Three written disclosures were made, in November and December 2015 and January 2016, under the provisions of section 8 of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, relating to alleged failings in the Defence Organisation in the area of Health and Safety. Legal advice was sought on how best to progress certain disclosures as elements related to matters which are the subject of the ongoing litigation. I appointed an independent reviewer to examine the disclosures.
Following receipt of the report of the independent reviewer, I invited the views of those who had made the disclosures and published the report. I also sent the report to the Chief of Staff for the views and actions of the military authorities to be set out. In parallel to the independent review, following an inspection in 2016, the Air Corps had continued to work with the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) to improve its health and safety regime. I have been informed by the military authorities that the HSA has formally noted the considerable progress made to-date by the Defence Forces towards implementation of a safety management system for the control of hazardous substances. Subject to completion of the improvement plan the HSA investigation is closed. However, it must be noted that in the Air Corps health and safety is a matter of ongoing monitoring, supervision and adjustment.
The Defence Forces are continuing to develop their approach to the management of health screening. In relation to health surveillance, a risk assessment process will identify that exposure to a hazardous substance can cause a disease or illness and if there is a reasonable likelihood of an illness occurring. Specifically, in relation to carcinogenic, mutagenic, or toxic for reproduction (CMRs) the Chemical Risk Assessment will identify the need for specific health surveillance or screening. The Defence Forces have a comprehensive annual occupational medical screening process. Unit commanders will ensure that Defence Forces medical staff will be informed of the type and nature of activities carried out by individuals. Individuals are also responsible for briefing the medical staff on the type of activities they carry out in their work practices during the medical screening process.
The State Claims Agency is currently managing a number of claims for personal injuries alleging exposure to chemical and toxic substances while working in the Air Corps. There is ongoing engagement with the State Claims Agency in this context and my consideration of these issues must necessarily be informed by this ongoing litigation. It would therefore be inappropriate to comment further at this point.