Unite has accused the Ministry of Defence of hiding behind ‘commercial interests’ in refusing to provide information about the asbestos scandal involving the maintenance of its Sea King helicopter fleet.

Unite say it has been campaigning for the past year for the Ministry of Defence to contact the estimated 1,000 workers who undertook maintenance on Sea King helicopters since 1969.

This follows the discovery that many of the components in the helicopter contained asbestos. Some of those components remained part of the aircraft even after a modification programme in 2006. According the the union:

“In February Unite national officer Jim Kennedy wrote to the MoD seeking information on what the MoD was doing to contact the workers and strongly urging the ministry to do more. Despite the request not being made under Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, the MoD decided to treat it as an FoI.

The MoD then delayed answering Unite’s letter citing its concern that in doing so it would potentially affect ‘commercial interests’ and therefore it may not disclose the information, under legal exemptions contained in the FoI Act. The MoD will now not reply before the end of the month, two months after the questions were first asked.”

Unite national officer Jim Kennedy said:

“This is an absolute scandal. Not only has the MoD allowed workers to be exposed to asbestos for nearly 50 years, it is now trying to cover up their failings, citing ‘commercial interests’. The MoD is more interested in covering up its failings then ensuring that workers who may have been exposed to asbestos are notified about their contamination.

Workers could have been handed a death sentence by the MoD and it is not even prepared to warn them of what has occurred. It is simply not credible to believe that the MoD does not have records of the workers who operated on military bases.”

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.
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Asbestos was a wonder material untill it turned out to be deadly!.. I demolished an asbestos shed without protection when young when I never knew about asbestos!!?


It is astonishing how much of it is in schools!

Daniele Mandelli

And my Signal Box. But as long as no fittings are made and it remains enclosed and undisturbed it is safe enough.


My wife had to work for 10 years in a school classroom where the panel above the door was asbestos. There were signs telling people not to slam the door! However even normal closing would see the panel wobble.

Bruce sellers

Signalbox? I work for Network Rail and have cause to be involved with Signalboxes icw investigation into Signalling Incidents and failures.
I generally tell my colleagues they need to be especially careful with blue asbestos.
They can tell the difference by grinding up the asbestos and sniffing it, as it is markedly sweeter…

Completely agree about it largely be safe unless disturbed. We called out a ‘specialist contractor’ to retrieve a broken ceiling tile in an equipment relay room.
Said specialist arrived out of hours in casual gear and proceeded to put the broken tile into a Tesco carrier bag.

Daniele Mandelli

Yep. My old box had warning signs not to make any alterations or drilling without consulting site register.

You’re S & T side?

Bruce sellers

Yes. SINCs Engineer at Bristol. It’s a marvellous job in a great industry. Where-abouts are you?

Daniele Mandelli

Wessex Route. Waterloo to Portsmouth line.

Nick C

So where do I stand up and wave when I am going from Petersfield to Waterloo?

Daniele Mandelli


Daniele Mandelli

Agree! Best job I could wish for. Shifts are a pain but you get used to them.


Yeah have it in my house, some old pipes insulated with it that I have bound in packing skink wrap to seal. No worried about it, its a risk when disturbed. Of course if engineers were not told about it they would not know how to take the right precautions.

John Clark

That’s right Daniele, provided it’s not being disturbed by rodents or by mechanical means and the fibers getting airborne, it’s relatively safe.

The most commonly still encountered form is the solid material asbestolux, it’s perfectly safe, as long as the material isn’t broken up, releasing the fibres.


When I was at school in the 1970s my friends and I used to hang out in a cellar where we used to socialise, listen to music and secretly brew beer(*). The cellar had all sorts of heating pipes suspended from the ceiling and unfortunately when a green outer shell developed a crack on one of the pipes one of our favourite pastime was hitting it with a stick so that all the insides came out and created a heavy white dust in the air so thick you almost couldn’t see through it. Over the two years while that cellar… Read more »


There are still items of equipment in service now that contain asbestos. Ifit is managed correctly the hazard is minimal such as if the material is in one price and not broken or cracked. The major hazard is from dust such as brake linings or wear pads. If you want to start with asbestos you can go on to lots of other stuff used in equipment that is potentially harmful… Chromium based paints, tantillum capacitors, berillium, silica lagging… The list goes on and on. You are always going to be playing catch up with materials that where brought into service… Read more »


I seem to remember the Americans using Depleted Uranium tipped tank shells in GW1. That can’t be healthy.

Daniele Mandelli

British Army used it too I think.

Some UK ranges had public consultations into use of DU rounds, Kirkudbright I recall?

Alan Garner

That, I think, was the L26A1 “Jericho” round used specifically to counter Republican Guard T80s. I think most NATO countries outside the US typically use tungsten.


Not if you where in a T72 anyway


Beryllium Oxide was common in power transistors during the 70/80s. Pretty poisonous!


Most gas turbine engines still use asbestos as it one of the few materials that can handle the heat and the thermal cycles without degrading too quickly

BoB Wilson

As Sea King aircrew I cannot remember the number of times this stuff blew around the rear cabin..I would like more info on this scandal


We had our site asbestos survey done only to find (during the survey) a few lads from the maintanain department knocking down an old asbestos shed with sledge hammers…. that went down well…. how we all laughter.


News Flash: Inanimate objects are unhealthy to inhale or ingest. Jesus Christ everything is unhealthy when you get down to it. Every fire retardant that replaced asbestos is just as poisonous if you breath it for long periods or eat it like a moron.


Exposure to a single asbestos fibre can be enough to trigger mesophelioma, a form of cancer killing 92% of sufferers, down the line when you are older. Does it kill you when you are young? No, but it takes a number of years off. That one single fibre can lead to your eventual death is the difference between asbestos and the replacements.


As an apprentice engineer back in the 60s i used to mix asbestos in a bucket to lag pipes.
I then joined the RN and worked on Sea Kings and then left to join WHL working on, yes you guessed it, Sea Kings. What are my chances ??


the is asbestos in seals on engines and heating ducts and other components of every aircraft flying i have handled crumbling seals containing asbestos and we had no warnings about them