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MoD Alert: Sea King engineers may have been exposed to asbestos warning

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It has long been established asbestos poses a significant risk to human health, but few people would know this deadly material has been used in our military aircraft since for decades.  The Ministry of Defence (MoD), recently issued an alert confirming aircraft engineers may have inhaled asbestos while maintaining Sea King helicopters.  It is thought thousands of military personnel may have been exposed.

The Sea King helicopter, which has seen action in Afghanistan and the Falklands, has been a stalwart aircraft used by the British military since 1969 and is most well-known for its search and rescue capabilities.  Due to its age, the helicopter-type is being gradually withdrawn from service; however, some remain in use.

It is believed Sea King pilots, of whom both Princes William and Harry were perhaps the most famous, were not exposed to asbestos. 

In the mid-1900’s asbestos was widely used as an effective insulator.  It was prevalient in the construction sector and in transport; for example in car clutches, brakes, gaskets, and transmission systems.

Searching for those affected

The MoD is now attempting to track down all personnel who may have been exposed to asbestos related to the Sea King.  An MoD spokesperson stated, "any remaining items in service Sea Kings suspected to contain asbestos are being removed urgently and we are contacting those who may have been exposed in the past, detailing the actions they should take,”.  However, exposure is not limited to UK personnel; many overseas government and private organisations have purchased the aircraft.  It was the investigation and report four years ago into the death of Australian avionics technician, Petty Officer Greg Lukes, from an aggressive cancer, which led to the MoD alert being raised.  The report into the death stated the cancer may have been due to exposure to asbestos, or other such toxins on the military base at which Mr Lukes was employed in New South Wales.

Serious damage caused by asbestos exposure

Anyone who has been directly exposed to asbestos is at a greater risk of serious life-threatening disease including:

  • Mesothelioma – a cancer commonly linked to asbestos exposure, characterised by tumours on a thin protective lining within the body (the mesothelium), and can show in the lungs, stomach, heart or testicles.  Symptoms depend on the site of the cancer – but if in the lining of the lungs, the disease causes chest pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue.  If within the abdomen, patients may suffer from abdominal pain, swelling, and loss of appetite. 
  • Other cancers associated with asbestos including, lung, ovarian, and laryngeal cancers.
  • Asbestosis – due to the asbestos fibres, the lungs can become severely scarred and inflamed, reducing their ability to function properly.  Over time this can result in death.
  • Pleural thickening – whereby the pleural lining of the lungs becomes thicken, leading to reduced lung function.
  • Pleural effusion – a build-up of fluid, often referred to as ‘water on the lungs’

Bringing a claim due to asbestos exposure

Asbestos-related disease can take decades to eventuate.  Typically, prospective claimants have three years from the date they became aware they had become ill as a result of exposure to asbestos, to file a claim with the court.  However, if you have already exceeded this time limit, it is important to seek legal advice, as it may be possible persuade the court to use its discretion to allow the claim.  Once instructed, a personal injury solicitor will need to establish that negligence occurred which caused you to be exposed to asbestos.  It may be you were not informed of the existence or risks of asbestos, or you may not have been given the necessary training or protective equipment to ensure you were kept safe.  Any organisation with asbestos within its buildings or other structures has a duty to ensure the safety of workers and members of the public – failure to do so may constitute negligence.  

It is vital you carefully select a personal injury solicitor with the experience and credibility to represent you.  Claims of this nature can be complex, requiring investigation and sourcing of evidence from decades previous; therefore, ask if the law firm you are considering representing you has a successful track record of handling asbestos claims like yours.  As part of the evidence gathering process, it may be necessary to review your employment history to ascertain where you have been exposed, and the amount of exposure received in each role.  

By engaging IBB Claims, you can be assured we have handled asbestos-related personal injury compensation claims.  We will take the matter off your shoulders on a no-win-no-fee basis, allowing you to focus on your family and receiving the medical support you need.

At IBB, our personal injury team has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to seek compensation for asbestos-related personal injury. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at enquiries@ibbclaims.co.uk or fill in our contact form.  Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.

The information contained within our Blog Articles is provided as general information only. It does not constitute legal or professional advice or seek to be an exhaustive statement of the law and should not be relied on or treated as a substitute for specific advice relevant to particular circumstances. For further details, please see our terms of use policy.