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News

Transport case prompts HSE reminder on the importance of radiation protection controls

HSE InfoLine : 20 February, 2006  (Company News)
The Health and Safety Executive today issued a reminder to companies working with radiation on the importance of protection control measures, including basic monitoring. The reminder follows the conclusion of a case brought jointly by HSE and the Department for Transport against specialist contractor, AEA Technology plc.
The Health and Safety Executive today issued a reminder to companies working with radiation on the importance of protection control measures, including basic monitoring. The reminder follows the conclusion of a case brought jointly by HSE and the Department for Transport against specialist contractor, AEA Technology plc.

At Leeds Crown Court today, the Oxfordshire-based company was fined a total of 250,000 and ordered to pay 151,323 prosecution costs. The company had previously pleaded guilty to criminal charges under health and safety and road transport law, of exposing employees and subcontractors to potentially very high risks from radiation.

James Taylor, a Principal Specialist Radiation Inspector with HSE, said: 'This case should serve as a reminder that radiation protection should never be taken for granted and that management must understand the principles, not least of which is the need to supervise their staff properly.'

The joint HSE/DfT prosecution followed an incident in March 2002, when AEAT were contracted to remove material , previously used in cancer treatment, from a Leeds hospital and transport it by road to Windscale, Cumbria, for disposal. At Windscale, very high radiation levels were discovered coming from the specialist container used to transport the material.

A joint HSE/DfT investigation revealed that the fact a vital shield plug was missing from the transport container, allowing a beam of radiation to emit from its base, had gone unnoticed. A primary cause of the incident was the company's failure to supervise and support their staff properly.

James Taylor continued: 'I am pleased that the court clearly saw this as a serious matter. While there is no evidence that anyone received a significant exposure during the preparation and transport of this material, there was clearly the potential for an extremely serious incident. Anyone exposed to the beam coming from the container could have exceeded the legal dose limit within seconds and suffered radiation burns within minutes.

'The case also highlights the need for proper preparation and monitoring of transport packages. Adhering to approved operating procedures would have detected the omission of the shield plug before the radioactive material was loaded to the package.

'HSE is always willing to work with companies handling radioactive materials to ensure that workers and the public are not exposed to excessive and therefore unacceptable levels of radiation. In HSE's judgment, however, the management failures and the level of risk in this case merited prosecution, in line with our published enforcement policy.'
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