Seanad Éireann – 17th July 2020 – Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Exposure Scandal

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell (Independent)

Watch Senator Gerard Craughwell request that the speaker of the Irish Senate invite the head of the State Claims Agency before senators in the Upper House to explain why NAMA / NTMA / SCA have ignored an order of the Irish Supreme Court to provide critical toxic chemical exposure data to a former Irish Air Corps technician.

The technician is one of a number of seriously injured Irish Air Corps personnel who are taking legal action against the state alleging non existent chemical health & safety at the Irish Air Corps at Casement Aerodrome.

The data was originally requested in 2013 and has delayed legal cases for 7 years. 32 personnel have died young since the data was requested bringing the untimely death body count to 78 personnel with an average age 50 years.

A third of the deaths are cancer, a third are cardiovascular and a fifth (15) suicide. #DelayDenyDie 

Particulate matter from aircraft engines affects airways

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), seven million people worldwide die as a consequence of air pollution every year. For around 20 years, studies have shown that air-borne particulate matter negatively affects human health. Now, in addition to already investigated particle sources like emissions from heating systems, industry and road traffic, aircraft turbine engine particle emissions have also become more important.

Photo of Alouette III No 196 showing soiling of the tail boom with soot from exhaust gasses.

In a unique, innovative experiment, researchers have investigated the effect of exhaust particles from aircraft turbine engines on human lung cells.

The cells reacted most strongly to particles emitted during ground idling.

It was also shown that the cytotoxic effect is only to some extent comparable to that of particles from gasoline and diesel engines.The primary solid particles, i.e. those emitted directly from the source, have the strongest effect on people in its immediate vicinity. 

Now a multidisciplinary team, led by lung researcher Marianne Geiser of the Institute of Anatomy at the University of Bern, together with colleagues from Empa Dübendorf and the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW), has shown that primary soot particles from kerosene combustion in aircraft turbine engines also cause direct damage to lung cells and can trigger an inflammatory reaction if the solid particles are inhaled in the direct vicinity of the engine.

The researchers demonstrated for the first time that the damaging effects also depend on the operating conditions of the turbine engine, the composition of the fuel, and the structure of the generated particles.

Beechcraft 200 Super King Air No 240 showing soiling of the engine panels with soot from exhaust gasses.

Extremely small particles in the nanoscale range

Particles emitted from aircraft turbine engines are generally ultrafine, i.e. smaller than 100 nm. By way of comparison, a human hair has a diameter of about 80,000 nm. When inhaled, these nanoparticles — like those from other combustion sources -efficiently deposit in the airways. In healthy people, the well-developed defense mechanisms in the lungs normally take care of rendering the deposited particles ineffective and removing them from the lungs as quickly as possible.

However, if the inhaled particles manage to overcome these defense mechanisms, due to their structure or physico-chemical properties, there is a danger for irreparable damage to the lung tissue. This process, already known to researchers from earlier experiments with particle emissions from gasoline and diesel engines, has now also been observed for particle emissions from aircraft engines.

Toxicity depends on the operating conditions of the turbines and the type of fuel

Evidence of increased cell membrane damage and oxidative stress in the cell cultures was identified. Oxidative stress accelerates ageing of cells and can be a trigger for cancer or immune system diseases.

Overall, according to the researchers, it has been demonstrated that the cell-damaging effect caused by exposure to particles generated by the combustion of gasoline, diesel and kerosene fuel are comparable for similar doses and exposure times.

Additionally, a similar pattern was found in the secretion of inflammatory cytokines after exposure to gasoline and kerosene fuel particles.

Aerosols: distance from the source is crucial

Aerosols are the finest solid or fluid substance suspended in the air. In combustion processes, the composition of ultrafine particles is highly variable. In addition, aerosols are unstable, and they are modified after their formation. Primary ultrafine solid particles have a high diffusion velocity. As a result, at high concentrations such particles either stick together or attach to other particles. Therefore, the effect of primary ultrafine particles depends on the distance from the source, implying that there is a difference depending on whether a person is close to the source (such as people at the roadside ) or at a greater distance (aircraft taxiing or taking off). Further research is needed to clarify how strong the impact would be at a greater distance from an aircraft engine

Read full article in ScienceDaily

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The layout of the Irish Air Corps base at Casement Aerodrome ensures that aircraft exhaust gasses are blown over populated sections of the airbase when winds are from the south, south east or south west. This includes hangars, offices, workshops and living in accommodation such as the apprentice hostel and married quarters. Calm weather also creates conditions where exhaust gasses linger in higher concentrations.

This results in all Irish Air Corps personnel (commissioned, enlisted, civilian & family) being exposed to emissions from idling aircraft engines, emissions that are known to cause harm.

In the mid 1990s a study of air pollution adjacent to the ramp area at Baldonnel was commissioned. This report relating to this study has gone missing. 

  • Anecdotal evidence suggests increased prevalence of occupational asthma & adult onset asthma amongst serving & former personnel who served in Baldonnel or Gormanston aerodromes. 
  • Older gas turbine engines produce dirtier exhaust gasses.
  • Idling gas turbine engines produce dirtier exhaust gasses.
Below are some of the gas turbine powered Air Corps aircraft that were powered by elderly engine designs.
AircraftRetiredEngine FamilyFirst Run
Alouette III2007Turbomeca Artouste1947
Fouga Magister1999Turbomeca Marboré1951
Gazelle2005Turbomeca Astazou1957
King Air 2002009Pratt & Whitney Canada PT61960
Dauphin II2005Turbomeca Arriel1974

DELAY – DENY – DIE

RAAF jet fuel damaged ground crews’ body cells; long-term consequences unknown, says groundbreaking research

Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) personnel who worked with widely used jet fuel suffered damage to their body’s cells with unknown long-term consequences, according to groundbreaking research released after a Freedom of Information laws request.

Defence’s senior physician in occupational and environmental medicine, Dr Ian Gardner, described the findings as a “part of the puzzle” and a hypothesis-making study”, and pointed it out that it was one of a series of pieces of research currently underway.

“What it shows is there is evidence of small but persistent cellular damage,” Dr Gardner told the ABC. He said it was not yet clear what the long-term effects of that damage might be.

“For the future though there are a lot of other aircraft maintenance workers who have done similar jobs on other aircraft types, and now Defence and DVA and Air Force are considering what additional work should be done in relation to those other people who are not actually on the F-111 programs but have done essentially similar work,” Dr Gardner said.

The Jet Fuel Syndrome Study also shows that the fuel is more toxic to the body’s cells than the two solvents initially blamed for the sickness suffered by the deseal/reseal workers, and that the toxicity is even higher when those solvents and the fuel were mixed.

The results of the research project, headed by Professor Francis Bowling of Brisbane’s Mater Hospital, were handed to Defence last September, and have been the subject of significant scrutiny and review due to the potential significance of the findings.

They will give heart to former and serving Defence personnel who believe they have been left out in the cold by Defence after developing serious health complaints while working with fuel and other substances.

Read full article on ABC Australia from 2015

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Junior Minister with responsibility for Defence said in the Dáil that he was assured by the Irish Air Corps that the RAAF F1-11 deseal/reseal exposure tragedy is completely different to any exposures at the Irish Air Corps.

Was the minister suggesting that Irish Air Corps gas turbine engines don’t run on jet fuel?

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dutch Neurologist Warns of ‘Parkinson’s Pandemic’ Linked to Toxic Chemicals

As the world frantically battles coronavirus, a leading Dutch neurologist warns of the next global pandemic — and this one, he says, is almost entirely of our own making.

Bastiaan Bloem, MD, a neurologist and professor at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center, says that over the next 20 years, the number of people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) will likely double — from the present 6.5 million to more than 13 million.

The main cause of this exponential jump: widespread exposure to herbicides, solvents, and other toxic chemicals used in agriculture and manufacturing.

“A pandemic, as everybody is now painfully aware, is a disease happening worldwide, to which no one is immune. PD fulfills all those criteria,” Bloem told Parkinson’s News Today in a phone interview from the Netherlands.

“Parkinson’s is now the fastest-growing neurological condition on the planet.”

Bloem, 53, points to the tight link between exposure to herbicides such as paraquat — a weed killer — and the risk of developing Parkinson’s.

“These chemicals were introduced worldwide after World War II, and many are still used today on our fields,” he said. “For this reason, farmers are at a markedly increased risk of developing Parkinson’s. If you feed a mouse paraquat — which is banned in China but not the U.S. — it will kill the dopamine-producing cells in the brain. These chemicals are tremendously toxic to the brain and have even been detected in milk, in supermarkets.”

Paraquat isn’t the only such chemical posing this risk. Trichloroethylene, a solvent used to clean metals and remove stains, has exactly the same effect on human brains. Yet it’s still widely used and is detectable in high concentrations in groundwater, he said.

“Parkinson’s is exploding in numbers, it’s a horribly debilitating disease, and it’s a costly disease that should matter to people and governments. We’re doing this to ourselves,” Bloem said. “But we can do something about it. We need to get rid of these toxic pesticides and move toward organic food. And we should take measures to protect people who work in these toxic environments.”

Read full article Parkinson’s News Today

Dutch Neurologist Warns of ‘Parkinson’s Pandemic’ Linked to Toxic Chemicals

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Trichloroethylene was used in Baldonnel for decades with ERF in particular receiving it in 220 litre drums. From ERF it was handed out without any precautions or training to anyone who asked for it. It was handed out in milk cartons, plastic coke bottles etc.

Trichloroethylene was used by all hangars & workshops in an ad-hoc basis usually with Trichloroethylene begged from ERF although some units did order it themselves. Personnel in the Air Corps museum also used Trike to help degrease parts & aircraft being restored for the museum. 

Trichloroethylene was also used by both apprentices, tech & line personnel to carry out cleaning tasks in the Air Corps Training Depot while on training courses or during “war week”.

In at least 2 separate instances some floors in ACTD were completely destroyed by the use of Trichloroethylene being left overnight to clean them. In one incident Trichloroethylene dissolved through a traditional lino floor as far as the backing twine and in another incident few years later a tiled floor was destroyed after the tiles shriveled up & shrunk after Trichloroethylene  was left overnight to clean a floor.

Trichloroethylene was also used by teenage apprentices to clean black marks off floors in the Apprentice Hostel and the Apprentice School.

At no point was anyone ever given training in the use of Trichloroethylene nor issued with appropriate PPE whilst working with the chemical.

A number of Irish Air Corps personnel have been diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Former Defence Forces mechanic wins appeal over order halting damages claim

Court of Appeal overturns High Court finding over action time limits

A former aircraft mechanic with the Defence Forces has won his appeal against an order halting his damages action over injuries allegedly suffered as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals at work.

The Court of Appeal overturned a High Court finding that Ian Coughlan’s action was brought outside the applicable time limits and thus bound to fail.

The High Court relied on inadmissible evidence in coming to that finding, the three judge Court of Appeal held in its judgment on Wednesday.

The application to halt the case must now be reconsidered in line with the Court of Appeal’s findings.

 

Mr Justice Noonan said Mr Coughlan, both during and after his employment with the Defence Forces, attended a large number of doctors about his complaints. Mr Coughlan himself has long believed there was an association between his complaints and his working environment but says he was repeatedly assured by doctors he was wrong about this, the judge noted.

Mr Coughlan says it was only in November 2011, when he got a verbal opinion from a clinical toxico-pathologist, a Professor Howard, that he became aware of a causal link between his symptoms and his employment.

He claimed that was his date of knowledge for his cause of action and, because his proceedings were issued in 2013, they were within the two – year limit stipulated in the Statute of Limitations Act.

The defendants argued his date of knowledge long pre-dated the November 2011 opinion. They said he had seen a toxicologist, a Dr Wood, in London in 2008 and exhibited a January 2009 report by Dr Wood in arguing his claim was statute barred.

The judge found an objection by counsel for Mr Coughlan to the admissibility of the Wood report on hearsay grounds was “well-founded”. The Wood report had the same status as a document produced in the course of discovery, it does not prove itself and it was inadmissible as hearsay, he held.

Even if the report was properly admitted and properly proved, fair procedures required its contents should have been put to Mr Coughlan in cross-examination to give him a fair opportunity to deal with it, he also held.

Read full article on the Irish Times website below…

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It should be noted that in order to comply with a recent Supreme Court order in relation to a separate case the Irish Air Corps have until the 6th of April to provide a full list of toxic workplace chemicals they have withheld from former personnel. 

Delay – Deny – Die

Former Defence Forces mechanic wins appeal over order halting ‘chemicals’ damages claim

A former aircraft mechanic with the Defence Forces has won his appeal against an order halting his damages action over injuries allegedly suffered as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals at work.

The Court of Appeal overturned a High Court finding that Ian Coughlan’s action was brought outside the applicable time limits and thus bound to fail.

In proceedings against the Minister for Defence and the State, he alleges he was exposed to toxic chemicals used for degreasing aircraft parts, was not provided with proper protection against the effects of those and suffered personal injuries.

Among various claims, he alleges he suffered dizziness, skin rashes, nasal irritation, sores, sleep disturbance, chronic fatigue and headaches, skin yellowness and bloody diarrhoea.

Mr Justice Noonan said Mr Coughlan, both during and after his employment with the Defence Forces, attended a large number of doctors about his complaints. Mr Coughlan himself has long believed there was an association between his complaints and his working environment but says he was repeatedly assured by doctors he was wrong about this, the judge noted.

Mr Coughlan says it was only in November 2011, when he got a verbal opinion from a clinical toxico-pathologist, a Professor Howard, he became aware of a causal link between his symptoms and his employment.

He claimed that was his date of knowledge for his cause of action and, because his proceedings were issued in 2013, they were within the two year limit stipulated in the Statute of Limitations Act.

The defendants argued his date of knowledge long pre-dated the November 2011 opinion. They said he had seen a toxicologist, a Dr Wood, in London in 2008 and exhibited a January 2009 report by Dr Wood in arguing his claim was statute barred.

Mr Coughlan said in an affidavit Dr Wood was “very much limited” in expressing an opinion as to any causal connection between his employment and his injuries because of a lack of information available to the doctor concerning the chemicals and solvents to which he had been exposed.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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It should be noted that in order to comply with a recent Supreme Court order in relation to a separate case the Irish Air Corps have until the 6th of April to provide a full list of toxic workplace chemicals they have withheld from former personnel. 

Delay – Deny – Die

Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD reiterates call for formal investigation into chemical exposure on Air Corps personnel

Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Defence Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has today reiterated his call for the Minister for Defence Paul Kehoe to establish a formal investigation into the health effects of years of exposure to toxic chemicals on Irish Air Corps personnel

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of current and former members of the Irish Air Corps (both civilian & military) were exposed to a vast cocktail of highly dangerous workplace chemicals including carcinogens, mutagens, reproductive toxicants and immune sensitisers.

Teachta Ó Snodaigh said;

“The failure of the Air Corps management to implement even the most basic chemical safety provisions possibly resulted in considerable physical and mental health injury to exposed personnel.


“The exposure to toxic chemicals for decades appears from figures collated by former Air Corps personnel to have contributed to a very high number of fatalities from a variety of rare and complex cancers, cardiovascular disease and suicides, and also high rates of miscarriage of partners.

“For 20 years, military authorities ignored recommendations from safety reports and only acted when their failure to act was highlighted by whistleblowers.

Read full press release on Sinn Féin website below…

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Please view the honourable & fair demands of
Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors  here.
  • 77 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980 
  • 64 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 40 of these deaths have occurred since 2010
  • 25 of these deaths have occured since the Minister for Defence was notified by Protected Disclosure in 2015
Either the rate of death is accelerating or we are missing many deaths from previous decades or possibly both.
 

3 most significant causes of death

  • Approximately a third of deaths are from  cancer
  • Approximately a third of deaths are cardiac related
  • Approximately a fifth of deaths are from suicide (15)
*We record untimely as dying at or before age 66 (civilian pension age), average age of death is 50 years. We are counting deaths from medical reasons & suicide, we are not counting accidental deaths or murder.

Delay – Deny – Die

Protestors encourage voters not to give Paul Kehoe any preference votes

Minister with Responsibility for Defence Paul Kehoe is being targeted by former members of the Defence Forces who are trying to encourage voters in the forthcoming General Election not to vote for him.

The former Fine Gael chief whip has been a Fine Gael TD for County Wexford since he was first elected to the Dáil in May 2002 and a Minister of State for Defence since 2016.

In the last election, he secured a seat in the Dáil by beating his nearest rival Sinn Féin’s Johnny Mythen by just 52 votes.

Protestors are targeting his constituency offices and those of his party colleagues Michael D’Arcy.

They want to encourage people not to give Deputy Kehoe any preference votes, which helped get him elected the last time round.

The protesters are former members of the Air Corps who belong to the Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors (ACCAS) who claim they suffer illnesses due to their exposure to toxic chemicals while working for the Air Corps.

According to the group, Minister Kehoe has done little or nothing to help them get the medical support and health screening services they want.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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Please view the honourable & fair demands of
Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors
 here.

Delay – Deny – Die

Kehoe won’t say when Air Corps respirator training began

The junior defence minister has refused to say when Air Corps technicians were first trained to use respirators for working with toxic chemicals.

Technicians’ exposure to harmful substances in the line of duty is “a cause of significant concern”, according to Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy, who submitted queries on the use of respirators, and protected disclosures, to minister of state Paul Kehoe.

Ms Murphy had asked Mr Kehoe the date on which it became policy and standard practice to train or up-skill new and existing members of the Defence Forces, as part of basic training, in the use of respiratory protective equipment.

Mr Kehoe said he was advised that the question appeared “to involve matters which are raised in the proceedings currently before the courts”.

“The deputy will appreciate that, as the questions appear to encroach into on-going litigation, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further,” Mr Kehoe said.

Ms Murphy said she was disappointed with Mr Kehoe’s response, and that a lack of transparency only causes mistrust.

“I don’t know why he isn’t more forthcoming with the information. It will be revealed in the court cases anyway,” she told the Irish Examiner.

“I am trying to get information to build a picture here, because what I can see, so far, is a cause of significant concern, to put it mildly.”

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

Dáil Éireann – 4th July 2019 – Public Accounts Committee – Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Exposure (Transcript)

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

With regard to the list of actions where there are groups of people affected in the same way – mass action as opposed to class actions – how many would be grouped if it was to be described as a mass action? How many claims would there be if they were to be put into a category like that?

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

It will depend. In other words, what normally happens is that we will either get one claim or maybe a dozen will come in together.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

If there was a dozen—–

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

We would say that is a mass action.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

What about the list the agency has given us

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

That is a good indication of the numbers pleading similar things.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

Are there many more like that?

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

We have set out in the report exactly what they are.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

Are the ones in the report the only ones Mr. Breen would describe in that way?

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

Some new ones have come along in the meantime.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

What would the new ones be?

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

For example, there are 26 cases in regard to transvaginal implants. There is sodium valproate, which is a potential mass action. Where there is another abuser, there may be a set of claims which attach to him. We have Gardasil, which is the HPV vaccine, and we have Aulin, which is another medicinal product.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

In regard to the Air Corps, the agency has 21 active claims. Mr. Breen has not mentioned that.

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

I am sorry, I did not mean to leave them out. The Deputy is right that we have a number of cases from the Air Corps in regard to alleged exposure to chemicals.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

The State Claims Agency would have had an involvement in risk management. I received a reply to a parliamentary question from the Minister the State, which stated:

I am advised by the State Claims Agency that it has a statutory remit under the National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Act 2000 to provide risk management advices to Delegated State Authorities. … [The] State Claims Agency conducted a number of Health & Safety Management System Defence Forces audits within the Air Corps between the years 2006 – 2015. The Reports are authored by the State Claims Agency and are confidential between the Agency and their Client [which is the Department of Defence].

What would the agency have looked at when it went out to do those assessments? Would it have looked at the paperwork, and would it have gone down to the level of looking at what equipment people are wearing to protect them or the environment they are working in?

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

The Defence Forces has put a safety management system in place, and this applies to all branches of the Defence Forces. We have worked very closely with them in that regard. On risk, our people on the ground, when they carry out audits, go onsite and they meet with the person who would have responsibility for safety and health in the particular barracks, battalion or otherwise. They carry out audits of things like, for example, what is being done about lifting and the safety standards in respect of that.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

Would it have looked at chemicals, for example, where chemicals are sited or how they are handled? Would it have looked at the kind of things that would expose people to risk?

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

I want to explain the position in regard to the Air Corps because I believe it might be helpful in answering specifically what happened. We started our audits there in 2006. The particular exposure we are looking at in respect of the chemicals in the Air Corps is from 1972 to 2007. In 2007, the particular workshop which is associated with the alleged exposure was changed to a state-of-the-art facility. At no time—–

INTERRUPTION by PAC Chair Seán Fleming

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

At no time during those audits and reviews was anything specifically brought to our attention about the historical exposure, if there was one, that might have been there and how that was handled. We were very assured by the fact it was now a state-of-the-art facility.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

The agency would not have looked at—–

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

The exposure long predated even our establishment.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

I have been given a document, which I might have mentioned before, on the extraordinary age profile of people who have died in the Air Corps. The Air Corps is not a big employer and there have been 72 deaths at pre-retirement age, some of them very young. Of the 72, 14 or 15 are by suicide but others are in particular categories, such as cancers and cardiac issues. It seems a very dangerous place to work – I am sorry, I do not really mean that, but it seems to be a place where an abnormal number of people die prematurely. That would have jumped out to me as something that would make me question the risk. As Mr. Breen said, it goes back to a time prior to when the agency was doing its assessment. I understand there were no registers of this particular chemical available.

Mr. Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

I am not sure. Is Mr. Kirwan is in a position to comment on that?

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

Not specifically. The chemicals that are discussed in the statement of claim are a wide range of chemicals, basically organic lubricants and degreasers. I do not have that information or the Deputy would need to be more specific about the particular chemical she is talking about.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

I have the names of the—–

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

I know that when we audited there, we were satisfied that, for the chemicals that were in the workshops – I am talking in a general sense – there where material safety data sheets available for any chemical that we sampled. That would suggest they were registered in some way.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

I am trying to find out how to mitigate risk and I am using this as an example. What I am hearing is that there still is not, or there was not in recent years, use of protective clothing and availability of a particular type of protective clothing when handling these materials. Would the State Claims Agency have looked at that, given it would have known the profile? Is the agency satisfied the risk assessment is mitigating this risk?

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

I head up the enterprise risk unit that would have carried out the audits.

When we go out, we look at the systems that are in place. We are back to that word, “systems”, again. We sample as we go out. They are snapshots. One is only there for a particular day. We talked to the staff and the members of the Defence Forces who were available in the workshop. They are highly-trained, technical people. We came across no evidence of procedures or practices being carried out to anything other than the appropriate standards at that time.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

I understand that the Air Corps does not carry out mandatory risk assessments. Does the SCA not instruct particular organisations to carry out mandatory risk assessments? Is that not essential?

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

Absolutely. It is not only essential from the point of view of the agency’s expectations, but it is also a legal requirement under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. Again, that was not our experience. Ultimately the Defence Forces are responsible for the risks. When we originally worked with the Defence Forces they had risk assessments in place. In organisations as complex as the Defence Forces, the Naval Service, the Air Corps, and the Army, we are talking about thousands of different types of risk assessments. I cannot vouch for any particular risk assessment but, in general, the Defence Forces do have risk assessments in place.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

Are they mandatory?

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

It is mandatory under Irish legislation for appropriate risk assessments to be in place. It is also absolutely mandatory as part of the occupational health and safety management system the Defence Forces have had in place for some time.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

What the does the SCA do? Does it visit, carry out the assessment, and give the Defence Forces a certificate? Is there a certificate for each year? Were there years in which they were not given a clean bill of health?

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

There are approximately 56 units in the Defence Forces. We cannot possibly audit every single one every year. We carried out approximately 100 audits between 2006 and 2015. An audit might be themed, that is, we might be looking at particular themes. For example, we may be worried about appropriate training documentation because that is something we have learned about from dealing with claims. We may have seen a number of incidents of a given type. For example, we may have seen particular injuries arising from vehicle crashes. For that reason we might look at that aspect of the system in particular. In general we look at roles and responsibilities, the structures that are in place, and the types of risk assessments and documentation that are in place.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

Does the SCA work with the Health and Safety Authority on any of this?

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

No. We have worked collaboratively with the Health and Safety Authority to produce guidelines in respect of, for example, schools, critical incidents and stress management. We have a different role in this area however. It is a policing authority and enforces legislation. On the specific issue of chemicals in the Air Corps, we were involved with the Healthy and Safety Authority in the sense that, after going in and carrying out one of its inspections, it made some recommendations and advised the Defence Forces to consult with us in addressing those recommendations.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

Did the Health and Safety Authority not threaten legal action over shortcomings in the use of chemicals?

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

I am not—–

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North)Public Accounts Committee

It is my understanding that it did.

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

I am not exactly sure and I would not like to speak on the Health and Safety Authority’s behalf. I do know that it audited the Air Corps and raised issues. I am not sure of the level at which they were raised. We were active in helping the Defence Forces to address those issues to the satisfaction of the Health and Safety Authority.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

It is my understanding that the authority did threaten legal action. It seems extraordinary that one arm of the State may be doing so while another is giving the Air Corps a clean bill of health with regard to risk. That does not stack up in terms of mitigating risk into the future.

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

Again, I would have to know the specific details to comment but statutory legislation underpins the health and safety of our employees across the State sector and, indeed, all employees within the State. With regard to chemical safety in particular, there is a complex suite of legislation in place. There is legislation from 2001, 2007, 2010 and, most recently, 2018. In addition, there is guidance in that area. It moves. In other words—–

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

The SCA is not expert in all of this, so does it have to bring in people who are experts in a given area?

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

We are experts in this area. Members of our enterprise risk management team have backgrounds in engineering, science, public health, and nursing. Most have, at a minimum, a degree level qualification. Many have masters and some have doctorates. They are experts in various areas. We have expertise right across the main areas one would expect to encounter in dealing with employee and public safety. We are a very expert unit. We publish national and international guidelines. We are recognised as such.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

How many people work in Mr. Kirwan’s unit?

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

We have 20 members of staff.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

Most of these people have professional qualifications. Are there administrative staff included in that 20?

Mr. Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

There may be two administrative staff members included in that 20. The others have worked at very senior levels in the Defence Forces, the Health and Safety Authority, and other semi-State and private organisations nationwide, usually in some area of environmental or public health and safety.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

Is there a bonus system or anything of that nature in the agency for mitigating risks?

Mr Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

Is the Deputy asking whether we operate such a scheme for State authorities?

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North)Public Accounts Committee

Yes.

Mr Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

No, we do not. There is no kind of risk-pooling approach in the public service. That does not happen. Every year, however, we ourselves recognise individual State authorities in a ceremony we hold at one point in the year. We give certificates to authorities that have done something very particular to mitigate their risk, and which produce documentation to prove it, at an annual event.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

We saw some evidence of that the last time the SCA was before the committee. We could see serious progress with regard to slips and falls. That is to be commended. I am still not entirely clear what the SCA looks at when it goes out to such organisations to look at issues such as the handling of serious chemicals. Does it look at whether adequate equipment, such as gloves or clothing, is provided to reduce the risks? Does it evaluate risk at that level?

Mr Pat Kirwan – State Claims Agency

I fully understand that it is quite difficult to understand. There are thousands of risks in, for example, a large facility such as that of the Air Corps in Baldonnel. We have to be guided by what we see, for example, reported on the national incident management system. At no time did we see any significant level of reported incidents relating to chemicals. In other words, it was not flagged to us as a hotspot to investigate. Nonetheless, because, as I said, chemical safety is important in workshops, it is something we test. I use the word “test”. In other words, we sample. On the day, we talk to people, we look at how the chemicals are stored, and we ensure the appropriate documentation is in place.

Perhaps I should give an alternative example. We did a very large job with the Defence Forces with regard to the guarding of machinery. We did so because there had been incidents of people being seriously injured because guards were not in place. We looked at a series of workshops. In that case, some workshops were closed down and some machines had to be retrofitted. That investigation proceeded machine by machine. We looked at it in detail because we, as a claims agency, saw it as a definite source of litigation risk.

The Deputy talked about the Health and Safety Authority. It will be guided by the statutory legislation. We obviously consider what we are particularly concerned about that could lead to claims. One of the indicators is whether incidents are being reported.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

On those cases, are they ongoing, settled or in dispute?

Mr Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

They are ongoing. One is in the Court of Appeal. A date has been given for the year after next because there is a glut of appeals in that court. Others are awaiting an important decision by the Supreme Court on a discovery issue.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

When mediation is possible for a group, but not necessarily the group in question, how does it happen? If there are a dozen cases coming in on something or other, does the agency wait for one case to be proven in the court? What approach does the agency take?

Mr Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

We do not have what in the United States and certain other jurisdictions is called class action, whereby a whole series of cases is taken at the one time, or for the group. Here a lead case will be chosen by a plaintiff’s solicitor, and it will be agreed with us that it will be the lead case. We engage on that case in terms of our separate investigations. One can imagine that we are preoccupied with the question of whether the State has a liability. Where it does, we obviously want to settle at the earliest possible opportunity. One of the vehicles we might use for that is mediation, if it comes to that. Having settled one, we would be of the view that unless the other cases could be differentiated in some way, we should seek to settle them through incurring the best possible cost and as quickly as we could.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

On Cervical Check, a couple of years ago we saw Vicky Phelan going public. If she had not done so, would others have realised they could have been affected in the same way? Is that used as a means of mitigating against damage done to individuals? I am referring to settling with what is known as a gagging order.

Mr Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

As the Deputy knows, we were not party to any of that. That case was settled by the particular laboratory.

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North) Public Accounts Committee

Yes

Mr Ciarán Breen – State Claims Agency

We were only involved peripherally in relation to the non-disclosure part of the case. I understand the point the Deputy is making, however. We talked on the last occasion I was here about how the other women found out. That is a different issue.

*****

The State Claims Agency Risk Management Section commenced annual Health & Safety Management System audits in 2006.

Unprotected toxic chemical exposures continued in the Irish Air Corps until they were threatened with legal action by Health & Safety Authority in 2016 for serious and basic Health & Safety failings that were an immediate threat to personnel after 2 x technicians were injured by solvent exposure in late 2015.

Luxuries such as gloves, eye protection & respirators were finally issued to all relevant personnel in 2017, a full two decades after another state agency Forbairt recommenced same in 1997.

Despite several legal actions, despite a decade of risk audits by the State Claims Agency, despite legal threats from the Health & Safety Authority the Irish Air Corps still thought it was OK to publish the below photographs on their official Facebook page showing ongoing chemical health & safety breaches in 2018…the Air Corps blamed this on “personal failings”.

 

 

Delay – Deny – Die