The Health and Safety Executive has fined a company which provides diagnostic imaging services a six-figure sum following incidents in which employees were exposed to radiation levels in excess of the legal annual dose limit.
On 25 March 2019, a vial of a radioactive substance leaked after it was installed into a shielded dispensing pot in the dispensing laboratory of Alliance Medical's positron emission tomography-computed tomography (PET-CT) facility at St James’s University Hospital in Leeds.
This resulted in two members of staff becoming contaminated with skin doses in excess of the annual dose limit as defined by the Ionising Radiations Regulations 2017.
In a second incident, on 15 November 2019, the same radioactive substance was unknowingly handled during the production process at the Alliance Medical Radiopharmacy Limited (AMRL) facility at Keele University Science Park in Staffordshire.
Consequently, a member of staff was contaminated with a skin dose in excess of the annual dose limit as defined by the Ionising Radiations Regulations 2017.
An investigation by the HSE into the incident at the AML Leeds PET-CT centre found that training and instruction was inadequate and supervision below an acceptable standard. Staff were not made fully aware of the localised instructions and were using personal protective equipment (PPE) unsuitable for work with radioactive material.
A separate investigation by HSE found that at AMRL’s facility at Keele University Science Park, the radiation warning system associated with the particular production equipment was not operational at the time of the incident and had not undergone routine maintenance and testing at suitable intervals.
Alliance Medical Limited, based at Iceni Centre, Warwick Technology Park, Warwick, Warwickshire pleaded guilty to breaches of the Ionising Radiations Regulations 2017, Regulations 12, 18(3), 18(4) and 18(5)a, and were fined £300,000 and ordered to pay costs of £11,382 at Leeds Magistrates’ Court on 29 September 2022.
Alliance Medical Radiopharmacy Limited, also based at Iceni Centre, Warwick Technology Park, Warwick, Warwickshire pleaded guilty to breaches of the Ionising Radiations Regulations 2017, Regulations 9(2)a, 11(1) and 12, and were fined £120,000 and ordered to pay costs of £11,382 in the same court on the same date.
After the hearing, HSE specialist inspector Elizabeth Reeves said: “The workers in both these incidents were exposed to levels of radiation which could potentially impact on their health in the future.
“Employers in the nuclear medicine sector must properly assess the risks to their employees and others and ensure all radiation doses are as low as reasonably practicable.
“Both these incidents could so easily have been avoided by simply carrying out the correct control measures and ensuring safe working practices were followed. Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement actions against those that fall below the required standards.”
The SoR issued the following statement:
"This Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report highlights the need for the radiographic workforce using radioactive material to be adequately trained and for staff requiring supervision to be appropriately managed. All staff must know their responsibilities under the Ionising Radiations Regulations 2017 and practice the requirements of their local rules. The SoR expects employers to protect staff by undertaking appropriate risk assessments, using adequate control measures, and ensuring suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) is always available. Staff are encouraged to work together with employers to design safe working practices.
"Guidance is available here:
L121 Working with ionising radiation. Ionising Radiations Regulations 2017. Approved Code of Practice and guidance
If you have concerns in your workplace that are not being addressed via the usual channels, please seek advice from your radiation protection supervisor or your SoR Health and Safety Representative."