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BRITAIN’S largest trade union has expressed alarm after the Ministry of Defence (MoD) scrapped guidance on how asbestos should be handled by workers.
Unite, which represents thousands of MoD contractors, says it was not consulted before the guidance was revoked — a move that the union discovered from the Morning Star.
It comes amid growing pressure on the MoD to come clean about how many of its personnel have been exposed to asbestos, particularly security guards at Ashchurch military base in Gloucestershire and retired maintenance workers who looked after Sea King helicopters.
An advisory saying that existing advice should be disregarded until it is replaced can be found on the government’s website, having appeared last Thursday.
But with Parliament now prorogued, Unite says no new guidance can be officially introduced until MPs return — which will happen in mid-October at the earliest.
The government advisory says: “Chapter 36 Asbestos (January 2016) … is currently being reviewed and no reference or use should be made of the currently published guidance therein.
“The Defence Safety Authority take no responsibility for the use of the current guidance.”
Unite national officer for MoD workers Jim Kennedy said: “This latest action demonstrates once again that the MoD is failing in its duty to protect workers from exposure to asbestos.
“To remove the existing guidance, without consulting or even informing unions, is completely unacceptable.
“To do so before new guidance is in place demonstrates that the MoD is yet again failing in its duties to protect workers.
“The problems at Ashchurch and the Sea King scandal mean that thousands of MoD workers have potentially been exposed to asbestos and the department has failed to put in rigorous procedures to ensure workers’ safety.
“It is now incumbent on the MoD to explain why the guidance was withdrawn, when new guidance will be introduced and what processes must be followed in the meantime.”
But a spokeswoman told the Star: “The MoD routinely updates its policies and guidance.”
The ministry’s health and safety document, known as JSP 375, is being updated as part of the “normal regulatory review” of MoD policies, she said.
The spokeswoman claimed that the policy had been “inadvertently withdrawn” before the revised chapter was published, but that a revised version is “now available to MoD personnel and contractors.”
She insisted that it would be published for public access “in due course.”
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