What did the British ever do for us? A fit for purpose solvent extraction system at Irish Air Corps!

The British Royal Flying Corps built a solvent exhaust stack at the now Irish Air Corps airbase at Baldonnel over 100 years ago. This exhaust stack stack featured a powerful fan for safely removing solvent fumes from a degreasing bath.
In the mid 1980s the Air Corps Machine Shop was moved to this location at the front of the ERF (Engine Repair Flight) building. To facilitate this move the “Trike Bath”, a heated trichloroethylene solvent vapour degreaser, was located to a new Non Destructive Testing (NDT) Shop to the rear of Engine Repair Flight (ERF). The 25 foot extractor chimney was replaced with an inadequate 6 inch fan which was ducted through a nearby window. 
Around 2006 an NDT technician in ERF turned yellow from jaundice due to a chemical induced liver injury. After the NDT technician turned yellow the officer in charge of Health & Safety ordered that the Safety Data Register and adverse air quality tests be destroyed.
The ERF building was condemned in September 2007, a fact that was denied in the Dáil by the former Junior Minister for Defence Paul Kehoe TD.
After some serving & former ERF personnel sought their medical files throught their solicitors in early 2008 the building vanished.
#97dead #DelayDenyDie #TCE #Trike

“A force to be reckoned with” how the State Claims Agency have skin in the game of the Irish Air Corps toxic chemical exposure scandal!

Health and Safety Times Issue 19 2007

A Force to be Reckoned With

The Defence Forces (DF) has become the first State organisation to have its safety management systems validated in an audit carried out by the State Claims Agency (SCA). The independent audit, which was carried out throughout 2006, is based on best practice standards such as OHSAS 18001, HS(G)65, AIRMIC and AS/NZS 4360:24.

At the presentation of health and safety compliance certificates to various DF units, Armn Billy Galligan’s photo shows (l-r): Col Brendan Farrelly (DDFT); Comdt Bob Corbett (DF H&S Offr); Gemma D’Arcy, lead investigator, SCA; Col Paul Pakenham (DFHQ); Maj Gen Dermot Earley (D COS Sp); Adrian Kearns (director, SCA); Brig Gen Pat O Sullivan (GOC DFTC); Pat Kirwan (head of risk and operations, SCA); Brig Gen Chris Moore (A COS Sp) and Lt Col ??

Certificates of compliance were awarded on 27th February (2007), verifying that proper health and safety management structures are in place throughout the Defence Forces.

A photograph taken in December 2007, the year after the State Claims Agency initial audits, showing cresylic acid and hexavalent chromium running down the walls. This was 10 months after Certificates of Compliance were awarded verifying that proper health & safety structures are in place throughout the Defence Forces. The small barrel dissolving itself contains hydrofluoric acid.

“The audit involved an examination of the safety management systems in Defence Forces headquarters, each of the six Defence Forces formations of East, West, South, the Defence Forces Training Centre (Curragh Camp), the Naval Service and Air Corps and in 16 units selected by the auditors from throughout the Defence Forces,” explained Comdt Bob Corbet, staff officer, health and safety.

This was the first time that DF safety systems had been audited. Over the last few years, the Forces had put in place various initiatives to improve its safety management systems and it was felt that these would satisfy the SCA requirements. “Firstly, we computerised our accident and incident reporting and administrative systems and that facilitated the gathering of accident and incident information, which in turn facilitated accident investigation,” explained Corbet. “We wanted to be in a position to comply with the 2005 legislation before it actually came into force.

The collapse of a technician in 2015 while preparing a Pilatus for the 1916 centenary commemoration fly-past and the subsequent chemical induced pneumonia caused to an NCO who came to the technician’s aid was the trigger for a complaint to the Health & Safety Authority. Neither injuries in this  incident were reported to the HSA as mandated by law. So much for the computerisation of accident and incident reporting.

AUDIT PROCESS

Once all these systems were in place, the State Claims Agency began its audit, which took almost a year. Pat Kirwan, head of risk and operations with the SCA, was one of the auditors, along with Gemma D’Arcy, lead risk manager. The State Claims Agency was established under the National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Act 2000. “Our remit includes the provision of risk management advices to the State authorities in order to prevent claims against the State,” explained Kirwan.

“With larger State authorities like the Defence Forces, An Garda Síochána, the Dept of Agriculture and the Irish Prison Service, we establish Risk Management Liaison Groups, so we can work in conjunction and consultation with them on risk management issues. We’ve a very claims focused view.”

Photo of dichloromethane (DCM) as stored by Irish Air Corps in 2015. DCM, which is metabolized in the liver as carbon monoxide after inhalation, was banned in the EU in 2012. DCM is capable of a range of health effects that the Air Corps were aware of such as cardiotoxicity & neurotoxicity. In 1995 an independent Air Quality investigation was commissioned by Capt. (now Lt. Col.) John Maloney at Engine Repair Flight. This investigation found DCM levels as high as 175ppm when the safe limit was 50ppm. Personnel who worked in ERF we never informed of this adverse finding nor the danger to their health.

When the SCA began its audit of the Defence Forces, it looked at the main issues which it felt could lead to large numbers of claims. “We then looked at the management process within the Defence Forces because, in order to have advices and recommendations adopted and effect real change, the systems for managing change and managing risk also had to be examined,” Kirwan continued.

According to Kirwan, the Defence Forces lead the way in health and safety risk management. “We see risk management systems accreditations as the way forward; it’s very much in keeping with the requirements of the 2005 Act and good risk management and claims management practice,” he said. “The SCA audit system is based on the OHSAS 18001, HS(G)65, AIRMIC and AS/NZS 4360:24 systems and has similar criteria. We’re experts in  these areas and we can say to the Defence Forces, as an independent body, that we feel that its systems meet best practice standards. The audit is a way of driving improvement, getting people interested and awarding achievement as well.”

It should be noted that personnel in the Risk Management Section of the State Claims Agency were eligible for  performance related gratuities aka “bonus pay” for improvements in the risk profile of organisations under their remit. Improvements that were so extensive Irish Air Corps personnel were still collapsing from lack of PPE a decade into State Claims Agency oversight.

Seán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
141. To ask the Minister for Finance if personnel employed by the State Claims Agency branch of the National Treasury Management Agency are eligible for bonus payments; and if so, the way in which these bonuses are structured and attained. [51615/17]

Paschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
The National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) has informed me that it 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. The overall amount of performance related payments made in respect of any year is also subject to the approval of the Remuneration Committee.

https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/question/2017-12-05/141/#pq_141

The audit took the best part of a year because the SCA auditors had to sample the Forces’ key functions that impact on health and safety such as training, operations, procurement, engineering, buildings and the input of senior officers. The SCA audited the safety function in all the formations within the Forces, including the three army brigades, the Defence Forces Training Centre (Curragh), the Air Corps, the Naval Service and the Defence Forces’ Headquarters. “We then sampled at least two but usually three units on the ground within each of the formations, so a total of 16 units were audited,” explained Kirwan.

The audit examined safety policy and documentation; training; objective setting and planning; methods of monitoring and checking on progress; and methodologies for audit and review of systems. Essentially, it validated that the Defence Forces has in place the necessary systems to ensure continuous improvement in occupational health and safety standards.

The Defence Forces got the results of the audit just before Christmas, which was a relief to Corbet as he was due to leave for a six-month tour of duty to Kosovo in early April. “It was great to know the outcome before I headed off,” he said. “The criteria are quite strict and it was very satisfying to have our risk management systems recognised and accredited. There was quite a bit of work involved in it and it took a lot of commitment, and it was a lot of work for the auditors, too. We really appreciated their feedback”

A recently installed outdoor gymnasium at Baldonnel, ironically installed on the site of the old Engine Repair Flight. As can be seen in this photo the outdoor training area used by men & women of the Air Corps is located approximately 10 meters from the exhaust of the Spray Paint facility which exhausts such toxic vapors as benzene, toluene, xylene, hexavalent chromium & hexamethylene diisocyanate to name put a few.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
149. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the person or body that chose the installation location of the recently installed outdoor gymnasium at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, County Dublin. [43855/20]

150. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the way in which the Air Corps formation safety office allowed a leisure facility such as the new outdoor gymnasium at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, County Dublin, to be installed 15 m to 20 m from the low level exhaust stack of the Air Corps spray paint facility; if the exhaust stack routinely emits chemicals that are carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction; and if he has full confidence in the current Air Corps chemicals health and safety regime. [43856/20]

151. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the cost of the new outdoor gym; the cost of installation; and the potential cost of relocating it to a safer alternative location at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, County Dublin. [43857/20]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
I propose to take Questions Nos. 149 to 151, inclusive, together.

The Deputy will be aware that three protected disclosures were received in late 2015 and January 2016 in relation to the Air Corps. Legal advice was sought and an independent reviewer was appointed. The Reviewer’s independent report considered the Defence Forces health and safety regime, its current policy and its application. Although the report found that the Defence Forces regime appears to be capable of meeting statutory requirements, it makes a number of observations; including in relation to documentation, health surveillance, and exposure monitoring. It also notes that the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is the appropriate statutory body to deal with such allegations. The report of the independent reviewer was provided to the individuals who made the protected disclosures and it was also published on the Department of Defence website.

In parallel to the independent review, following an inspection in 2016 by the HSA, the Air Corps had continued to work with the HSA to improve its health and safety regime. The HSA has formally noted the considerable progress made to-date by the Defence Forces towards implementation of a safety management system for the control of hazardous substances. The HSA has now closed its investigation. However, it must be noted that in the Air Corps health and safety is a matter of ongoing monitoring, supervision and adjustment.

I am advised by my military authorities that the facility referred to by the Deputy is in fact an outdoor training area as distinct from an outdoor Gym. This equipment was installed at a cost of €21,918 including the necessary site works. I am further advised that the Defence Forces do not plan to relocate the equipment elsewhere as they are not aware of any safety concerns pertaining to the current location.

The SCA will return to the Defence Forces this year (2007) to carry out a maintenance audit. This time, the auditors will examine a smaller sample of functions but will look at some in more detail.

“We got nothing but the utmost cooperation from DF personnel over the course of the audit. They’ve taken a very pro-active approach,” said Pat  Kirwan. “After dealing with the Defence Forces for a period of time, we recognised that it was at the stage where, with a certain amount of work, it would very quickly meet the best practice international standards. When the Defence Forces sets about doing something, it tends to be done correctly,” he concluded.

Health and Safety Times Issue 19 2007 – A Force to be Reckoned With

This post is based upon an article written by Mary Anne Kenny and was published in  Health & Safety Times issue 19 of 2007. A PDF of the complete article may be downloaded here.

To recap a quick timeline of the Irish Air Corps toxic chemical exposure tragedy and the State Claims Agency’s involvement.

  • August 1995 – Irish Air Corps receive report of an “Ambient Air Monitoring for Health & Safety at Work” commissioned by Capt. (now Lt. Col.) John Maloney. The independent report found that airborne levels of dichloromethane were detected at levels of 175ppm when the safe level was 50ppm. No action was taken to remedy this danger and personnel were not informed of the adverse test outcome.
  • January 1997 – Irish Air Corps receive a further report “Monitoring Air Contaminants in Work Shops” which was commissioned by Lt. (now Comdt.) Colin Roche. This testing was carried out by state body Forbairt. This report also found numerous health & safety shortcomings and recommended personnel be issued with adequate PPE and provided with chemical handling training. The Irish Air Corps finally said they would comply with this by December 2017 after HSA instructed them to do so a mere 20 years later. Hundreds were unnecessarily exposed in the intervening two decades.
  • 2006 – The State Claims Agency commenced continuous Health & Safety auditing of the Irish Air Corps
  • February 2007 – The State Claims Agency validated the Defence Forces Safety Management Systems to be in accordance with best practice standards such as OHSAS 18001, HS(G)65, AIRMIC and AS/NZS 4360:24. Certificates of compliance were awarded verifying that proper health and safety management structures are in place throughout the Defence Forces.
  • January 2014 – Legal cases commence against the Irish Air Corps alleging injuries caused by unprotected chemical exposure.
  • February 2014 – Irish Air Corps conduct their own internal retrospective investigation into ERF facility. Also shortly after the first legal case commenced State Claims Agency officials met with former ERF personnel at the Apprentice Hostel Auditorium at Casement Aerodrome. At this meeting the State Claims Agency discovered that the lack of risk assessments, lack of PPE and lack of chemical handling training was a LIVE issue and not a legacy issue as previously believed. At this point the State Claims Agency had the opportunity to alert the HSA to these failing and have ongoing needless exposure stopped. However, for reasons unknown, the State Claims Agency chose not to intervene to stop ongoing exposure. Not their job apparently.
  • November 2015  – Two technicians are injured by an unprotected exposure to n-hexane solvent while installing smoke generators into a Pilatus PC9m. This incident was not notified to the HSA as they are legally obliged.
  • November 2015 – PDFORRA National Health & Safety officer wrote to the DF SO Health & Safety Re: Concerns about the provision of adequate health surveillance for members in the Irish Air Corps
  • December 2015 – Serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel made complaints to the HSA as well as Protected Disclosures to Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney alleging wholesale breaches of the 1989 & 2005 Health & Safety at Work Acts. Breaches alleged included lack of chemical risk assessments, lack of job specific health surveillance, lack of PPE, lack of chemical handling training, lack of reporting of incidents, lack of reporting of spillages, disposal of toxic chemicals by dumping in the ground and pouring down sinks etc.
  • January 2016 – Health & Safety Authority commenced an investigation into the Irish Air Corps at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.
  • June 2016 – The Head of Department, Dept of Mechanical Aeronautical and Biomedical Engineering in the University of Limerick was alerted to the fact that scores of UL students seconded to Casement Aerodrome on work experience were likely exposed to a dangerous working environment. The response was “Please do not contact me or my office again”.
  • October 2016 – Another protected Disclosure was made to Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Mark Mellett alleging that a highly dangerous chemical, Ardrox 666, which contained dichloromethane, sodium chromate & cresylic acid had been dumped in the ground for years where Main Technical Stores was subsequently built. The Chief of Staff was also alerted to health problems suffered by personnel of MTS (& their children) that could possibly be linked to exposure. No action was taken on foot of this Protected Disclosure.
  • October 2016 – Health & Safety Authority issue report of their investigation of the Irish Air Corps and brought to their attention safety, health & welfare matters that they asked receive the Irish Air Corps “immediate attention”. The HSA warned the Irish Air Corps that if their advice was not heeded they could face further enforcement action including prosecution.
  • September 2017 – Health & Safety Authority write to Irish Air Corps recognising the high level of co-operation “and to acknowledge the considerable progress made towards the implementation of a safety management system for the control of hazardous substances that meets commendable standards”.
  • January 2018 – Protected disclosure made to Junior Minister for Defence Paul Kehoe listing 56 verified untimely deaths of serving & former Air Corps personnel who had died at or before age 66. This list excluded those who died from accidents or murder.
  • September 2018 – Health & Safety Authority “close the file” on Irish Air Corps opened three years earlier in December 2015.

Initial letter from Health & Safety authority to Irish Air Corps may be downloaded here. The Safety Data Sheet for Ardrox 666 may be downloaded here.

*****

Hopefully the above article provides readers a good overview of the involvement of the State Claims Agency in the auditing of Irish Air Corps Health & Safety.

The lead case in legal actions against the state was commenced in January 2014 and after judgements in the High Court, the Court of Appeal and a five judge sitting of the Supreme Court the case is now in its 8th year of legal discovery.

In the case of Gavin Tobin versus the Minister for Defence, Ireland and the Attorney General the Judgment of Mr. Justice Clarke, Chief Justice, delivered the 15th July, 2019 can be read here

 

Illnesses linked to dichloromethane aka DCM aka methylene chloride

CAS number: 75-09-2

Diseases linked to this toxicant grouped by strength of evidence.

Photo of DCM-based paint stripper as used by the Irish Air Corps in 2015. An EU ban on the use of DCM-based paint strippers came into force three years earlier on the 6th of June 2012.

Strong Evidence

  • Arrhythmias*
  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)*

Good Evidence

  • Brain cancer – adult*
  • Fetotoxicity (miscarriage / spontaneous abortion, stillbirth)*
  • Reduced fertility – male (infertility and subfertility)*

Limited Evidence

  • Breast cancer*
  • Hepatocellular cancer (liver cancer)
  • Lung cancer*
  • Pancreatic cancer*
  • Peripheral neuropathy*
  • Prostate cancer*

Illnesses marked thus * have been suffered by Irish Air Corps personnel or their offspring.

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 

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

 

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 – 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.

 

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 12/07/18 – Department of Defence – Departmental Legal Costs

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 66

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the estimated costs of defending litigation on Lariam and Air Corps toxic chemical exposure in each year over the past ten years, excluding settlements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32063/18]

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

The State Claims Agency manages and provides legal representation in relation to personal injury claims taken against the Minister including claims in respect of current or former members of the Defence Forces in relation to alleged personal injuries that are referred to in the Deputy’s question.

The Department reimburses the State Claims Agency in respect of any external legal costs. This Department does not hold details of the breakdown of the legal costs incurred in respect of the different categories of personal injuries claims managed by the State Claims Agency on behalf of my Department.

*****

  • The state claims agency were aware from 2013/2014 that the Irish Air Corps toxic chemical exposure problem was still a LIVE issue and not just a LEGACY issue. They had an opportunity at this time to inform the HSA and to start to have the ongoing exposure problems rectified but they chose not to do so.
  • The state claims agency are therefore directly responsible for personnel enduring a further 2 years (approx) of unprotected exposure.
  • The State Claims Agency are in charge of their own cover up and have unlimited taxpayer funds to carry out this task.

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann – Oral Question 38 – 26th June 2018 – Irish Air Corps Protected Disclosure

Mr. Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South-Central )

Question No. 38

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he has received a protected disclosure from a member of the  Defence Forces (details supplied); if he has responded to the disclosure; and the action that has been taken on foot of the disclosure. — Aengus Ó Snodaigh. [27762/18]

*****

To be clear Minister Paul Kehoe & Taoiseach Leo Varadkar received this Protected Disclosure in December 2017, issued a receipt and have ignored since. 

Dáil Éireann – Oral Question 7 – 10th May 2018 – Irish Air Corps Survivors

Mr. Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South-Central )

Question No. 7

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the Chemical Exposure Report 1994-2005 will be released in order to provide former members of the Air Corps who are now chronically ill with information relating to the level of exposure they suffered in view of his recent call for candour and transparency in cases regarding the health of persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter

This relates to a matter that has been ongoing for a while. Given the current controversy around the checks for cervical cancer, there is a need for transparency in publishing reports that will help people suffering health consequences so they can manage future health needs.