WorkSafe ACT shuts down Hume recycling centre over fire hazards

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ACT work safety commissioner Greg Jones described the safety breaches as “significant”.

“Due to the amount of flammable materials in the premises and the presence of fuel and gas there are significant fire safety issues for workers in the plant. That’s our primary concern and the primary focus of the remediation work,” Mr Jones said.

Plastic piled outside the Hume recycling centre on Monday. The centre was forced to shut on Thursday due to serious safety concerns. Credit:Jamila Toderas

“The secondary safety issues in terms of the protective guards and other mechanical protections around machinery also need to be addressed by the operators of the plant before it becomes safe for workers and WorkSafe allows the plant to be reopened.”

Recycled materials from Canberra’s yellow lid bins will be stockpiled at the Mugga Lane tip until the centre reopens.

Mr Jones said the yellow lid bin collections should not be affected at this stage.

“My understanding is yellow bins with recycled materials are still being collected and stockpiled at Mugga pending the reopening of the site so they can be processed as normal so the impact to the public at this stage is minimal,” Mr Jones said.

“It’s hard to estimate how long the remediation work will take but we’re hopeful all major work will be completed by the end of this week however WorkSafe will not allow the plant to reopen until it’s safe for the workers to return.”

However a City Services directorate spokeswoman said bin collections in Gungahlin and Franklin were delayed for 24 hours last Friday because of the shut down.

Collections have resumed as normal and the Container Deposit Scheme remains unaffected, she said.

“All public waste and recycling facilities remain open. The ACT Recycling Drop Off Centres are available to drop off excess household containers and packaging, including plastic, glass, paper and cardboard only. We encourage residents and businesses to take excess rubbish to the Mitchell and Mugga Lane Resource Management Centres,” she said.

Re.Group’s managers came to Canberra from Brisbane over the weekend to deal with the crisis and are understood to be cooperating with WorkSafe’s investigation.

Chief Development Officer Garth Lamb said a combination of issues led to the site being under increased pressure.

“This has included reduced markets for mixed plastic, which are only 1-2 per cent of what we produce, but which have been building up in recent months,” Mr Lamb said.

“Over the festive season it is also harder to arrange the transport of other recycled materials to local markets.”

Mr Lamb said there had been no incidents or injuries at the recycling centre despite the breaches.

“Our team has been working with WorkSafe ACT to understand and address some concerns raised with us late on Thursday night,” he said.

“We are committed to the safety and well-being of our workforce. We have taken the recommendations from Worksafe seriously and we will update our operating and housekeeping procedures so as to avoid these concerns in the future.”

The materials recycling facility processes around 60,000 tonnes of rubbish each year.

The centre underwent an $8 million upgrade just 18 months ago which allowed glass bottles processed at the facility and turned into sand to be used in road bases and concrete mixes.

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.

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