No action against navy over asbestos

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) will not prosecute the Naval Service after some of its personnel were exposed to asbestos during maintenance work onboard ships last year.

PDforra, which represents enlisted men in the Defence Forces, reacted angrily to not being told of the move, especially as it had made the official complaint.

National health and safety officer Ray McKenna told delegates at their annual conference in Galway he had received correspondence from the navy which stated the HSA had finished its investigation and there would be no prosecution.

The authority, it was signalled, also believed the naval authorities had put satisfactory protocols in place to address asbestos issues that arose in the future.

Three ships — LÉ Orla, LÉ Ciara, and LÉ Aoife — were all found to have quantities of asbestos onboard.

In one case, some servicemen and civilian employees of the Department of Defence were exposed to asbestos fibres for up to three weeks as they did work onboard without sufficient personal protection clothing.

“I have contacted the HSA expressing my concerns at not being informed of this as I was the one who lodged the complaint on behalf of the Naval Service members,” said Mr McKenna.

He also stressed concerns for the long-term health of those exposed to asbestos and asked the HSA for a copy of their investigation report.

“Even though asbestos awareness and removal training has now been provided along with assurances of ongoing medical screening, PDforra has serious concerns for the long-term health of its members who were exposed as it can take up to 40 years for symptoms of exposure, such as mesothelioma and asbestos, to manifest themselves,” said Mr McKenna.

Senior navy officers were caught by surprise when the asbestos was recovered, it was indicated, as a fleet-wide survey for the substance 15 years ago confirmed a clean bill of health.

The surveyors have since gone out of business, leaving the taxpayer to foot a €1m clean-up bill.

The Naval Service has since introduced protocols to deal safely with asbestos found on vessels.

The HSA, meanwhile, said it would not be commenting on the case.

On a further issue of concern, PDforra is seeking to end a practice where crews have to sleep on ships on return to base as there is no proper accommodation in the Haulbowline headquarters.

At its annual delegate conference in Galway yesterday, PDforra deputy general secretary Ger Guinan said such an unacceptable situation had to stop.

“Naval Service ship crews must frequently sleep on-board when alongside the naval base between patrols,” said Mr Guinan.“This is a very unsatisfactory arrangement as it is akin to sleeping in the workplace.

“PDforra is calling for the building of dedicated, high quality accommodation for ships’ crews when they are alongside the naval base between patrols.”

Mr Guinan said money for the project could be sourced from the recently announced capital spending allocation, which plans to provide the defence forces with €437m between 2016 and 2021 for infrastructure upgrades.

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