Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union, has written to the new defence secretary Penny Mordaunt urging her to take action in the Sea King asbestos scandal. This follows a new Freedom of Information release has revealed that the MoD’s records show that on at least 100 occasions workers had been exposed to asbestos.

Thousands of workers affected

Last year it was revealed that thousands of workers who undertook maintenance on the Sea King helicopter between 1969 and 2018, when it was decommissioned could have been exposed to asbestos. The MoD has been forced to finally admit that 90 of the helicopters components contained asbestos.

Since the MoD was forced to admit that workers could potentially have been exposed to asbestos, Unite has sought to ensure that everyone potentially affected, including current and former employees, are both notified and given medical checks. The MoD has said it is unable to do so as it lacks a ‘central record’ of who worked on the Sea King.

Portsmouth workers at risk

With the Sea King having been based at the Solent naval base, many of those affected by the scandal will be living in Ms Mordaunt’s Portsmouth North constituency.

Terrible illness

In his letter to Ms Mordaunt (a naval reservist), Unite national officer Jim Kennedy said: “Secretary of State, asbestos related diseases result in terrible distressing illness that more often than not is terminal. Your constituents will be amongst the many thousands that came into contact and have undertaken maintenance on the Sea King and are therefore likely to have been exposed to asbestos.

“The continued failure to act to contact those who may have been exposed is simply not good enough. It indicates institutionalised neglect, and that will be exposed.”

The scandal has further deepened as the MoD has admitted that when the asbestos components were originally discovered during a modification programme in 2006, not only was it decided to keep many of the components in the aircraft no risk assessment procedures regarding the potential exposure were introduced until last year, just a few months before the Sea King was taken out of service.

Over 100 reported incidents

The Freedom of Information request, made by Unite, revealed that since 2004 there have been over 100 times when contact with asbestos was recorded on the official ‘hazard log’.
Given that workers were not warned about the dangers, these figures are likely to be a gross underestimation of how many times workers were actually exposed to asbestos.

National scandal

Unite national officer Jim Kennedy added: “The failure to notify former Sea King maintenance workers that they might have been exposed to asbestos is a national scandal.

“The MoD has sought to sweep the matter under the carpet, but Unite hopes that the new defence secretary, whose constituents have a direct interest in the scandal, will ensure that proper procedures are put in place.

“The multiple failures by the MoD in this matter is deeply disturbing and demonstrate that the government appeared more interested in maintaining its helicopters, than ensuring the health and welfare of its workers.”


Notes to editors:

Unite has called on the MoD to introduce a three point plan:
• 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.

Government hiding behind ‘commercial interests’ in Sea King asbestos scandal

For more information please contact Unite communications officer Barckley Sumner on 020 3371 2067 or 07802 329235.

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.