Letter: Workers risk fatal radiation exposure to keep their jobs

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The Independent Online
Sir: I read with interest the front- page story 'Worker killed by record dose of radiation' (9 May) regarding the sad death of the industrial radiographer William Neilson. I worked in the same industry for about six years in the early 1970s to the mid-1980s, and my experiences there were such that it is no surprise to me that this incident has occurred.

By law, all inspection work must be undertaken by independent inspection companies, and these, by the nature of the work, are small companies. If a worker receives a dose of radiation in any three months larger than the legal maximum for that period, then they cannot work with radiation until the next quarter. This could mean getting laid off for that time, or possibly for good. (The law may have changed in this respect, but this is certainly how it used to be.)

The radiation monitoring badge tells how much radiation has been received. It is a sad fact, but the conclusion many workers reached was that to ensure employment you left your badge in the van. The inspection companies were of the opinion that the best workers got the job done and asked no questions as to how it was done. It is the workers' responsibility to ensure their safety.

I worked with many inspection companies, although not with the company that employed Mr Neilson, and they were usually really good or really bad. However, the poorer companies were cheaper and got more of the work; why they were cheaper was not the main contractor's worry.

This was my experience, and it may be of no relevance in Mr Neilson's case. However, given the cumulative nature of radiation exposure, I suspect that many more instances of sickness will come to light in the near future.




10 May