Dáil Éireann Written Answers 21/07/20 – No internal investigation into Irish Air Corps safety failures

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 353

To ask the Minister for Defence the actions he, his officials, the Chief of Staff Branch, Air Corps headquarters and or the State Claims Agency has taken to investigate the reasons for the non-compliance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Acts 1989 and 2005 at the Air Corps as stated by the Health and Safety Authority investigation which concluded after nearly three years in September 2018; and the steps taken at all levels to ensure the same failings to do not occur again in the Air Corps or the other branches of the Defence Forces. [16654/20]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

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

The Deputy will be aware that following three inspections at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel during 2016, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) 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, safety statements and the provision and use of personal protective equipment.

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 Air Corps improvement plan was implemented over eight phases, which the military authorities have advised are now complete, with phase eight, chemical awareness training and respiratory equipment training, being a continuous process.

The HSA has formally noted the high level of cooperation received and the considerable progress made to date by the Air Corps in this regard and their investigation is now closed.

A wide range of other measures are in place to ensure the health and safety of those serving in the Air Corps including monitoring exposure levels, conducting annual occupational medical screening, audits and training.

As the health and wellbeing of the men and women working in the Air Corps is a priority, the former Minister ensured that allegations relating to exposure to chemical and toxic substances whilst working in the Air Corps in Baldonnel were independently reviewed. The independent report considered the Defence Forces health and safety regime, its current policy and its application and made a number of observations including in relation to documentation, health surveillance, and exposure to monitoring. The report was published on the Department’s website following its circulation to those who made disclosures.

The Air Corps and the wider Defence organisation is committed to complying with health and safety legislation. The organisation is proactive in ensuring that the best standards are adhered to in order to ensure that the risk to human health is as low as reasonably practicable.

The Deputy will appreciate that as litigation is ongoing, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further.

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It would have offered some small comfort to survivors of the Irish Air Corps chemical exposure tragedy if the recently re-appointed Minister Coveney had stated that the health & welfare of former personnel who served at Casement Aerodrome was also high priority for him, his Department and the military authorities but alas he chose not to do so at this time.

In terms of the “high level of cooperation” and the “full commitment to implementing improved safety measures” we must be very clear, the Health & Safety Authority threatened legal action if the Irish Air Corps did not comply with their instructions to improve conditions at Baldonnel.

To say there was a high level of cooperation is nonsense because the Air Corps had no choice but to comply. It is akin to a drunk driver crashing into a cafe & injuring scores of people then having a judge praise their cooperation once caught. 

Calling the orders of the HSA “advisory” is also a subtle attempt to downplay the seriousness of the problems discovered. But yes issuing PPE such as gloves, respirators, eye protection and also providing chemical safety training 28 years after they became mandatory is indeed “great progress”. 

But why was no disciplinary process started within the Defence Forces to hold to account those in management who presided over the decades long health & safety shambles?

Current Irish Air Corps compliance with workplace Health & Safety legislation is merely a veneer. There has been no change to safety culture and the Formation Safety Office is severely under resourced and with no dedicated H&S enforcement personnel.

Surprisingly, Vice Admiral Mellett told an Air Corps campaigner recently that it is difficult to change the safety culture of an organisation like the Air Corps. If only the Chief of Staff ahad powerful enforcement tool at his disposal such as military law to force such a culture change through quickly?

When there is a will there is a way, unfortunately decades on from the Army deafness scandal, the insular Defence Forces still don’t understand true Health & Safety from the bottom to the very top of the organisation and without proper understanding there is no will to change. 

In terms of the independent third party investigation it was neither independent nor third party. While there may have been initial attempts to find an independent third party specialist with toxicological or chemical experience, the last government eventually decided to appoint a recently retired barrister from the office of the Attorney General. This is an office of the state that is being sued by former Air Corps personnel so by no stretch of the imagination was this investigator independent nor third party, he was a retired civil servant still on the payroll of the state.

The so called “O’Toole report” is striking because the investigator states at the very start of the report that he was not qualified to undertake the investigation he was tasked to carry out.

My expertise is in the area of law and in carrying out this review it was my intention to examine compliance by the Air Corps with the relevant law and regulation. I was not in a position to consider the substances in use or any implications for human health arising from such use as these issues are outside my competence. The allegations concern both the current health and safety regime and compliance with that regime in a period stretching back over 20 years.

That Minister Coveney can point to this investigation as something worthwhile is stretching credibility. Essentially, the reason for appointing O’Toole was to slow down the  need for a political response to the problem and to ultimately justify doing zero to help save lives & reduce suffering of exposed Air Corps personnel. 

The “O’Toole Report” officially known as the “Report of the Independent Reviewer – Protected Disclosures – Air Corps” can be read in full via the link below.

https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/2250a7-report-of-the-independent-reviewer-protected-disclosures-air-corps/

The Risk Management Section of the State Claims Agency audited Irish Air Corps compliance with Health & Safety for a decade before the Health & Safety Authority were forced to intervene to stop the ongoing unprotected exposure of the workforce to carcinogens, mutagens, reproductive toxicants & toxic chemicals at Casement Aerodrome.

The HSA file was opened in January 2016 and was only closed in September 2018 but the “superb” health & safety performance of the Air Corps for the decade prior to HSA intervention allowed the State Claims Agency & NTMA to justify discretionary performance-related payments for their own personnel & senior management. 

The State Claims agency earned bonus pay for improvements in Air Corps health & safety risk profile while the very same same Air Corps continued to seriously harm serving personnel through lack of even the most basic health & safety measures.

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Taoiseach under pressure as SCA slow to hand over air corps documents

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27 men and one woman have died since the first whistleblower raised concerns of untimely deaths in a Protected Disclosure to the Minister for Defence in 2015.

Absolutely nothing has been done to provide targeted healthcare for exposed personnel since this date despite damning findings by the HSA which the Department of Defence continue to try to downplay. 

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 

Call to strike out army’s defence of chemicals exposure case

Irish Air Corps Gulfstream IV #251 that could not fit inside hangar.

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Who would have thought that an arm of the state could simply ignore the highest court in the land with absolute impunity?

The Irish Air Corps are now at the stage of offering “dog ate my homework” excuses while personnel continue to suffer and die needlessly

Army blames Covid-19 for continued failure to give affidavit to former Air Corps mechanic

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

Aerotoxic Syndrome : A new occupational disease?

Background

Concerns related to adverse health effects experienced by aircrew exposed to aircraft contaminated air have been ongoing for over 6 decades.

Unfiltered breathing air is supplied to the cabin via the engine compressor. The likelihood that oil leaking over the engine oil seals may enter the cabin air supply has prompted continuing debate about the hazards associated with exposure to neurotoxic substances and to the thermally degraded or pyrolysed mixture.

In this study, we undertook an in-depth investigation of aircrew involved in suspected aircraft contaminated air events.

Methods

Two studies were conducted to review the circumstances and symptoms of a cohort of aircrew working in the pressurized air environment of aircraft. A table of effects was then used for categorizing symptoms and reviewing other sources of data related to aircraft fluids and selected other conditions.

Results

Both acute and chronic exposures to neurotoxic and a wide range of thermally degraded substances were confirmed, along with a clear pattern of acute and chronic adverse effects. The latter were supported by medical findings and diagnoses, notably involving the neurological, neurobehavioural and respiratory systems.

Conclusion

A clear cause and effect relationship has been identified linking the symptoms, diagnoses and findings to the occupational environment. Recognition of this new occupational disorder and a clear medical investigation protocol are urgently needed.

Engine bearing oil leak on compressor blades in CFM56-7 engine on a Boeing 737. This oil leak was within acceptable manufacturer limits and this engine is still fully serviceable.
Yep we know the Irish Air Corps don’t have any 737 aircraft but this Boeing Aircraft Maintenance Manual shows engine bearing compressor oil leaks are routine and don’t necessarily cause the engine to become U/S.

Download scientific research paper from the World Health Organisation…

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  • This is of relevance for personnel who serve or have served in Air Corps aircraft with bleed air pressurisation systems.
  • This of relevance to personnel who worked closely with turbine engine oils
  • This of relevance to personnel who were tubbed with turbine engine oil.
  • This of relevance to personnel in Engineering Wing hangar who used air tools or respirators fed from the old ERF compressor.

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