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Risk assessment

Lack of risk assessment led to radiation exposure

A worker at a nuclear processing and decommissioning plant was accidentally exposed to eight times the annual exposure limit of plutonium. How was he exposed to such a high dose?

Mr Greggain (G) worked at the Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria. In February 2017 he was using a glovebox to clean a contaminated conductivity probe that formed part of an alarm system. The probe had become corroded and sharp, and it punctured the protective glove and pierced G's hand.

A small area of skin around the puncture wound had to be removed and tests showed that G had sustained an internal dose of radiation, which remains in the body for life.

The Office for Nuclear Regulation investigated the incident and found that the worker had followed his employer’s system of work while cleaning the probe. However, the employer had failed to properly assess the risk to workers posed by using sharp objects in the glovebox. The accident could have been avoided had corroded probes been replaced rather than cleaned up for reuse. Following the accident, the employer reviewed its use of gloveboxes and started replacing corroded conductivity probes routinely.

Sellafield Ltd pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees at work under s.2(1) Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. It was fined £380,000, and ordered to pay costs of over £96,700.

In this case, the employer failed to identify the risk of a sharp object piercing the protective gloves in the glovebox and exposing a worker to radiation. Instead of requiring workers to handle unsuitable material in a glovebox, the employer should have routinely replaced corroded and sharp components.

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