The company that builds nuclear reactors which power the Royal Navy’s fleet of submarines has been fined £200,000 for breaches of safety and environmental laws following an incident in which members of staff were exposed to radiation.
Rolls-Royce Marine Power Operations Ltd pleaded guilty to failures which led to the incident in March 2011, when three welders and a radiographer unknowingly handled harmful radioactive material that had been misplaced.
At a hearing at Leicester Crown Court on 29 September 2014 the company was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay £176,500 in further costs for breaching safety regulations and causing the employees to be exposed to radiation.
The incident happened at Rolls-Royce’s factory site in Sinfin Lane, Derby, where radioactive materials are used to test nuclear submarine reactor components manufactured at the site.
The court heard that a radioactive source capsule the size of a small screw had been lost for about five hours at Sinfin Lane on 3 March 2011. As a result a number of workers at the site were exposed to high levels of gamma radiation, which in some cases were many times legal dose limits The lost sample was only discovered when a radiographer’s personal alarm went off, indicating exposure to radiation.
The company admitted seven charges of breaching health and safety regulations, including failure to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of staff, failures in keeping control of a radioactive source and insufficient training of staff, at an earlier court hearing in July.
The prosecution was brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Environment Agency following a joint investigation into the incident. Speaking after the hearing, David Orr, the specialist inspector of radiation at HSE who led the investigation, said:
“Gamma radiation emitted by this type of radioactive source is harmful to human health. Rolls-Royce is fully aware of the danger it poses and has a clear duty to protect staff from harm. However the company failed its duty of care on this occasion, losing control of the source without realising it.
“There was no effective surveillance of it for five hours and the exposure of workers to radiation, including some who were not involved in the industrial radiography work, was considerably in excess of the annual permitted dose.”