The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) has rejected a Comcare report which found that the nuclear facility had under-reported accidents and breached safety standards.
The report said that ANSTO did not take all reasonable steps to provide and maintain a safe working environment, failed to take all reasonable steps to inform, instruct, train and supervise employees of ANSTO Health (which makes radiopharmaceuticals) and also to notify Comcare of safety incidents.
The nuclear industry regulator, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), also found serious problems in safety standards and a lack of management awareness about similar issues at ANSTO.
In its report, Comcare recommended that ANSTO:
- engage a qualified person to conduct systematic monitoring of all workplaces that undertake radiopharmaceutical operations;
- direct a person with demonstrated competency in managing risks associated with hazardous substances to oversee an ongoing system of auditing to ensure radiopharmaceutical operations maintain appropriate systems of work to protect health and safety
- provide ongoing documented evidence to Comcare that systematic monitoring is occurring; regularly audit its consultative protocols with persons involved in radiopharmaceutical operations to ensure its policies and procedures are effectively carried out
- audit its record-keeping procedures to ensure appropriate information is recorded and retained in relation to the health and safety of employees engaged in radiopharmaceutical operations, and
- ensure that notifiable incidents are reported to Comcare
The Comcare report also found the suspension of ANSTO Health's health and safety officer, David Reid, in 2009 was "extreme and therefore disproportionate to the nature of any breach alleged by ANSTO", that two of the four allegations against him were unsubstantiated and that Reid had not been given a reasonable opportunity to defend himself.
Comcare investigator Scott Notley expressed "grave concerns" about the "multiple inadequacies" in the process which resulted in Reid's suspension and said he could not close his mind "to the possibility that ANSTO and other relevant parties were biased" in regards to Reid.
Notley said it was incumbent upon ANSTO (under section 16(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act) to investigate Reid's allegations of bullying and harassment and ANSTO failed to do so.
However, ANSTO said that Reid's claims were "false and incorrect", and ANSTO said it was encouraged by Comcare's decision to independently review its report.
"ANSTO is disappointed that Mr Reid has not accepted the findings of seven investigations, including two by ARPANSA, which found there was no significant radiological event, nor was there an attempt to cover anything up," said ANSTO in a statement.
"It is worth noting that all of ARPANSA's recommendations arising from the investigations at that time have been implemented or are substantially complete."
ANSTO said it stood by its decision to suspend Reid on full pay for behavioural matters in the workplace which were unrelated to his role as a health and safety representative, and ANSTO rejected that Reid has been discriminated against in any way.