Office for Nuclear Regulation

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Cautions issued to Sellafield workers

1 May, 2014

ONR has issued formal cautions to two Sellafield employees, after investigation into a contamination event in December 2013 revealed that the workers had carried out unauthorised work in violation of Sellafield Ltd’s approved safe systems of work, which could have resulted in the exposure of themselves or others to increased levels of ionising radiation.

The incident occurred in the Highly Active Liquor Evaporation and Storage (HALES) facility at Sellafield, and involved the unauthorised removal of a contaminated malfunctioning resistance thermometer from a High Active Storage Tank pocket during an attempt to repair it. This action exposed the workers involved to elevated levels of ionising radiation, (though within prescribed limits) and released contamination into an area of the facility not specifically designed, maintained or used to prevent the spread of contamination, thus presenting a serious health risk to the individuals and other persons.

ONR’s investigation found that the incident was caused solely by the acts and omissions of the individuals, in full knowledge of what was required by the company to safely control and carry out the work.  This was a direct violation of established, well-known and obvious risk control measures and arrangements for working with ionising radiation implemented by the employer. ONR found no evidence that Sellafield Ltd’s systems of work for controlling such activities were deficient.

ONR has issued a formal caution to two individuals for failure to discharge the duties which an employee, while at work, is subject to under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act etc 1974.  

ONR Inspector, Steve Vinton said:

“This is the first time that ONR, as the independent regulator for nuclear safety and security, has issued cautions to individual employees.  This should send out a clear signal that ONR takes a serious view of offences of this nature, and underlines the importance of the need for employees to comply and cooperate with their employer’s arrangements for health and safety.   

Notes to editors: 

Formal cautions are recognised as being an appropriate course of action where there is evidence of a criminal offence, but the public interest test found in the CPS ‘Code for Crown Prosecutors’ means that a prosecution is not appropriate.

For ONR a formal caution is an administrative tool to use where a prosecution could have been brought, but where there are specific circumstances that weigh firmly against it.

For a formal caution to be administered by ONR, there must be proof that an offence was committed, the offender must admit the offence, and the offender must agree to being cautioned. As part of the process the offender recognises that the caution they sign may be referred to in court if they are subsequently found guilty of a health and safety related offence in the following five years. Also, that the accepted formal caution may be made publically available for a period of five years.

If they do not sign the caution, then ONR will move straight to initiating a prosecution.