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Ozzie Air Force deals with F-111 health concerns


Ozzie Air Force deals with F-111 health concerns

MEDIA RELEASE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE PACC 036/01 Thursday, 1 March 2001

Air Force 5 Point Plan Deals With F111 Deseal/Reseal Health Concerns

The Royal Australian Air Force is tonight hosting a Public Forum in Ipswich, Queensland, to outline the Air Force's five point plan to address health issues arising from the F-111 Deseal/Reseal programs and to listen to the concerns of possible affected personnel.

The Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Errol McCormack, who will address tonight's meeting, said the Air Force is holding the meeting to alert personnel to potential health problems arising from the Deseal/Reseal programs and to discuss with them any concerns they may have.

"Health concerns have been raised and Air Force treats these concerns very seriously," he said.

"While the exact nature and extent of the possible health issues which our people may face is not yet known, it is important that all of those involved are fully informed of the possible risks and that they are aware of the medical assistance options available to them should they be required."

Since the introduction of the F-111 aircraft into Australian service, a range of fuel tank repair programs (Desealing/Resealing) were completed by both military and civilian personnel.

"As a result of health concerns of personnel involved in the Deseal/Reseal programs, Air Force commenced an investigation in January 2000 into Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) practices. At the same time, Air Force halted all Deseal/Reseal work until enhanced OH&S practices were put in place."

The Air Force has now convened an independent Board of Inquiry to determine all the relevant facts surrounding current and past Deseal/Reseal processes and to make recommendations concerning OH&S regimes.

"The Board of Inquiry will commence full hearings from 19 March 2001 and is expected to sit for around six weeks. The Board of Inquiry is open to the public and has the full support of the Air Force, Australian Defence Force and the Federal Government in the course of its Inquiry."

"In order to support the Board of Inquiry, the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) has set up a Health Study to assist the Air Force in determining the full extent of the health issues involved and to make recommendations on the health management of personnel affected by the program.

"Because of the complex nature of the health study, the final results may not be available until mid 2002. In the interim, it is vital that anyone who is experiencing unexplained health conditions, or is concerned about their current state of health, seek early medical advice."

Serving members should contact their Health Services Flight, while former members and civilians should telephone DVA on 1800 502 302 in the first instance for further information as to how they can obtain medical assistance.

"As Chief of Air Force I am committed to ensuring that Air Force provides a safe workplace for all personnel. The health and well-being of all personnel is of paramount importance," he said.

Forum Venue - The Cunningham Room, Ipswich Civic Hall, Cnr Limestone and Nicholas Streets, Ipswich, Queensland. Time - 5.30 PM Media welcome

Media Contact Richard Hogan - Defence Media Liaison, Canberra (02) 6265 2913 or 0419 621 753

Editors Note: Background information on the F-111 Deseal/Reseal process, the Board of Inquiry and the Health Study are attached.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

F-111 Deseal/Reseal Programs * The fuel tanks on the F-111 aircraft need to comprehensively sealed to prevent leakage. To achieve this a regular program is employed which involves the manual removal (Deseal) and re-application (Reseal) of material that prevents fuel escaping through the aircraft's fuel tanks. * Since the F-111 was introduced into Air Force service in 1973 a total of three airframe and one wing Deseal/Reseal programs have been conducted. * As a result of growing concerns about the health of the Deseal/Reseal workforce Air Force appointed an Investigation Officer to examine procedures involved in the program. * In January 2000 the Deseal/Reseal program was halted pending further investigation of the Occupational Health and Safety issues involved. * As a result of the initial Investigation the Chief of Air Force called for a Board of Inquiry to be held to examine Occupational Health and Safety practices and procedures employed on the Deseal/Reseal programs. * Deseal/Reseal procedures have now recommenced after the adoption of renewed OH&S standards.

The F-111 Deseal/Reseal Board of Inquiry * When it became apparent from the initial investigation that there could be significant health problems associated with the Deseal/Reseal programs, the Chief of Air Force immediately called for a full Board of Inquiry to thoroughly investigate all Occupational Health and Safety issues associated with the program. * The Board of Inquiry is open to the public and has been instructed to conduct an open and completely transparent inquiry. * The members of the Board are: o Commodore Kenneth Taylor of the Naval Reserve who is a NSW District Court Judge; o Group Captain John Clarkson, a serving RAAF F/A 18 Aircraft Engineering Officer; o Doctor Andrew Hopkins of the Australian National University and an expert in the field of Occupational Health & Safety * The Board has been collecting evidence since June 2000 and held a preliminary hearing on Wednesday 28 February 2001 to hear evidence from a key witness who will be overseas when the full Board commences on 19 March 2001. * It is expected that the Board will hear evidence from witnesses for around six weeks and that its final report will be available later this year. * It is intended that the findings and recommendations of the Board will be made public.

The Department of Veterans' Affairs Health Study and medical assistance * Established by Veterans' Affairs to provide a full scientific study of the health issues that may eventuate as a result of exposure to the chemicals used in the Deseal/Reseal process on the F-111 fleet. * To ascertain the full medical effects of the chemicals used in the Deseal/Reseal process, tenders were recently called for an independent group to undertake a large scale screening project as part of the Health Study. The study team is expected to begin contacting RAAF and civilian maintenance contractors in June 2001 to arrange medical examinations. * All current and former RAAF personnel are eligible to make a claim through the Department of Veterans' Affairs for any illness or condition related to their RAAF service. * Results of the complete Health Study are expected to be available by mid-2002.

Issued by Public Affairs and Corporate Communication, Department of Defence, Canberra, ACT, 2600 Media releases are available by email if you register at the Media Centre at www.defence.gov.au

ENDS

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