Asbestos exposure fears grow for naval workers

Workers at the naval dockyard in Haulbowline, Co Cork, have hit out at management for drip-feeding information on the potential exposure to asbestos.

Siptu industrial organiser Jason Palmer, second left, with naval dockyard operative Philip Soans and Michael and Philip Gilmartin in Cobh, Co Cork, yesterday. Pic: Des Barry

The criticism comes after the Irish Examiner revealed that more than 150 Naval Service personnel and civilian workers could have come in contact with asbestos as the crisis deepens over the extent of exposure to the life-threatening substance. Half the fleet has now been affected after it emerged that a fourth ship, the LÉ Eithne, is tied up amid concern that there is asbestos onboard.

Civilian workers at the dockyard have said the transparency promised by management has not been seen and they are not being afforded the same treatment as naval personnel.

Michael Gilmartin, who works as a general operative at the base, said that since the asbestos issue arose, civilian workers have had to fight to receive information.

“They haven’t given us anything,” he said. “We had to go and get it. There has been no transparency. What they are doing is that, if you don’t kick and scream and throw your rattle out of the pram, they are leaving you to the side,” he said.

Patrick Gilmartin, who has worked at the dockyard for more than two decades, said workers were angry that they were not being treated with the same respect as naval personnel.

“What really annoys us is that the navy have been looked after,” he said. “They have received screening already, that’s been and done and dusted. We are only getting ours next week. They’re all sorted and we have just been kicked aside.”

General operative Philip Soans said workers had huge health concerns arising from the discovery of asbestos, particularly as some staff members had been working there for decades.

“With the asbestos awareness course that we’ve done, we have been working a lot longer than four months on this,” he said. “I’ve been here 16 years. It seems now that I have been working with it 16 years without consultation from the management telling us we were working with asbestos.”

Siptu’s Jason Palmer, who represents 25 workers potentially exposed on the LÉ Ciara, said management needed to be proactive when it came to releasing information to workers.

“They’ve given us the information when we have asked but we feel that we shouldn’t have to ask,” he said. “They should be coming to us saying: ‘This is the situation on this vessel, this is the situation on that vessel’ and allaying the fears if they can and removing the uncertainty that’s there.”

The Naval Service has said all recommendations from the Health & Safety Authority would be implemented, including training workers in asbestos recognition and its safe removal.

It also said it had engaged in a proactive manner with workers on every concern.

“Subject matter experts, engineering, medical and health and safety, have been engaged and provided expert advice. All such advice, direction, and guidance has been followed,” said the Navy statement.

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