Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union, has raised serious concerns that members employed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) are being potentially exposed to asbestos, at the Ashchurch military base in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire.

Most workers on indefinite leave

The majority of the 500 strong workforce including contractors at the Ashchurch site have been placed on indefinite leave after asbestos was discovered throughout the site. The base which is operated by Defence Equipment Services, is the primary centre for the long term storage and distribution of military vehicles.

While the majority of staff have been placed on indefinite leave, this does not apply to the MoD Guard Service (MGS) who are still required to patrol the base either on foot or in vehicles.

Special boots

The MGS workers undertaking the patrols are required to wear a specific pair of boots which have to be removed on the completion of their patrols and are not allowed to be taken to other areas. This has raised serious concerns among the affected guards that their health is being put at risk.

Unite has written to senior management at the MoD raising their safety concerns but has not yet received a response.

The affected workers have had no information about the level of risk to their long-term health or their risk of exposure.

Asbestos dangers alarming

Unite regional officer Caren Evans who has national responsibility for the MoD said: “Requiring MoD guards to continue to patrol a site which is otherwise shutdown owing to asbestos contamination is alarming.

“The fact that workers have to change their boots clearly indicates there is a risk of further contamination; no worker should be placed in harm’s way.

“Changing boots does not protect workers from breathing in asbestos which can have fatal consequences.

“The MoD must introduce a zero tolerance approach to ensure that no one is exposed to asbestos.”

The failure to protect workers at Aschurch adds to the MoD’s failings already identified by Unite about training workers on asbestos awareness. A recent Freedom of Information request discovered that in the last 18 months just 1.56 per cent of MoD workers have received any form of asbestos awareness training.


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.