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

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

Watch Deputy Catherine Murphy question Mr. Ciaran Breen, Director of the State Claims Agency and Mr. Pat Kirwan,  Head of Enterprise Risk, also at the State Claims Agency, about the failure of a decade of Risk Management Section, Heath & Safety Management System audits at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.

The State Claims Agency audits at Baldonnel commenced in 2006 and continued as the Irish Air Corps were investigated by the Health & Safety Authority in 2016 for serious breaches of the Safety, Health & Welfare at Work Act 2005. Breaches that including the very basic failure to provide PPE or chemical training.

It took the threat of legal action by the Health & Safety Authority as well as 2 years & 9 months of intervention to finally close the HSA file on what their own inspectors described as the most serious case of chemical misuse in the history of the state.

It should be noted that the State Claims Agency were not only aware from 2013 that the unprotected chemical exposures at Baldonnel were an ONGOING LIVE ISSUE, but bizarrely failed to intervene to prevent further exposure once this knowledge was in their possession.

It took the actions of three whistle-blowers in 2015 to bring the ongoing toxic chemical Health & Safety failures at the Irish Air Corps to the attention of the Minister for Defence and also to the attention of the Health & Safety Authority.

Why did the State Claims Agency fail to notice the high rate of untimely mortality, the high rate of suicide, the high rate of sick leave, the lack of PPE records and the lack of any chemical training records in 10 years of supposed audits.

Why did the State Claims Agency fail to act in 2013 when they did become aware that personnel were still being needlessly exposed to dangerous chemicals without PPE and without any chemical safety training?

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 23/10/18 – Department of Defence – Air Corps Health Monitoring

Jack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)

QUESTION NO: 172

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the changes in health and safety policies that have been implemented following the publication of the report of the independent reviewer, protected disclosures, Air Corps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43404/18]

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

I have sought the information from the military authorities and will revert to the Deputy when it is to hand.

 

Jack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)

QUESTION NO: 173

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if a programme that monitors actual exposure of Defence Forces members to hazardous substances either via personal air monitoring or biological monitoring as outlined in the report of the independent reviewer, protected disclosures, Air Corps is in place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43405/18]

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

I have sought the information from the military authorities and I will revert to the Deputy when it is available.

 

14th November 2018

Mr Jack Chambers, T.D.,
Dail Eireann,
Leinster House,
Dublin 2.
Dear Deputy,

You will recall my recent-replies to written Parliamentary-Questions 43-404/18 and 43405/18, wherein I advised you that I had sought the requested information from the military authorities and that I would revert to you when it was to hand.

I have now received the aforementioned information from the military authorities. At the outset I would like to advise you that while the exposure monitoring programme is referenced in the June, 2017 report of the independent reviewer, it is actually outlined (as a recommendation) in the Health & Safety Authority’s Report of Inspection to the Air Corps dated 21 October, 2016, which followed three inspections by the HSA at Casement Aerodrome during 2016.

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 8 – Chemical awareness training and respiratory equipment training – is a continuous, ongoing process.

Phase 7 comprised a review of the Defence Forces policy on hazardous substances. This policy was subsequently amended in September, 2017 and, inter alia, describes the Defence Forces methodology for the assessment of risk arising from the transport, storage and disposal of hazardous substances. The new policy also provides guidance for military personnel. civilian employees and other relevant persons on the risk assessment process and control and measures to be implemented to reduce the risk of injury from the use, transport, storage and disposal of hazardous substances to a level that is as low as reasonably practicable.

Insofar as a programme that monitors exposure to hazardous substances is concerned, I am advised by the military authorities that the Air Corps have conducted and continue to conduct air monitoring studies at Casement Aerodrome and that the Air Corps are currently planning further air monitoring  studies in targeted areas next year.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Kehoe, T.D.,
Minister with responsibility for Defence

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 Written Answers 25/10/18 – Department of Defence – Sick Leave

Jack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)

QUESTION NO: 70

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of sick days taken by members in each service of the Defence Forces to date in 2018. [44411/18]

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

In line with other sectors, sick leave statistics for the Defence Forces are compiled annually and provided to the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform (D/PER). These statistics are used in order to track the levels of absenteeism across the public service. The absence rates for the public service are then published by D/PER.

The total number of sick leave days claimed by members of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps as of the 23rd October is outlined in the tabular format below.

ServiceSick Leave 2018
Up to 23/10/18
Service Strength
Up to 31/10/18
Average Sick Leave Per Person
Army55,24272367.5
Naval Service5,4209935.5
Air Corps6889709
9.7
Total67,55190287.5

 

*****

Why are Air Corps personnel 30% sicker than their Army counterparts. 

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann – 8th November 2018 – Public Accounts Committee

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North)

Public Accounts Committee

Deputy Murphy questions Mr. Ciaran Breen the Director of the State Claims Agency, regarding the agency’s stance on claims taken agains the Irish Air Corps regarding unprotected toxic chemicla exposure.