Government must implement IAEA recommendations and fund HSE

9 July 2020

Government must implement International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recommendations and properly fund Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to meet them.

A new report by the respected International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on standards of radiation protection in the UK has highlighted the urgent need for greater funding for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to meet its obligations.

There are almost 17,000 UK employers using radiation sources, ranging from local dentists and vets to hospitals and industrial applications. HSE employs a total of 7 specialist radiation inspectors which means there is one inspector for about every 2500 employers. These inspectors do not cover nuclear power stations, which are regulated primarily by the Office for Nuclear Regulation.

The IAEA inspection found:

  • A low inspection frequency and a high rate of non-compliance suggesting inadequate funding for inspection work.
  • There is not a comprehensive register of radioactive sources or radiation generators.
  • Applicants are not required to submit a safety assessment to the  HSE but can secure a licence automatically on payment of a small fee
  • There is not an inspection programme that specifies the frequency of inspection or areas to be inspected.

Prospect, a leading union for workers in the nuclear, radiation and safety regulation sectors has been flagging concerns in this area for some time and it is important that these concerns are addressed.

Sue Ferns, Prospect senior deputy general secretary, said:

“The findings of this report are a timely reminder of the importance of safety regulation to maintaining public confidence in a range of everyday applications. It is well known that the safe application of radiation brings enormous benefits. As a founder member of the IAEA, the UK must ensure that it meets international standards at all times.

“The HSE must therefore implement the report’s recommendations in full, including increasing the number of specialist radiation inspectors and implementing a programme that specifies frequency of inspections. No further licences should be issued without a proper safety assessment, and a single UK register of radiation sources should be established and maintained.

“These recommendations will not come as a surprise to the HSE so we expect them now to set out their response as a matter of urgency.

“Prospect is clear that the HSE must be given the long-term resources it needs so that it can recruit enough inspectors to fulfil essential functions and begin to reverse the damage done by deep budget cuts over the last decade.”