1. How to read / use HSE Corner

Source: Ionactive Resource


When the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) visit a site using ionising radiation in the UK they are visiting the employer. The Radiation Protection Adviser (RPA) may or may not be present, but in any case the RPA is not being visited. Furthermore, if a formal letter is written (e.g. Notice of Contravention, NoC) then it is served on the employer.

Formally, the RPA has no interaction in this process. If the client wishes the RPA to speak to HSE, and if HSE agree, then that can take place. However, HSE are interfacing with the employer not the RPA and it is not for the RPA to formally agree or disagree with HSE enforcement action. The RPA can of course advise the employer with regards HSE enforcement and could recommend that an appeal is made. However, often after a notification of contravention (which is not put on public record), the employer will prefer to accept the notice, do what is required, and pay the FFI (see below). It is also possible for the HSE to criticise the RPA if they believe that advice has been poor or unsuitable,.

HSE enforcement

Generally following a visit, the HSE can deliver one or more of the following:

  • offer advice (either verbal or in writing)
  • issue notification of contravention (NoC)
  • issue an improvement notice
  • issue prohibition notice; or
  • prosecute for breaching health and safety laws

For the purposes of this article these are in order of severity, but this is not quite true since a prosecution could take place following any of the above. Normally the HSE will tell the employer what will be issued at the end of the visit. If a NoC is issued this will be received as a letter / email at a later date. An improvement or prohibition notice will be issued during the visit.

For this resource we will concentrate on the NoC. Some would consider this a minor breach of legislation, a tap on the wrist etc. It is not really; the HSE consider that in their opinion the employer has broken health and safety law (material breach) and this needs to be put right. The NoC will include the actions to be taken, and the time allowed to satisfy HSE that all is corrected. The material breach has to be severe enough, in the opinion of the HSE inspector, that the employer needs to be written to (as apposed to verbal advice during the visit). The employer knows that the NoC is not put on a public register so there is little desire to escalate matters, they will usually comply with the NoC and pay the FFI.


FFI (fee for intervention) is a process where the HSE recover their costs (e.g. visits, office time to write letters, time to consider employer submissions of improved documents etc). From the employer perspective this often feels like a fine. It is not a fine, and this is not a subject for this resource, other than to say some assume HSE needs to ‘bring money in’ and so 'do they have enough points to raise a NoC'. HSE inspectors are professionals and are doing their job, just like Ionactive and others.

HSE (Health and Safety Executive) corner

This resource enables the Ionactive RPA to speak / debate points raised during HSE inspections and following delivery of NoC letters. This does not generally take place during HSE visits. Our view is that the employer wants to comply with the NoC, pay the fees and move on. If improvements in health and safety are made, then that is good. Considering ALARP, you can always make improvements (but that is not really what ALARP mean).

This resource will consider ‘debatable points’ that rarely get debated. Occasionally Ionactive RPA might want to suggest an alternative approach, or even disagree with elements of the NoC. This resource is not about picking fault with HSE regulation or inspectors. A new or different set of eyes can sometimes pick out things that others miss – HSE can provide excellent advice and comment which the employer or RPA may not have considered.

So, read on and provide feed back to [email protected] if you wish.

Environment Agency (EA) and devolved administrations corner will soon also be uploaded

Coming up

In no particular order.

  • Is it wise to invite HSE inspectors into the workplace to view radiation protection practice?
  • Is this Controlled Area really a Controlled Area?
  • Is it contingency or just sensible radiation protection practice?
  • Are the radiological exposure risks for a specific radiation source appreciated when assessing IRR17 compliance?
  • Does an RPA make a good HSE inspector (and what about the reciprocal)?
  • Does an opinion on the 'wording' in a document justify a 'material breach'?
  • Is 'special procedures designed to restrict significant exposure to ionising radiation' an HSE trump card?
  • Is everyone singing from the same hymn sheet?
  • Should the RPA attend the HSE inspection?
  • The kick under the table!
  • And much more

As noted earlier, everything is sanitised. However, to provide further reassurance to all (especially Ionactive!), all are presented as 'scenarios'.

In the beginning, there was nothing, which exploded

– Terry Pratchett -