been triaged by us for priority testing.

“Our current focus is to confirm or exclude notifiable pests and diseases.”

DPIRD clients have been asked not to send samples to South Perth unless specifically advised to by DDLS staff.

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