Air Corps chemicals safety system ‘deficient’

Air Corps chemicals safety system ‘deficient’
File photo of Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel

By Joe Leogue

The safety management of chemical hazards within the Air Corps was “significantly less developed than expected” when inspected in 2016, according to an internal report by the health watchdog.

The document is the latest to raise questions about historic conditions within the Air Corps base at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, amid whistleblower allegations and personal injury claims taken against the State by former personnel who now suffer chronic illnesses.

In late 2015, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) received complaints by former and serving members of the Air Corps, who had claimed personnel were not being adequately trained or being protected from the effects of the cancer-causing chemicals used to service aircraft.

The HSA inspected the site and then wrote to the Air Corps to threaten legal action against the force unless its recommended improvements were implemented, as previously reported by the Irish Examiner.

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These recommendations included providing gloves, eye protection, and respirators to those using toxic chemicals, and the monitoring of personnel’s health.

While the HSA has since closed the case and said the Air Corps has implemented its recommendations, a review of the case, released to this newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals further criticism of conditions in Baldonnel at the time of the inspection.

The review states that the levels of control of chemical hazards in the aircraft workshops were largely found to reflect what is typical for the engineering sector.

“However the safety management system for control of chemical hazards was noted to be significantly less developed than would be expected for an organisation of the size and resources of the Air Corps,” the HSA inspector noted in his review.

The inspector then noted he issued the advice letter —the contents of which were previously revealed by this newspaper — to the Air Corps in which he detailed “observed weaknesses or deficiencies” and drew attention to “additional specific issues of concern”.

Meanwhile, junior defence minister Paul Kehoe has yet to reveal what action, if any, he plans to take on foot of a report on conditions in Casement Aerodrome that was submitted to his department over a year ago.

The review into the whistleblowers’ claims found that documentation that proves the Air Corps met its health and safety requirements was “not readily available”.

The Department of Defence sent this report to the whistleblowers in October 2017 for their observations, the last of which were received by the department last January.

The Irish Examiner understands the whistleblowers were unhappy with the scope of the review. They also highlighted how the civil servant chosen to conduct the investigation stated in the report that the terms of reference he was given for this probe were “impractical”, and that elements of the allegations made were issues outside his expertise.

Mr Kehoe has also ruled out any investigation into specific allegations that inspection reports that show the Defence Forces was aware of safety shortcomings as far back as the 1990s were deliberately destroyed as part of a cover-up.

While it has been widely accepted that such inspection reviews did exist at some point, Mr Kehoe has previously told the Dail that the reports may have been “misplaced over time”.

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