• RAF and civilian aircraft engineers working on Sea King helicopters have been warned they may have been exposed to asbestos by the Ministry of Defence/other employers, putting them at risk of developing mesothelioma, diffuse pleural thickening or other diseases. Those developing such diseases may well be entitled to make a compensation claim.

    Where was asbestos used on the aircraft?

    For many years asbestos was routinely used in several aircraft components such as the brakes, engines and heating systems. This has put those working around helicopters and other aircraft at risk of mesothelioma and other diseases. Over the years the Ministry of Defence has taken steps to find suitable alternative components. This has reduced the number of items containing asbestos used in military equipment and transport.

    However, according to the MoD, the Sea King helicopter is still known to contain asbestos “in the engine pipework” and “behind the captain’s chair”. They are now attempting to get in contact with all those who might have been put at risk of diseases like mesothelioma.

    Who was exposed?

    Those simply piloting the helicopters should be fine. The asbestos contained behind their chair should give off no hazardous fibres provided it is in good condition. The engine piping, however, suffers wear and tear, requiring maintenance including replacing, cutting and sawing.

    There is a risk that during this maintenance RAF engineers have been exposed to dangerous fibres which damage the lungs and could later cause mesothelioma/other diseases.

    Aircraft engineers outside the RAF may also be affected, as former UK military Sea Kings have been sold to foreign governments and civilian search and rescue missions. The warning from the MoD follows a report into the asbestos-related death of an Australian aviation engineer, Greg Lukes, who maintained Sea Kings on a naval base..

    What are the risks?

    Exposure to asbestos can cause a number of asbestos-related diseases, including the fatal cancer mesothelioma and (usually) non-fatal diffuse pleural thickening. Aircraft engineers are at particular risk because of the known use of asbestos in helicopters.

    As many as 344 Sea Kings have been built since 1969 and it is estimated that even as of 2000 the Sea King was built with 49 items containing asbestos. This means aircraft engineers who have worked on Sea Kings or other aircraft will continue to be at risk of suffering mesothelioma, diffuse pleural thickening or other disease from their past exposure for many years to come as it typically takes a few decades for such diseases to develop.

    Compensation claims for aircraft engineers exposed to asbestos?

    A claim for compensation can be made by those who develop mesothelioma, diffuse pleural thickening or other diseases due to asbestos from working on Sea Kings or any other aircraft.

    Where the engineer was a member of the RAF a claim against the MoD is only allowed where exposed after 1987 (although there is a government compensation scheme before then). Otherwise, unless the engineer was advised about the asbestos risks and full precautions taken, including dust extraction and respiratory masks, the RAF or any other employer is very likely to be found negligent or in breach of the Asbestos Regulations 1969.

    Claims need to be brought within 3 years of discovering the illness. Due to the amount of time it can take for diseases to develop these claims can often be complex.

    Brachers specialises in recovering compensation and funding for treatment for such asbestos-related diseases.

    This content is correct at time of publication

    Can we help?

    Take a look at our Industrial Disease Claims page for useful information, resources, guidance, details of our team and how we may be able to help you

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