Leicester Crown Court has fined a Derby based firm £200,000 and ordered to pay costs of £176,500 after pleading guilty to breaching Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, Regulation 3(1)(a) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, Regulation 11 of the Ionising Radiation Regulations 1999 and three counts of breaching Regulation 38(2) of the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010.
The company which produces components for nuclear submarines utilises radioactive sources to ensure welds are perfect.
During March 2011, the radioactive source went missing on site for a period of five hours. This resulted in a number of employees being exposed to excessive amounts of gamma radiation.
A joint investigation held by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and The Environment Agency revealed significant lack of risk assessments, inadequate control procedures and poor training for a high risk industry using high radioactive sources.
The court heard that while the radioactive source was being used in the radiography bay it became dislodged from its holder and settled in one of the component parts.
The loss was not detected by the employee working in the radiography bay or by any safety procedures.
Later, welders working on the component detected the radioactive source, handling it and examining it. Radiographers returning from a shift identified the source after direct handling. The area was then cleared and made safe.
The court was told that the employees had been exposed to dangerous levels of radiation which were in excess of the annual permitted dose of 500 millisieverts. In some cases it was exceeded by up to 32 times the permitted amount.
After the hearing David Orr, 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.”
The Environment Agency representative Mark Haslam 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.”