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Mr H and The Defence Forces (FOI Act 2014)

Case Number: 160271

Whether the Defence Forces was justified in refusing access to further records relating to the personal protective equipment (PPE) supplied to the applicant while serving in the Air Corps, records relating to the training that the applicant received on the use of PPE and the use/handling of chemicals, and air quality reports pertaining to the old Engine Repair Flight building, on the ground that no further records exist or can be found

Conducted in accordance with section 22(2) of the FOI Act by Stephen Rafferty, Senior Investigator, who is authorised by the Information Commissioner to conduct this review

Background

On 6 April 2016, the applicant made a request to the Defence Forces seeking access to the following:

the reasons for the decision of the formation safety officers not to conduct individual risk assessments on all chemicals that the applicant had been exposed to while in the Air Corps,
a list of all chemicals to which he was exposed while in the Air Corps,
a list of the personal protective equipment (PPE) that was supplied to him and a list of any training on the use of appropriate PPE,
a list of all the training courses that he was given in the use and handling of chemicals, and
a copy of any air quality reports pertaining to the old Engine Repair Flight building during the applicant's service there.

On 14 June 2016, the Defence Forces issued a decision part granting the applicant's request. It provided an explanation as to why all the chemicals used in the Air Corps were not individually assessed. It granted access to three records relating to the use of chemicals in the Air Crops and the Engine Repair Flight building and a list of PPE that would have been provided to personnel.

However, the Defence Forces refused access to a list of the specific PPE supplied to the applicant, as opposed to personnel in general, to records of training provided to the applicant specifically on the use of PPE and the use/handling of chemicals, and to air quality reports for the old Engine Repair Flight building on the ground that no such records exist or could be found.

On 17 June 2016, the applicant sought an internal review of the decision of the Defence Forces to refuse parts of his request. On 21 June 2016, the Defence Forces affirmed its original decision and on 22 June 2016, the applicant sought a review by this Office of that decision.

During the course of the review, the Defence Forces provided this Office with details of the searches undertaken to locate the records sought by the applicant. Ms Lydia Buckley of this Office contacted the applicant on 31 August 2016 and provided him with details of these searches. She also informed the applicant of her view that the Defence Forces was justified in deciding that no further records relating to the applicant's request exist or can be found, having taken all reasonable steps to locate them. In response, the applicant indicated that he requires a formal decision on the matter.

In carrying out my review, I have had regard to the correspondence between the Defence Forces and the applicant as set out above. I have also had regard to the communications between this Office and both the applicant and the Defence Forces.

 

Scope of Review

This review is solely concerned with whether the Defence Forces was justified in refusing access to records relating to the personal protective equipment (PPE) supplied to the applicant, to the training that he received on the use of PPE and the use/handling of chemicals, and to air quality reports conducted in the old Engine Repair Flight building during the applicant's service.

 

Analysis and Findings

Section 15(1)(a) provides that a request for access to records may be refused if the record concerned does not exist or cannot be found, after all reasonable steps to ascertain its whereabouts have been taken. My role in such cases is to review the decision of the FOI body and to decide whether that decision was justified. This means that I must have regard to the evidence available to the decision maker and the reasoning used by the decision maker in arriving at his or her decision. The evidence in "search" cases consists of the steps actually taken to search for the records, along with miscellaneous other evidence about the record management practices of the public body, on the basis of which the public body concluded that the steps taken to search for the records were reasonable.

In a submission to this Office, the Defence Forces provided details of its record management practices pertaining to records of the type sought by the applicant and of the searches undertaken to locate relevant records. As I have outlined above, Ms Buckley of this Office has already provided the applicant with these details. Therefore, while I do not propose to repeat those details in full, I can confirm that I have had regard to them for the purpose of this review.

In summary, the Defence Forces stated that it searched all locations where it would expect to find the requested records. This included manual and electronic searches of the Formation Health and Safety Office, Quality Assurance Office, No. 4 Support Wing, and No. 5 Support Wing Clothing Store and a search of the Personnel Management System. The Defence Forces stated that while it located an inventory record of general clothing that had issued to the applicant, it could not find a list of the PPE that had been issued to him. The Defence Forces also stated that while it located two records containing references to general training courses that the applicant attended, no record of the applicant attending a training a course specifically on the use of PEE or the use/handling of chemicals could be found. The Defence Forces also said that it could not locate any air quality reports pertaining to the old Engine Repair Flight building, having searched the above locations and consulted the squadron responsible for this building. It should be noted that the Defence Forces has said that it is willing to release the more general records located during these searches to the applicant.

Having regard to the details of the searches conducted by the Defence Forces and of its record management practices in relation to such records, I am satisfied that all reasonable steps have been taken to locate the records sought by the applicant. I find, therefore, that the Defence Forces was justified in its decision to refuse access to further records on the ground that no further records exist or can be found, after all reasonable steps have been taken to ascertain their whereabouts.

 

Decision

Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2014, I hereby affirm the decision of the Defence Forces in this case.

 

Right of Appeal

A party to a review, or any other person affected by a decision of the Information Commissioner following a review, may appeal to the High Court on a point of law arising from the decision. Such an appeal must be initiated not later than four weeks from the date on which notice of the decision was given to the person bringing the appeal.


Stephen Rafferty