Air Corps whistleblower’s decision to retire “demonstrates a dysfunction in the complaints process”

The Irish Examiner revealed today that the whistle-blower – one of three who has previously raised concerns about staff’s exposure to chemicals – has announced his decision to retire early.

His decision comes two months after telling Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe that he has not received assurances from Defence Forces hierarchy that he is not being targeted for making protected disclosures.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said a list of deaths compiled by one Air Corps whistle-blower requires explanation.

The list, the existence of which was previously reported in this newspaper, contains the details of more than 70 deaths of former Air Corps staff that the whistle-blower believes may be connected to chemical exposures at the force’s headquarters in Casement Aerodrome.

She described the revelation that a whistle-blower is to retire early as ‘shocking’.

“I’m very concerned about the treatment of whistle-blowers and people making disclosures, as some arms of the public service are not dealing with them as comprehensively or fairly as they should,” Ms Murphy said.

Fianna Fáil Defence spokesman, Jack Chambers, said the whistle-blower’s decision “demonstrates a dysfunction in the complaints process” and will act as a deterrent to anyone else who is thinking about coming forward.

“This is symptomatic of the general malaise that has been allowed to fester within the Defence Forces under the current Minister. Whistle-blowers who feel that their only next option is to retire demonstrates a dysfunction in the complaints process and it certainly doesn’t encourage others who have issues of concern from engaging with the process.”

Minster Kehoe ‘satisfied’ with Air Corps audits

The Junior Defence Minister said he is “fully satisfied” the State Claims Agency (SCA) can adequately carry out health audits in the Air Corps despite a separate workplace safety watchdog finding a series of failings at Casement Aerodrome after a decade of annual inspections by the SCA.

Mr Kehoe gave his backing to the SCA after he told the Dáil that the agency “conducted a number of Health and Safety Management System Defence Forces audits within the Air Corps between the years 2006-2015”.

The whistle-blower complaints also prompted an independent review. In his report, the reviewer said “a problem has arisen in relation to the issues raised by the three informants because appropriate records to demonstrate compliance are not readily available”.

The SCA’s audits were not made available to the reviewer, nor was an internal Air Corps report, seen by this newspaper, which raised concerns about staff exposure to the cancer-causing chemical trichloroethylene.

The SCA is currently defending 21 court cases against the Air Corps, including a number from ex-personnel who say their exposure to chemicals at Casement Aerodrome led to serious illnesses.

Mr Kehoe revealed the decade of SCA audits in response to a parliamentary question from Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy, who was critical of the decision not to release reports.

“Time and time again the minister states that the health and welfare of the Defence Forces personnel is a high priority for him and the military authorities. This may be the case, but the health and welfare of all future recruits and contractors should be too,” Ms Murphy told the Irish Examiner.

“Health and Safety reports should not be shrouded in secrecy. It is an area of expertise of the Health and Safety Authority, perhaps they should really be leading on this, I question whether the State Claims Agency in the past provided an adequate service and applied robust enough tests to the working environment at Baldonnel.”

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

*****

In the interests of transparency, Minister Kehoe should release all the State Claims Agency Health & Safety Management System Audits of Baldonnel with immediate effect.

If the audits were carried out to an adequate standard what has Minister Kehoe got to hide?

Delay – Deny – Die

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 15/01/19 – Irish Air Corps – State Claims Agency Bonus Pay

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

QUESTION NO: 217

To ask the Minister for Finance further to Parliamentary Question No. 146 of 18 December 2018, if the National Treasury Management Agency will provide a breakdown of all discretionary performance related payments in tabular form (details supplied); the highest discretionary performance related payments made to a single employee in each of the years 2006 to 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Details Supplied- Email sent 07/01/19 at 14:57) to include the details of discretionary performance-related payments for the following years 2006 to 2012 inclusive to include the overall total amount of remuneration and the number of employees per year that shared extra remuneration; and if the NTMA will indicate the highest discretionary performance-related payments made to a single employee in each years. 1179/19

Paschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)

The response to the deputy is set out in the table.

YearTotal Bonus PayNumber of Benefiting EmployeesAverage per Benefiting EmployeeHighest Individual Bonus Pay
2006€2,807,229116€24,200
€377,000
2007€3,165,551138€22,939
€403,000
2008€3,459,751161€21,489€395,500
2009€2,751,361167€16,475€200,000
2010€1,981,760258€6,945€40,000
2011€62,6105€12,522€30,000
2012€43,1006€7,183€25,000

Notes

  • In respect of the years 2006-2010, the details provided have been compiled by the NTMA following the retrieval and review of available historical hard-copy documentation.
  • Details of the total amount paid in discretionary performance related pay along with the number of staff in receipt of these payments have been published in the NTMA Annual Report for the years 2010 to 2017 (the NTMA’s most recent Annual Report).

*****

State Claims Agency audited the Health & Safety Management Systems of the Irish Air Corps for a decade before the Health & Safety Authority intervened to prevent serious ongoing harm to Air Corps personnel. 

Over the course of this decade of auditing, the “risk profile” of the Irish Air Corps improved year on year. These “paperwork” improvements in risk profile were subsequently part of the remuneration process for personnel in the State Claims Agency and the National Treasury Management Agency

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 15/01/19 – Irish Air Corps – State Claims Agency

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

QUESTION NO: 133

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the health and safety management system reports and or audits carried out on the Air Corps by the State Claims Agency in each of the years 2006 to 2015; the year and author of each report and or audit in the timeframe; if the reports have been published and or classified as confidential; and if he will make a statement on the matter. 1180/19

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

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. Such risk management advices include the provision of Health & Safety Management System audits, inspections and reviews.

From this, 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.

*****

The State Claims Agency audited the Irish Air Corps for a decade before the Health & Safety Authority were forced to intervene and stop the ongoing CMR & toxic chemical exposure of the Baldonnel workforce.

The HSA file was opened in January 2016 and was only closed in September 2018 but the “superb” health and safety performance of the Air Corps for the decade prior to HSA intervention helped the State Claims Agency & NTMA staff earn discretionary performance-related payments.

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 18/12/18 – Department of Finance – State Claims Agency Bonus Pay

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

QUESTION NO: 146

To ask the Minister for Finance if staff at the State Claims Agency receive discretionary performance related payments; the amount paid to staff from 2006 to date; if these payments related to particular projects and or audits; and if he will make a statement on the matter. 53022/18

Paschal Donohoe  (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)

When performing its statutory functions regarding claims against the State, the National Treasury Management Agency is known as the State Claims Agency.

The NTMA have informed me that discretionary performance-related payments are intended to reward exceptional performance having regard to the employee’s own performance, the performance of the employee’s area of responsibility, and the overall performance of the NTMA. Performance related payments are made in accordance with parameters approved by the Agency’s non-executive Remuneration Committee.

The NTMA have also informed me that it provides details of performance related payments made each year to all NTMA staff in its annual reports which are available on the NTMAs website through the following link

http://www.ntma.ie/publications

*****

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 18/12/18 – Irish Air Corps – State Claims Agency Audits

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

QUESTION NO: 119

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the State Claims Agency supplied the Health and Safety Authority with copies of its audits and or reports regarding the Air Corps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. 53026/18

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

I have been advised by the State Claims Agency that it does not provide reports of Health and Safety Management System Audits conducted by the Agency in Delegated State Authorities (including the Defence Forces) to the Health and Safety Authority. I am advised that these are provided to the Delegated State Authorities only.

With regard to the Air Corps, the Deputy will be aware that the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), following a number of inspections in 2016, issued a Report of Inspection to the Air Corps on the 21st October 2016, listing a number of matters requiring attention which included the areas of risk assessment.

The Air Corps as a consequence of this HSA report have implemented an improvement plan which is being conducted over eight phases. Seven of the eight phases have now been fully completed. The final phase is a continuous on-going process. The implementation plan focuses on a number of areas, including risk assessment.

I wish to assure the Deputy that the health and welfare of the Defence Forces personnel is a high priority for me and the military authorities.

*****

For 10 years BEFORE the Heath & Safety Authority were forced to investigate the Irish Air Corps, due to the ongoing safety risks to personnel, the State Claims Agency had been carrying out Health & Safety Risk Management System audits at Baldonnel. 

In the eyes of the State Claims Agency the Irish Air Corps risk profile was continuously improving whilst personnel on the ground were still being exposed to toxic & CMR chemicals without appropriate PPE or training causing lifelong injures to themselves and their children. 

It is now obvious that the State Claims Agency audits were incompetent  especially considering it took the Health & Safety Authority 2 years and 9 months to close their investigation file on the Irish Air Corps.

The State Claims Agency audits need to be released to the Oireachtas without delay.

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 18/12/18 – Irish Air Corps – Legal Cases

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

QUESTION NO: 117

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of open cases the State Claims Agency is handling in respect of the Air Corps, its staff and former staff; and if he will make a statement on the matter. 53027/18

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

I am advised by the State Claims Agency that their reports indicate that currently the Agency is managing 21 active compensation claims in respect of the Air Corps where it is alleged that a staff member is the injured party.

Given that litigation is on-going, the Deputy will appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me to comment further in relation to these claims.

*****

Considering the limited media coverage of this scandal to date, this figure can only be expected to climb as serving & former personnel become aware that their ongoing health issues are likely a result of unprotected toxic chemical exposure whilst serving in the Irish Air Corps.

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 4/12/18 – Department of Defence – Air Corps senior management withheld Trike Report from government appointed investigator

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

QUESTION NO: 108

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if a report on the use of Trikelone N in the Air Corps workshop compiled in 2014 by the formation safety office of the Air Corps was made available to the independent person (details supplied) appointed to investigate health and safety matters in the Air Corps; if not, the reason it was not available to them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50343/18]

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

The report of the independent person appointed to investigate health and safety matters in the Air Corps is published and available on my Department’s website. Appendix C of that report lists documents and materials consulted and reviewed by him.

The document, to which the Deputy refers, is the subject of legal advice and in light of ongoing litigation, I am not in a position to comment further.

*****

Introduction

Trikelone N is a vapor de-greaser which was used as a cleaning agent in the process of cleaning engine parts due to be overhauled. Its use was  discontinued in the Air corps just prior to September 2007.

Work practices

One (1) pair of gloves was available to be used between all personnel who could be required to carryout the process. No personnel P.P.E. issue was made to individuals. MSDS sheets were available but no records of training on the dangers of using Trikelone N or the process or how to properly carryout the process exists. Two large extractor fans were placed on the wall behind where the process took place, but there is no record of the capacity of the fans, their specification or if they were adequate. There was no organised segregation of work areas. The double doors that separated the area where the Degreasing process took place from the adjoining area here normally left open. The personnel’s tea making and meeting room was in an annex off this adjoining Engine assembly area. The workshop heating system was also located in the adjoining Engine assembly area. Originally peoples personnel lockers were located in the immediate area where the Degreasing process took place, but the lockers where relocated into the adjacent Engine assembly area at a later date.

Possible Trikelone N exposure sources

Current Trikelone N MSDS states that exposure through, skin, hair, eyes and inhalation should be avoided and that contaminated clothes should be removed.

  • Trikelone N exposure through inhalation, skin, hair and eyes could have resulted as individuals were not issued P.P.E. to protect against the substance. Due to the lack of records it can not be assumed that the two fans located on the wall behind where the process took place offered adequate ventilation.
  • The lack of organised segregation of work areas where doors between areas were left open meant that vapours could travel from one area to another. No seals or segregation areas existed.
  • Vapours could have travelled to the personnel’s tea making and meeting room which was located in an annex off the adjoining Engine assembly area and could have resulted in ingestion of the chemical by way of food contamination.
  • The location of people’s personnel lockers which were located in the immediate area where the Degreasing process took place, and then relocated into the adjacent Engine assembly area at a later date. Would give a reasonable assertion that the contamination of persons clothes contained in their lockers would have taken place.
  •  The heater located in the Engine assembly area took air in just above floor level and pushed out hot air above head height circulating the air around the Engine assembly area. When the doors between the Engine assembly area and the area in which the De-greasing took place were left open, the air would be circulated between both areas. Due to the Trikelone N being heavier than air a high concentration of Trikelone N would have been located near the heaters inlet vents.
  •  The heater was adapted by Cpl. XXXXX so that the air being heated would be circulated into various other areas in the building including the Machine Workshop, NTD bay and Workshop offices by way of ventilation duct which could have exposed a risk of contamination of the air in those locations that might not have occurred previously. There is no record available if this work was approved, who authorised it, or was the design appropriate.
  • Due to the fact that Trikelone N expands when heated, the risk of explosion
    increased when the Trikelone N contaminated air passed through the  heater.
  • Poor hygiene controls before food consumption and going to the toilet would also be a cause of exposure.

Controls

The following controls are currently recommended when using Trikelone N.

  • Isolating controls should be put in place to limit exposure.
  • Adequate ventilation and extraction should be in place.
  • Do not use in a confined space as vapour is heavier than air.
  • Appropriate P.P.E to be provided including overalls, boots, chemical eye protection, impervious gloves and organic vapour respirator.
  • Wash hands before smoking, eating, drinking or using the toilet.
  • Contaminated clothes to be washed.

The Defence Forces Safety Standards 1991 which were a precursor to the Defence Forces Safety Statement is the closest thing I could find regarding some form of documented control standard in the Defence Forces. The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989 would have been in affect, but the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Chemical Agent) Regulations 2001 would have only been in affect for a short period of the exposure. The Defence Forces Safety Standards 1, Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) covers…

Section 1 Information Sources
  • MSDS sheets should be given by suppliers of Chemicals to the Defence
    Forces.
Section 3 Principles of Assessment
  • Obtaining and Passing on knowledge about a Chemical
  • Assessment of Hazards posed by its use, byproducts, storage and disposal.
  • Control of the Chemical using Engineering techniques, safe operating procedures and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Monitoring the Effectiveness of the Control strategy.
Section 4 Control

Documents how controls are to be put in place using a hierarchy of Controls
not unlike what is currently used.

  • Elimination
  •  Substitution
  • Enclosure
  • Isolation
  • Local exhaust ventilation and reduced time exposure
  • Dilution ventilation
  • Use of PPE
  • Personnel hygiene and washing facilities
  • Training

Summary

As time, processes and technology has changed It is clear that the appropriate controls that would be the standard today were not in place at the time of the process taking place and that potential exposure risks were prevalent. The question posed should be was everything reasonably practicable done to ensure personals safety and health at the time.

On that note did the controls deemed reasonable at the time mirror those deemed reasonable in the present. Can the Defence Forces be found not to have done everything reasonably practicable?

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 27/11/18 – Department of Defence – Air Corps Risk Assessments

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

QUESTION NO: 109

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the Air Corps conducts mandatory risk assessments in the context of handling, using and storing dangerous and-or toxic chemicals; the date on which risk assessments in this regard became mandatory; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49522/18]

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

I am advised by the military authorities that if an activity involving the use of chemicals is conducted then this activity will be risk-assessed in accordance with the relevant Health and Safety legislation. The risk assessment will outline the necessary control measures in the handling, use and storage of such chemicals or toxins.

Following three inspections at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel during 2016, the Health and Safety Authority issued a Report of Inspection to the Air Corps on 21 October, 2016. This report listed a number of advisory items for follow up, including the areas of risk assessments and safety statements.

The resultant Air Corps improvement plan confirmed the Air Corps’ full commitment to implementing improved safety measures that protect workers and ensure risks are as low as reasonably practicable. The plan was implemented over eight phases, seven of which the military authorities have advised are now complete, while phase eight – Chemical awareness training and respiratory equipment training – is a continuous, ongoing process.

I wish to assure the Deputy that the health and welfare of the men and women of the Defence Forces is a key priority for me and the military authorities.

*****

Minister Kehoe’s repeated assurances that the Health & Welfare of the men and women of the Defence Forces is a key priority for him and the military authorities ring utterly hollow.

Neither Minister Kehoe nor the military authorities have taken any steps to ascertain if prolonged & unprotected toxic chemical exposure has caused harm to currently serving personnel. They would sooner personnel suffer and die needlessly rather than address the problem. 

There has been no medical investigation, there has been no toxicological investigation. Minister Kehoe’s actions to date show he does not give a damn about the health & welfare of exposed Air Corps personnel. 

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann – Public Accounts Committee – 08/11/18

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

I will move on to another area regarding the State Claims Agency. It relates to the Air Corps. The Air Corps used to hold information in relation to health and safety. Deputy Ó Snodaigh looked for information and stated it was misplaced. Subsequently, there was a court case. There were some whistleblowers. The State Claims Agency stated that no admission was made that the defendants exposed the plaintiff to dangerous chemicals or solvents, and that is the nub of what it relates to.

The State Claims Agency stated that it could confidently claim that there were no injuries due to any act or omission on its part and yet there was no documentation that could provide that confidence. Subsequently, there was a report, the O’Toole report, which stated that the records to demonstrate health and safety compliance are not readily available.

In such a situation where there is the absence of information, how can the State Claims Agency state it can confidently predict or state something when records were not available?

Mr. Ciarán Breen (State Claims Agency)

I apologise Chairman, I did not realise we were going to examine the general indemnity scheme. Generally, I am vaguely familiar with the particular case. While I do not have the exact facts or recollection of it, I am guessing that the reason we confidently stated what we did was either because of where the person was working or we had come to an independent view informed by the Air Corps around those liability issues. I really cannot put it further than that.

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

Could Mr. Breen follow up with a note on it?

 

Mr. Ciarán Breen (State Claims Agency)

I will certainly. Maybe afterwards, the Deputy might give me the name of the case and I will follow it up.

 

*****

The State Claims Agency were aware from late 2013 / early 2014 that the Health &  Safety failings at Baldonnel were in fact an “ongoing” issue and not just a “legacy” issue and failed to intervene by requesting the services of the HSA to protect Air Corps personnel. It took the actions of whistle-blowers at the end of 2015 before the HSA intervened in 2016 to improve Air Corps Health & Safety. 

The State Claims Agency Risk Management branch had been carrying out “Safety Management Systems” audits of the Irish Air Corps, in selected units and at formation level, for a decade before the Health & Safety Authority were forced to intervene to protect personnel from ongoing CMR chemical exposures in 2016.

The NTMA operates a discretionary performance-related payments scheme for eligible employees, which includes staff assigned to the State Claims Agency. The scheme rewards exceptional performance having regard to the employee’s own performance, the performance of the employee’s area of responsibility and the overall performance of the NTMA. Performance-related payments are made in accordance with parameters approved by the Agency’s non-executive Remuneration Committee.

DELAY – DENY – DIE