Radiation scare results in hefty fine for company

A Derby company has been fined £200,000 and ordered to pay costs of £176,500 after losing pieces of radioactive material at its plant. The manufacturing company, a subsidiary of Rolls Royce plc, makes components for nuclear submarines and uses radioactive materials to test that welds on the submarines are faultless.

The radioactive material containing Ytterbium -169 was being used in a purpose-built radiography enclosure and at some point in the early hours, around 5am, the radioactive source capsule detached from its holder and got lost inside the component being tested. The absence of the radioactive material was not detected by the safety features or the radiographer in charge for up to five hours.

Leicester Crown Court heard that welders, who were working in a clean room (non-radioactive) , found the material and passed it between themselves not knowing what it was and then removed it for examination. When the radiographers returned to their shift, some of them handled the material, also unaware of its radioactivity.

As a result of the incident it meant that a number of workers including welders and radiographers were exposed to 32 times the permitted amount of gamma radiation. The incident prompted a joint investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Environment Agency who then jointly prosecuted the company.

The joint investigation found that the company failed to complete a comprehensive risk assessment for working with dangerous radioactive sources. The ineffective safety procedures and lack of appropriate training for handling radioactive material and what to do in the event of contamination were also identified as areas of concern.

The company was found guilty to breaching a number of regulations including sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, Regulation 11 of the Ionising Radiation Regulations 1999, Regulation 3(1)(a) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and three counts of breaching Regulation 38(2) of the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010.

An HSE’s specialist inspector of radiation, said:

“Industrial radiography carries a greater risk of radiation exposure compared to other industrial uses of radioactive sources by nature of the very high activity sources used. HSE expects companies carrying out such work to have robust safety systems and procedures in place to protect employees during normal work and following a radiation accident such as the detachment of the radioactive source.

An Area Environment Manager for the Environment Agency, said

“Our overriding aim in regulating the use of radioactive materials is to ensure their safe management and control to protect the public and the wider environment from the harmful effects of radiation.

“For us, the most important thing is that the company has learnt the lessons from this and put improvements in place to ensure this does not happen again.”


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