Non-UK companies working with ionising radiation in the UK

This blog is a short reminder to both UK and non-UK users of ionising radiation, where a company outside the UK works with ionising radiation within the UK.

Ionactive believes that in many cases the issues noted below are not even thought about - particularly for the smaller installation of something like a cabinet x-ray system into the premises of a UK based company. For larger industrial scale installations involving ionising radiation sources, one would hope that the regulatory side of things will be sorted out at contract award (but we know this is not always the case).

Scenario 1

You are a UK based company with an x-ray inspection system (for quality assurance of electronic components), procured via the second-hand market. You decide the system needs a full overhaul and calibration and the supplier / manufacturer is based in Germany. They (the ‘contractor’) agree to come to the UK and carry out the specified work.

Despite some Ionactive reservations (for another Blog post), there is an expectation that the controlled area within the cabinet (so in effect the whole unit) should be handed over to the contractor. The contractor is then responsible for use of the x-ray equipment (including generation of ionising radiation) , and before handing back at the end of the work, ensuring that the x-ray system is safe to use with all radiation safety related systems (interlocks, active lights and similar) in place. Therefore, the contactor (from Germany) should have the following in place for work in the UK (not exhaustive, just illustrative).

  • Radiation Protection Adviser
  • Registration to work with x-ray systems from HSE
  • Radiation risk assessment
  • Local rules
  • Contingency arrangements
  • Radiation Protection Supervisor (RPS)
  • Etc

The registration process is a little easier if the contractor from Germany has some legal presence in the UK (i.e. a UK division with as UK ‘company house’ number). If this is the case the contractor can at least go through the HSE portal and receive the registration through the automated system. If there is no legal presence in the UK, then the contractor will need to make a manual application to HSE. Ionactive has been involved in a number of these and whilst the UK Radiation Protection Adviser (RPA) cannot make the application, they can often explain the process.

[Ionactive comment: we do wonder what the actual legal basis is for the registration, since HSE cannot realistically turn up in Germany and serve an enforcement notice. This is therefore one of those ‘grey areas’, happening quite often in the UK but perhaps under the regulator radar].

Regardless of where the legal duty actually resides, Ionactive recommends that any UK company requiring services similar to those in Scenario 1, check that the contractor has everything in place in the UK before allowing the work to take place (and generally before procuring the service).

Ionactive believes that more often than not, the work just takes place …

Scenario 2

You are a UK company which has just purchased a new 10MV linear accelerator (linac) system for use within the industrial sterilisation sector. The suppler “Linac INC” is based in the United States and has no legal presence in the UK. The purchase of the linac includes shipping over to the UK, and the US contractor (Linac INC) will send a team of engineers to unpack, install, commission, calibrate, carry out final acceptance test and handover. For this, Linac INC should have at least the following in place.

  • UK Radiation Protection Adviser (RPA)
  • A Consent from HSE to undertake Industrial Sterilization (this includes operation of the linac as part of the ‘practice’)
  • Radiation risk assessment
  • Local rules
  • Contingency arrangements
  • Radiation Protection Supervisor (RPS)
  • Etc

Particularly in scenario 2, the UK company will expect Linac INC to carry out a full critical examination to Ionising Radiation Regulations (IRR17) standards. This will require radiation monitoring, and the monitors should be tested to UK standards and be calibrated in SI units (so no mR/h etc).

It is important to note that prior to handover, Linac INC is operating the linac system. It is true that the UK recipient also has duties, and this includes cooperation between employers. But up until handover Linac INC is in control of the controlled areas and is responsible for ‘generating ionising radiation’.

Similar matters will apply when Linac INC later come back to the UK to carry out service and repair. Like Scenario 1, the UK company will handover the system to Linac INC, and Linac INC will hand the system back over when the work is complete. This handover and hand back process is a common requirement in the UK, this is not just because the contractor is based outside the UK.

It is possible for a non UK company to gain a UK Consent - Ionactive has assisted two companies so far to achieve this (both based in the US). The process will become harder when the new HSE consent process comes into effect from October 2023. The important issue to note is that the contractor (in this case a US contractor) must have everything in place BEFORE they apply for the consent. This is the case even if they will only be over in the UK for a week, and then perhaps not again for another year. All the above-mentioned documents and processes (and more) need to be verified with advice from the UK RPA before the consent is applied for.

This blog article has been produced by Ionactive who has first hand knowledge of the above issues, both at registration and consent levels. It is important to ensure that salespersons from non-UK companies, and keen UK recipients of their equipment, understand the regulatory side of things before any commercial deal is made. Failure to do this could mean someone gets lucky (“fingers crossed approach”), or there is a big delay where the non-UK company rushes to get everything in place, or where HSE happen to pop in during installation work (not a nice scenario).

Aside: Do you import radioactive sources into the UK, perhaps on a regular basis? Do you use a specialist courier to do this, who is not based in the UK and has no legal presence in the UK? Will their staff be driving on UK roads carrying your radioactive package from dock or airport to your premises? Does the specialist courier have a registration (or consent in the case of HASS sources) to do this work? If you do import radioactive sources then it is worth checking up on this.

Mark Ramsay

Radiation Protection Adviser for Ionactive Consulting Limited

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