The widespread historic use of asbestos, in buildings, infrastructure and equipment, and its continued management is a wide-ranging and continuously evolving issue, which is not confined to defence.
The MOD is acutely aware of the ongoing interest in asbestos in defence, particularly following reports about Sea King helicopters and the Ashchurch vehicle depot.
The health and safety of our personnel is of upmost importance and we are committed to providing a safe working environment including the continued replacement and elimination of asbestos items wherever practicable. We are also determined to ensure that people have the right information about potential risks to exposure, allowing those risks to be properly managed.
As such, this page will provide further information as this becomes available.
The MOD has been engaged in work to review the management of Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs) in defence equipment. This is a complex and evolving issue, especially in light of the range and age of some of the equipment types involved, some of which are now out of service. This work continues, but a list of defence equipment with known ACM items is in the table below. People that have operated or maintained these equipment types may find the following information useful in considering their possible risk of personal exposure.
Historically, and prior to legislation prohibiting and restricting their use, ACM was widely used in building and infrastructure and some engineering applications, including on defence equipment. Typically, this was where resistance to heat or an insulating property was required such as in seals and gaskets within engine and heating systems.
Progressive legislation has restricted and prohibited the use of asbestos in new equipment, but the continued use of existing products and equipment containing asbestos was not prohibited provided the risks of exposure were properly managed.
Following legislation in 1999 on the use of white (chrysotile) asbestos, the MOD has taken steps to reduce and eliminate where practicable the use of ACM in defence equipment. In line with guidance from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), the safest option is usually to leave asbestos in situ and undisturbed as long as it is possible to do so. The replacement of ACM in defence equipment has therefore mainly been undertaken as and when specific components have required replacement. The MOD remains committed to reducing the use of ACM across defence equipment, but some ACM components need to remain in use on specific platforms to maintain operational capability.
The majority of asbestos materials in defence equipment are bonded with other materials and embedded within equipment and systems that would not routinely be disturbed outside of a maintenance facility.
The presence of ACMs should, however, be correctly recorded and managed, ensuring that operators and maintainers of equipment are aware of potential risks to health, and that suitable handling precautions are taken during activities where ACM items may be accessed or disturbed.
Through the work that has been undertaken to review the management of ACM it has become clear that these items have not always been correctly recorded and managed across a range of defence equipment. This presents a potential risk to some people of unintended exposure to asbestos fibres. The risk of ill health following any exposure to asbestos is dependent on the degree of exposure. HSE guidance notes that many cases of short-term exposure to asbestos will most likely to have led to minimal exposure to fibres, with little likelihood of any long-term ill health effects. In general terms, the more asbestos fibres that may have been released and the greater the cumulative exposure, the greater the potential risk of ill health effects. For these and other reasons, it is not possible to determine the risk to individuals but because most people will not have been in direct proximity to asbestos, it is highly unlikely they will have been exposed at all.
Work continues to identify and record ACM and ensure that the relevant technical and safety information is made available to people as soon as possible. However, this will take some time to complete and it is not possible at this stage to provide detailed information about ACMs on all of the equipment types listed in the table below. Further platform specific information will be issued as it becomes available.
The presence of ACM in defence premises, and in other industrial and commercial properties, is well known.
The initial prohibition of the supply and use of asbestos first came into effect in 1985. Most of the asbestos containing construction products in use on the MOD estate date back before this period and would have already exceeded their intended lifespan. Defence has a duty to manage and protect people from the risk of asbestos and conforms to the requirements of the UKs Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and associated HSE Approved Code of Practice (ACOP).
The HSE ACOP states if the material is in good condition, well protected either by its position or physical protection, reducing the likelihood of damage, and is unlikely to be worked on regularly or otherwise disturbed, it is usually safer to leave it in place and managed.
In general, asbestos in MOD infrastructure is bonded with other materials and / or embedded within the fabric of buildings, and as such there is a reliance on controls measures to manage these materials to prevent them from being disturbed.
Where asbestos is known it is recorded on asbestos registers and labelled accordingly where required.
However, despite numerous surveys of the estate, previously unknown asbestos containing materials may still be encountered or asbestos may have degraded which could potentially present a risk of unintended exposure.
There may also still be unidentified asbestos in some infrastructure assets and where this is the case there is a presumption that it is present so it can be managed accordingly.
Further improvements are being made to the way the MOD manages asbestos. These pages will be updated as more information becomes available.
The presence of asbestos does not in itself create a health risk; the risk arises from