The Commission of Audit report has swung the spotlight onto the state of CSIRO’s workplaces, with a finding that the organisation faces a funding shortfall of $175 million over ten years, just to keep properties and buildings up to code.
However, management’s response to media reporting of the issue has raised serious questions regarding the safety risks some facilities may pose to CSIRO staff.
“CSIRO’s assets include 1,000 buildings at 54 locations. A comprehensive review in 2011-12 assessed 83 per cent of CSIRO buildings as needing significant maintenance to preserve operational capability. In addition to budgeted repairs, an additional $175 million in maintenance expenditure is needed over the next ten years to maintain CSIRO properties to meet external compliance requirements and certification standards,” the report claims.
The Commission of Audit has recommended that the Federal Government establish a new centrally managed provision to fund major capital assets, from which agencies can seek funding as part of the Budget process.
Subsequent media reporting on the state of CSIRO properties focussed on an incident last September that occurred at Floreat site in Western Australia.
Suddenly and without notice, a whole section of a brick wall fell from the top section of the building’s facade, crashing into the car park below. It is thought the incident occurred at night, over a weekend when – luckily – no CSIRO employees or members of the public were present.
Repair work on the damaged building only commenced just before Easter – some six months after the accident – during which time safety assessments of the other buildings at Floreat was conducted.
Responding to the media, CSIRO management said they were “working hard to address our property needs so our science continues to thrive.”
However, in their comments to the media, management raised the spectre that a “significant number” of CSIRO workplaces may pose safety risks to staff.
“We assessed the condition of our properties and identified that a significant amount of [CSIRO properties] presented a high operational or health and safety risk,” management’s statement said.
Staff Association National Organiser Paul Girdler described the admission as concerning and wrote immediately to CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Megan Clark with a number of urgent questions.
“Which CSIRO properties present a high operational or health and safety risk? Can the Staff Association please be provided with a copy of the operational and OH&S assessment of CSIRO properties quoted in the report?” Mr Girdler wrote.
“What is being done to investigate the serious incident at CSIRO Floreat including what measures are being put in place to ensure such a serious accident does not reoccur?”
The Staff Association has also sought clarification over management’s comments to the media that CSIRO is “looking to consolidate sites and buildings in capital cities.”
“Is there any consolidation of sites outside that already proposed for Black Mountain and Clayton?” Mr Girdler asked.
A written response is being sought by management no later than close of business, Friday 9 May 2014.