UK employers face 5 February deadline for re-notification of work involving ionising radiation

Out-Law News | 25 Jan 2018 | 9:56 am | 3 min. read

Organisations whose employees work with ionising radiation must re-notify those activities with UK regulators under changes to the law introduced earlier this year.

Re-notification must take place before 5 February. Failure to do so is a criminal offence.

It could also count against employers if they do not re-notify where incidents involving ionising radiation subsequently occur in their workplace. A failure could affect the level of fine they may face said regulatory compliance specialist Jennifer Lee of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.

Ionising radiation is present in more than 60 naturally-occurring radioactive materials found in soil, water and air. Radon, a naturally-occurring gas, emanates from rock and soil and is the main source of natural radiation. Every day, people inhale and ingest radionuclides from air, food and water. People are also exposed to natural radiation from cosmic rays, particularly at high altitude. On average, 80% of the annual dose of background radiation that a person receives is due to naturally occurring terrestrial and cosmic radiation sources.

Ionising radiation can also stem from human-made sources ranging from nuclear power generation to medical uses of radiation for diagnosis or treatment. The most common human-made sources of ionising radiation are medical devices, including X-ray machines.

Under the changes introduced by the Ionising Radiation Regulations 2017 (IRR17), and equivalent legislation in Northern Ireland, some employers planning to work with ionising radiation will be required to obtain consent from regulators to carry out that work.

Under the old regulations, employers were required to notify regulators on a once-only basis that they were using ionising radiation. Now, however, there are three levels of approach that could apply depending on the perceived risk associated with using ionising radiation.

The three levels that apply under this new ‘graded approach’ are: notification, which corresponds to low risk levels; registration, corresponding to intermediate risk levels; and consent, which relates to high risk levels.

Many employers dealing with ionising radiation will have to engage with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), or the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI), but employers that wish to carry out work with ionising radiation on nuclear premises must notify, register or get consent from the Office for Nuclear Regulation.

Employers intending to carry out work with ionising radiation that requires notification must notify their intention to work before carrying out that work via HSE’s/HSENI's online system. Those already working with ionising radiation will need to submit this information to HSE/HSENI by 5 February 2018.

Once the employer has registered there will be no need to register again unless the information given “changes significantly”, such as where there is a change of address or the work is no longer under the employer’s control.

Registration will be done through a dedicated online system developed by the HSE. The employer is required to answer a series of questions, the purpose of which is to identify which level of risk is associated with their work with ionising radiation. These questions include confirmation that all legal requirements have been addressed, such as via a risk assessment and the appointment of a Radiation Protection Adviser (RPA).

The occupational dose limit for the lens of the eye will reduce in 2018 from 150mSv per year to 20mSv per year, averaged over five years where no single year can exceed 50mSv. Any employer that might exceed the stated dose limit will need to be classified.

The change in eye dose limit aims to protect workers from cataract formation as a consequence of radiation exposure; those most at risk are those who are working regularly in fluoroscopy due to the cumulative nature of radiation exposure. Employers will need to take steps to reduce risk, including, in appropriate cases, via the use of, for example, suitable eye protection.

An estimate of radiation dosage that could impact the public will also now need to be completed. This requirement applies to all employers who carry out a radiation practice, and mainly impacts those companies who transport radioactive material and / or those undertaking site radiography.

Records on dose levels will no longer need to be retained for 50 years. A retention period of 30 years will now apply.

Under the new regime, the term ‘radiation employer’ has been replaced with ‘an employer who carries out a practice that involves ionising radiation’. The new term relates to who the rules apply to.

The changes to the UK laws implement parts of the EU's Basic Safety Standards Directive (BSSD).

Jennifer Lee of Pinsent Masons said: "Sectors most likely to be affected are the medical, nuclear/defence, some mining and educational sectors. At the very least those involved in businesses with exposure to ionising radiation must ensure that they have complied with the limits set out in the new regulations and that notification, registration and/or consent obligations have been complied with." 

"A new activity involving work with ionising radiation must not begin until a radiation risk assessment has been completed – employers must consult a radiation protection adviser (RPA) when doing this. In addition employers must ensure that employees engaged in work with ionising radiation are given appropriate training and information in the field of radiation protection and that this is regularly reviewed, updated and repeated. Actual or suspected over exposures must be investigated and reported," she said.