Chapter 2 The law at work
Whilst working in the hospital environment there are a number of key documents detailing regulations and acts of parliament that ensure the safety of the employee and the public as well as ensuring the safe function of the hospital for the employer.
The full text of each act or regulation is available on the Internet and the links are provided at the end of this chapter. You are strongly advised to read the actual regulations, using the sections below as guidance. This applies especially to those relating to ionising radiation.
The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA) is the most important British health and safety law and is applicable to nearly every work activity. It is a huge document and its objective is to provide protection for people at work and for the general public. It does this by setting out general duties for both the employer and the employee. Failure to comply with these duties constitutes a criminal offence and both employers and employees can be prosecuted. It also provides the basis under which other health and safety regulations are enabled, the following of which are particularly relevant to radiographic work:
Employers are also required to ensure that people not in their employment, but who may be affected by their business activities, are not exposed to risks to their health and safety. This is particularly relevant to the hospital setting where public access is high.
Whilst these regulations are not directly applicable to you as an employee, they are fundamental to all health and safety law and deal with an aspect which you will certainly be involved with; namely, risk assessment.
Under section 3 of these regulations, the employer is required to undertake ‘suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to health and safety’ to which their employees are exposed while they are at work.2
These regulations deal with the health and safety of those working with ionising radiation and are policed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). It is essential, as a radiation worker, that you are completely familiar with these regulations and you should therefore read them in their published form.
This is an important section and deals with the need for risk assessment, the principle of restricting exposure to employees and the provision of personal protective equipment. It also covers the maintenance and examination of engineering controls, dose limitation and the need for contingency plans in the event of a reasonably foreseeable radiation accident.
The requirements for the designation and monitoring of controlled or supervised areas are detailed here, together with the need for Local Rules and the appointment of a Radiation Protection Supervisor (RPS). The RPS’s job is to ensure compliance with these regulations with respect to any work carried out in areas identified in the Local Rules. The RPS also has a role under the Ionising Radiations (Medical Exposure) Regulations 2000 as detailed below.
This section deals with classified workers who are defined as any employee who is ‘likely to receive an effective dose in excess of 6 mSv per year or an equivalent dose which exceeds three-tenths of any relevant dose limit’.3 It also covers dose assessment and recording, medical surveillance and requirements in the event of an overexposure.
This section deals with radioactive materials, their storage and transport and the need for accurate record keeping. There is also a requirement to notify the HSE in the event of certain occurrences including the spillage of a radioactive substance, which would give rise to a ‘significant contamination’.3 It also deals with installation, maintenance and quality assurance of equipment used for medical imaging.
These regulations deal with the safe and effective use of ionising radiation used in clinical practice and they underpin all medical exposures.4 They are policed by the Department of Health. It is essential that you are completely familiar with these regulations.
The employer has to provide a written framework of procedures for medical exposures and ensure that they are complied with by the practitioner, operator and him/herself and must also ensure that written protocols are in place for every type of standard radiological practice for each piece of equipment.