WA’s health and safety regulator started delving into fresh claims of asbestos exposure at the Sino Iron operation in the Pilbara just two days after rejecting calls to heighten its scrutiny of the $23.5 billion mine’s decontamination procedures. In correspondence provided to WorkSafe and sighted by The West Australian, a contractor at the CITIC Pacific Mining-owned magnetite iron ore project “strongly believes” there is a “mismanagement of the asbestos risk” on site. It includes claims Chinese-owned CITIC often turns a blind eye to workers not wearing respirators because the heat and conditions in the pit make it “impossible” to do so. The complaint also notes that CITIC employees have vehicles fitted with specialised air filters to enter the asbestos danger areas, but contractors are expected to use their own vehicles. A spokesman from CITIC confirmed that vehicles without a filtration unit are allowed in designated areas, on the basis that respiratory protection is always worn by those in the vehicle. “All employees and contractors are made fully aware of fibrous material risk management procedures and their responsibilities as part of the site access induction process,” the spokesman said. The contractor alleges that the use of respirators “does not mitigate the risk of asbestos fibres entering the vehicle filtration system and cabin area to be inhaled” once respirators are removed when the vehicle is taken offsite for other jobs or to be serviced. On December 21, The West was made aware of the claims from the contractor at Sino Iron. A day later a WorkSafe spokesman told The West it was “following up on” the concerns raised by the contractor. WorkSafe confirmed late on Wednesday it was still assessing the concerns. These claims are separate to revelations from The West on December 19, which detailed fears from some workers at Sino Iron regarding the lack of adequate asbestos decontamination procedures, given the high risk of exposure at the mine. This included reports of workers returning to camp still wearing potentially contaminated clothing or without having properly cleaned themselves. WorkSafe acting commissioner Sally North last month maintained Sino Iron complies with the relevant industry standards for worker exposure to asbestos. “WorkSafe will continue to monitor exposure and health information from the site, and will assess asbestos control compliance during inspections,” she told The West on December 21. WorkSafe previously disclosed that 151 samples were taken from workers at Sino Iron to test for fibrous minerals — which includes asbestos — in 2023, with 16 coming back as having “exceeded the workplace exposure limit”. In comparison, none of the 260 samples last year from WA’s largest iron ore producer — Rio Tinto — indicated exposure beyond the limit. The Sino Iron operation 100km south-west of Karratha has about 3000 direct employees and contractors on site. Australian Workers Union WA secretary Brad Gandy last month said the union was aware of recent asbestos issues at Sino Iron and called for CITIC to review its asbestos processes, which includes decontamination procedures. Asbestos concerns are not new to Sino Iron. In 2009, around 150 workers walked off the job amid fears of being exposed to the deadly mineral. According to Healthdirect Australia, the severe lung diseases and cancers associated with asbestos exposure generally take between 15 years and 40 years to develop.