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Asbestos disease warning from MOD for helicopter engineers

Following recent reports from Australia which quoted exposure to asbestos as the main factor in a Australian serviceman’s death, the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) has recently issued a warning to RAF and Royal Navy maintenance and servicing personnel who have worked on the Sea king helicopter that they may also have come into contact with asbestos.

The Sea King helicopter, which first flew 50 years ago and has been widely used by both the RAF and Navy, is aversion version of the American Sikorsky S-61 helicopter, built by Westland Helicopters under license in the UK. They entered service in the UK in 1969 and have been used primarily in the search and rescue role.

The Australian serviceman, Petty Officer Greg Lukes from New South Wales, died from cancer in 2014 and had been a technician who mainly worked on the Sea Kings avionics systems. As a consequence of the report into his death, the MoD confirmed it has launched an urgent programme to remove potentially dangerous parts of the helicopter that contain asbestos from the helicopters and from the spare parts inventory. It has also warned foreign governments who do or have operated the Sea King.

The main cancer caused by exposure to asbestos is mesothelioma, a particularly nasty disease which most commonly starts in the layers of tissue that cover each lung. It is a fairly rare cancer, but is becoming more common, with around 2,700 people in the UK being diagnosed each year. Mesothelioma can take many years to become obvious, meaning that service personnel who have worked on Sea Kings may not immediately be aware of the disease.

Having been widely used for a variety of purposes in housing, transportation and engineering, the dangers of asbestos became widely accepted from the 1960’s onwards, mainly in building and construction industries where asbestos was regularly used as an insulation material. The UK government continued to allow the use of asbestos long after other countries had banned it, resulting in the UK now having one of the worst records of mesothelioma deaths in the world.

Service personnel affected should be able to claim compensation from the MOD, which as with any other employer has a duty of care to protect its employees.

If you have been diagnosed with a work related disease, give us a call and speak to our friendly team to see if we can help: 0800 160 1296.

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