Culture of bullying at Sellafield nuclear power plant could lead to 'disaster,' former consultant warns

‘You’ve got toxic materials and a toxic culture, if you put those two together then you’ve got a recipe for disaster’

Colin Drury
North of England Correspondent
Wednesday 10 March 2021 12:19
<p>Sellafield nuclear power plant</p>

Sellafield nuclear power plant

A culture of bullying, harassment, racism and misogyny at Sellafield nuclear power plant could lead to potential catastrophe if safety concerns go unreported, it has been claimed.

Multiple allegations of abusive behaviour have been reported at the sprawling Cumbrian site as part of a BBC investigation.

In one incident, a worker reported no action being taken after he was “racially taunted” from a car being driven through the plant. In another, a woman claimed she was asked by a senior manager if she had performed sexual favours to win a promotion. A third allegedly saw an autistic employee labelled a “mong” by his own line manager.

One Muslim worker at the plant said a training course instructor had told the class the main threat to the site was "bearded men in flip-flops".

In a letter to managers, the employee said: “He then singled me out and mockingly looked under the table at my shoes.”

Experts have warned that such a toxic culture at a site dealing with hazardous and high-risk materials has the potential for disaster.

"When I started working there, it quickly became apparent there was rampant bullying in the organisation," Alison McDermott, a senior consultant hired to work on an equality strategy, told the BBC. "This is a nuclear site, where many employees are demoralised, bullied and scared to speak out.

“You've got toxic materials and a toxic culture, if you put those two together then you've got a recipe for disaster."

She highlighted how an internal staff survey carried out in 2018 showed only 54 per cent of employees felt they "could speak out about doing the right thing without fear of reprisals".

Ms McDermott spoke out as she herself takes the plant to an employment tribunal alleging that she was dismissed for whistleblowing.

Her contract with Sellafield, which started in 2017, was abruptly ended in October 2018 just days after she submitted an internal report critical of the human resources department.

The nuclear site – which employs more than 10,000 people and is owned by the government’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority – is contesting her allegations.

A Sellafield spokesperson said: "There is no place for bullying and harassment at Sellafield. We do not tolerate it and where we find it, we take action."

They added the company was working to improve its processes so employees can have confidence that issues are dealt with after being raised.

Referring to the 2018 survey, the spokesperson said: We confronted the issue, proactively shared information with employees, and developed a company-wide improvement programme.

“We accept we have more work to do in this area, but we remain as committed as ever to eradicating unacceptable behaviour from our workplace."

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