Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, is asking for a meeting with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) over its ‘catastrophic failure’ to contact the estimated 1,000 former employees, who could have been exposed to asbestos while maintaining Sea King helicopters.

Unite has been campaigning strongly in the last year that the MoD should redouble its efforts to trace those ex-maintenance staff who had serviced Sea King helicopters since 1969, so they could be tested for the exposure to asbestos.

The union said in a letter to the MoD today (Thursday 28 February) that the ministry had failed to ‘adequately’ answer its concerns.

Unite national officer Jim Kennedy said there had been ‘a catastrophic failure by the MoD in relation to their duties to defence personnel, contractors and visitors’.

“It is clear a record should have been maintained of all personnel working with asbestos containing materials (ACMs) and, in this specific case, the Sea King helicopter. 

“The retention of such data would allow contact to be made with those who had worked on the Sea King helicopter to make them aware of possible exposure to ACMs.”

Jim Kennedy is asking for a meeting with MoD top brass to probe a number of key issues, including looking at all copies of risk assessments undertaken about the potential exposure to ACMs in relation to the Sea Kings.

The MoD has previously admitted it does not have a central record of those staff maintaining the Sea Kings since they came into service 50 years ago.

Unite has called for the MoD to enact a three-point plan, but the ministry has, so far, not implemented the action plan. The union has said: 

  • The MoD must introduce systems, as a matter of urgency, to identify all current employees who may have been exposed to asbestos
  • The MoD must offer follow up counselling or access to medical checks for current and former employees
  • The MoD must introduce a system that will notify all former MoD employees of the risk they now face due to previous unknown exposure to asbestos while working on the Sea King.


Notes to editors:

The MoD has admitted that a number of components fitted to the Sea King were made of asbestos and, despite a modification programme in 2006 to replace those parts, a recent investigation revealed that ‘not all the parts had been purged from the supply chain’. 

The MoD has issued a Defence Information Notice (DIN) to current employees advising them to fill in a personal asbestos record with a copy to their GP.

Unite has an online register so that members can quickly and easily record when they have been exposed to asbestos, and that information will be stored in case it is ever needed.

To access the online register go to:

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on:  020 3371 2065

Email: [email protected]

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.