Unite the UK and Ireland’s largest union, is demanding decisive action as further information of the asbestos contamination at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) base at Ashchurch in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, has emerged.

Gardening leave

Last week (Thursday 9 August) Unite revealed how although the majority of the staff at Ashchurch had been placed on indefinite gardening leave due to the asbestos problems, the MoD guards at the base had continued to patrol the site and had simply been instructed just to change their boots when leaving the contaminated area.

It has now emerged that the MoD failed to undertake a risk assessment about the danger of contamination for the guards, who were not supplied with any personal protective equipment (PPE).

Crumbling asbestos

It has further emerged that the contamination is in the form of asbestos concrete sheeting in roofs and cladding on external pipework and guttering, which was found to be crumbling and falling as debris on the site. Debris outside the building includes broken asbestos cement rood sheets, gutters and contaminated moss, which has fallen from roofs.

It has also been highlighted that the dogs which are used for patrolling, also did not have any PPE and in caring for the creatures cross contamination concerns have increased.

Water contamination

While washing activities were put in place before vehicles left the site, this was done close to the guards premises and no action was taken to contain the contaminated water.

Unite is also concerned that as asbestos is airborne nearby domestic properties could also have been contaminated.

MoD letter

As a result Unite has written to the MoD seeking:

  • The asbestos register for the site
  • All previous asbestos survey reports
  • That an updated survey is undertaken
  • Details of previous building/maintenance work that had been undertaken which could have disturbed the asbestos
  • The detailed action plan which has been put in place to deal with the current situation
  • Any incidents relating to asbestos exposure
  • Any other documentation relevant to asbestos for the site including previous briefings to staff and awareness training
  • Whether any health assessments have been undertaken related to lung function.
     

Member support

With relation to all the staff on the site including the MoD guards Unite is seeking that the MoD introduces:

  • A full awareness programme to include briefings and information around the effects of asbestos on health
  • Although medical tests at this stage are likely to be inconclusive (due to the long latency period) they should still be conducted. This should include a lung function test and one to one discussion with a suitable medical practitioner, if further investigations are required.
  • A counselling programme for affected staff if they require it.
     

Exposure of workers

Unite regional officer Caren Evans who has national responsibility for the MoD said: “The MoD seems more concerned with protecting its reputation, then ensuring that workers at Ashchurch were protected from exposure to asbestos.

“The only way that the workforce can have any confidence that their health has not been damaged and that the site is now safe is by the MoD being entirely transparent and providing all the information that Unite is seeking.

“Not only is there a real possibility of the MoD guards being exposed to asbestos there is a genuine fear of secondary contamination to relatives and loved ones.

“The MoD must swiftly learn the lessons from these failures and ensure that similar situations do not occur at other bases.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Unite communications officer Barckley Sumner on 020 3371 2067 or 07802 329235. Email: barckley.sumner@unitetheunion.org

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