ANSTO whistleblower saga - 2007--ongoing

Since 2007, a saga has been unfolding regarding contamination accidents at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), ANSTO's handling of those incidents, ANSTO's treatment of whistleblowers, the handling of the matter by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), and the independence or otherwise of ARPANSA.

The saga has exposed inadequate safety practices at ANSTO and an inadequate performance by the regulator ARPANSA. The problems would not have been exposed and partially rectified if not for a number of ANSTO whistleblowers.

27 April 2007 − ANSTO states that a radiopharmaceutical worker at ARI (Australian Radioisotopes − ANSTO's radiopharmaceutical division) received a radiation dose to his hands above the annual limit earlier in the month. The dose was above the yearly limit of 500 millisieverts (mSv) to each hand. The incident was the result of a failure in process during a production run of yttrium-90. The worker was using gloves that extended into a boxed working area when the exposure took place.

3 September 2007 − Two contamination incidents at ANSTO involving yttrium-90. See the 19 June 2012 entry below.

28 August 2008 − Incident at ANSTO involving a vial of molybdenum-99 being dislodged from manipulator grips in one of the hot cells and a delay in the reporting of the incident. An audit found that proper processes were not followed: evacuation of the area did not occur, timely communication and event reporting, thorough investigation and follow-up did not occur. The staff member in question had not completed occupational health and safety induction training or a radiation safety course. ANSTO said that processes had been upgraded to ensure that formal training is completed and validated before allowing admission to ARI (ANSTO's radiopharmaceutical arm) for work purposes.

June 2009 − David Reid, an ANSTO employee and staff-elected health and safety officer, was suspended in June 2009 and sacked in June 2011. He raised concerns about contamination repeatedly and some of his concerns were later vindicated. ANSTO states that his suspension and dismissal were unrelated to his statements regarding safety problems at ANSTO.

12 February 2010 − ANSTO challenges a February 10 AAP media report concerning the 28 August 2008 incident:

  • ANSTO states: "No staff member was exposed to significant radiation doses."
  • ANSTO states: "The independent nuclear safety regulator, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) has reviewed the 2008 incident and there have been four independent internal investigations. ANSTO has welcomed a review report received from ARPANSA in late January 2010. ANSTO will respond to the ARPANSA recommendations by the end of February. The workplace regulator ComCare is also currently reviewing the matter."

5 May 2010 − ANSTO employee David Reid raises numerous concerns on ABC TV's Lateline program.

  • Mr Reid states: "If you don't follow the safety regulations and the procedures and you don't investigate when you do have an accident, the accidents are gonna get worse and worse and someone's really gonna pay the ultimate price one day."
  • ABC: "ARPANSA is Australia's nuclear industry watchdog and Lateline has obtained a copy of its report into the accident. It largely supports David Reid's concerns and raises further questions about safety at Lucas Heights."
  • ABC: "ARPANSA's investigation found that radioactive vials are regularly dropped, something that's been tolerated for years. There have been no apparent attempts to introduce improved handling systems. Supervision and training have not been effective in delivering the standard of safety required at the facility. And there's been a lack of management awareness about difficulties and failures at the facility."
  • ABC: "ARI says it will implement all of ARPANSA'a recommendations, but the nuclear regulator has at least two more inquiries into Lucas Heights underway."

6 May 2010 − ANSTO responds to the Lateline report:

  • "Mr Reid's first complaint occurred in April 2009. ARI management immediately initiated an investigation. Two weeks later Mr Reid raised the same complaint at an ANSTO safety meeting acknowledging the ARI investigation was underway. A subsequent investigation by ANSTO management followed."
  • "In July 2009, Mr Reid was not satisfied and again raised concerns. This led to a major internal investigation ordered by the CEO. The investigation was completed in September and concluded there were no abnormal radiation exposures to staff. However, legitimate concerns about training and procedures in the medical isotope production facility were raised and have since been addressed.
  • "In October 2009, ARPANSA initiated an investigation following an approach from Mr Reid. This was completed in January 2010 and substantially agreed with ANSTO's four internal investigations. ARPANSA concluded there was no cover up, and no significant radiological event.
  • "All of ARPANSA's recommendations have been implemented or are substantially complete. The reports reflect the importance of attending to management issues that were identified in the investigations."

01 June 2010 - Senate Estimates with Greens Senator Scott Ludlam and ANSTO's Dr Paterson:

  • Dr Paterson says the August 2008 incident has been discussed at Senate Estimates on 21 October 2009 and 10 February 2010 and has been the subject of two major investigations − one by ANSTO (concluded September 2009) and ARPANSA (began in October 2009, report submitted to ANSTO in January 2010).
  • Dr Paterson: "What did these investigations find? The first finding is that management arrangements in place at the time were deficient in a number of respects. Firstly, the significance of the dropped vial was not understood by the worker. This meant that his colleagues working in the same environment as the event were not informed, although they were not directly exposed to the radiation from the vial. Secondly, the process of informing supervisors did not lead to immediate actions. Thirdly, the initial attempts to locate the source of the radioactivity did not immediately involve specialised health staff. The investigation also revealed that one of the workers had not completed his full in-depth training on working in a radiation environment. These management issues have all been addressed with completed and current actions. Importantly in this regard, ANSTO has a new management team in place at various levels in the organisation relating to the production of radiopharmaceuticals."
  • Dr Paterson: "In addition, two other claims have been made by Mr Reid. One is that there was a massive dose to a worker who was exposed to radiation from the dropped vial. Both the ARPANSA report and ANSTO's internal investigation based on actual records have shown that this is not the case. This has been confirmed by calculations made independently by three specialists in the field. A second claim is that there has been a coverup. The investigations show that while there were management deficiencies at the time, there were no attempts to cover up this incident or not report it at any time."
  • Dr Paterson: "The ongoing development is ensuring that the changes we have made in our training system are indeed embedded. It is no longer possible to work in the radiation facility without completing all of the radiation training. We are just ensuring that all of those procedures are indeed followed and that they are embedded in the practices of the organisation. Secondly, we are still evaluating a number of engineering controls that would further strengthen the protection of workers so that they would not have to rely on management controls, because engineering controls tend to be more robust. These evaluations are ongoing in the case of the area immediately around the door and will be finalised within the next six months."
  • Senator Ludlam: "Going back to the original incident, have you identified the person or persons who were directly involved in not being able to retrieve the vial? My understanding is that when it eventually came out it was brought out with a device, some kind of a mirror stuck to a tool with a bit of sticky tape, which sounds like something you would have wanted to look at. You acknowledged in your new opening comments that were people on the work floor who had not been trained to a suitable level. Were there any suspensions or any consequences to those operators? Have they been retrained since then?"
  • Dr Paterson: "Yes. I think we have now identified all people who were involved in that incident, and there is ongoing operator training. In addition, based on our incident reporting and our management procedures, wherever there is a radiological incident or a failure to comply with a management arrangement, retraining is essential, and we undertake that before the workers return to the cell face."
  • Senator Ludlam: "Would you say that the disclosures were validated by ARPANSA's report? You have referred to them before as allegations, but would you say that they have been more or less completely validated by the subsequent reporting and all the action that you describe as having occurred since then?"
  • Dr Paterson: "I would say that it was valuable that Mr Reid, as a health and safety representative, re-raised these matters in April 2009, and I said that to him when I met with him. I feel that that was a very useful action on his part, and the fact that the investigation chain, which has subsequently followed, was initiated by that action I regard as very positive. I think that it was helpful both to management and to the workforce as a whole in the radiopharmaceuticals production area to go through a process of internalising what had happened,
    working through it in some detail and coming to a solid set of conclusions about how we could improve management and how we could improve the interaction with the workforce in order to mitigate these effects. So I would say it was good."
  • Senator Ludlam: "It would appear to me, obviously not having been at any of these meetings and not having visited the radiopharmaceuticals plant, to be in pretty good example of the benefit of a whistleblower. This fellow has taken some risks, and you would hope, on the basis of all the reviews and all the changes that you are making, that conditions for the workforce in there are improving as a result of what he has done."
  • Dr Paterson: "I think he was absolutely correct in his position of an HSR to raise it internally, which he did. I applaud that. I applaud the fact that he and a colleague also raised it at the central committee, which we use for all of the union representatives, in May 2009. I certainly believe that those actions were very solid. Where I have a concern is that, as the information came out of the investigation, he has not changed his view about the dose to his fellow worker. We had a very fruitful discussion of that when I met with him, and I think
    we have achieved a difference of view but a respect for one another's views."

January 2011 − A Comcare investigation found that ANSTO had acted prejudicially towards David Reid. ANSTO says that Comcare has decided to have its report independently reviewed. ANSTO says there have already been seven investigations into the August 2008 incident, including two by ARPANSA, and that "there was no significant radiological event, nor was there an attempt to cover anything up."

8 February 2011 − ABC TV Lateline report:

  • "The nuclear industry regulator ARPANSA backed up Mr Reid's concerns, finding serious problems in safety standards and a lack of management awareness about the difficulties and failures of the facility."
  • "Australia's workplace health and safety regulator, Comcare, has been called in to investigate the incidents. Lateline's obtained a copy of its report. It goes even further, finding that ANSTO has breached health and safety laws. It says ANSTO did not take all reasonable steps to provide and maintain a safe working environment. It didn't take all reasonable steps to inform, instruct, train and supervise ANSTO Health employees. It failed to comprehensively risk assess its radiopharmaceutical production process and it failed to notify Comcare of safety incidents."
  • "The Comcare report also expresses grave concern about ANSTO's treatment of Mr Reid, who's been suspended for nearly two years now after bullying allegations were made against him. It says Mr Reid's suspension was somewhat extreme and Mr Reid was substantially denied procedural fairness."
  • "Science Minister Kim Carr says the [Comcare] report has now been independently reviewed and he can't comment until that process is complete."
  • "ANSTO is facing more accusations that it's singling out workers who raise safety concerns, with another two employees suspended for reporting a contamination scare in September last year. ANSTO denies that they've been suspended for reporting the incident, but rather for unduly creating safety concerns."
  • Tim Ayres from the AMWU states: "I look forward to having a constructive engagement with ANSTO about these issues this week. It's gone on for far too long."
  • "Late this afternoon, the ABC learned of another incident just before Christmas, when an employee picked up a vile of highly radioactive material by hand. The risks of a spill makes it a serious safety breach. ANSTO says the newly-appointed supervisor was only slightly contaminated and has been advised of the correct handling procedures."

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.

9 February 2011 − Science Minister Kim Carr states: "I have asked my Department to examine the operation of the ANSTO radiopharmaceutical production facility and the OH&S practices in place at present at the facility."

28 February 2011 − The Australian reports that at least six ANSTO employees claim they were bullied by management and, in some cases, suspended from work after expressing concern about the safety of the plant's operations. "I find it disgraceful that ANSTO has so little concern for its employees," said a worker exposed to radiation after a colleague dropped a vial of radioactive molybdenum-99. "It's even more disgraceful the way they treat staff when they try to raise serious issues such as this. If you get on their bad books you're out, regardless of your performance."

The same report in The Australian states that Comcare confirmed that investigations were underway into claims that three ANSTO employees were stepped down after raising safety concerns against ANSTO.

3 March 2011 − The Australian reports that:

  • "Two employees of Australia's only nuclear reactor facility who were suspended after raising safety concerns will return to work in what amounts to a tacit admission by the plant's administrators that the accusations against them were overstated."
  • an AMWU report states: "We have ANSTO, a nuclear facility, threatening to dismiss employees for alleged misconduct arising from a contamination incident in which they had no part, yet ANSTO is unable to provide empirical evidence confirming the source of the contamination, or the level of contamination, after a seven-week investigation."
  • "The [AMWU] reports claim ANSTO failed to investigate suggestions by safety officer David Lee that contamination levels on Mr Semrani's clothing after the September spill could have been up to a hundred times higher than were eventually reported. They further claim ANSTO lost data that could have clarified the issue."

30 March 2011 − the ABC reports: "Australia's nuclear industry regulator, ARPANSA, is under review over its handling of safety breaches at the nation's only nuclear reactor. Last year, ABC 1's Lateline revealed allegations of serious safety and operational breaches at the Lucas Height's reactor in Sydney, which were later backed up by Australia's workplace regulator, Comcare. A departmental investigation was launched by Science Minister Kim Carr last month, but now a party to that investigation - ARPANSA - is itself under review. The Chief Auditor is investigating how ARPANSA handled the original allegations of safety breaches and bullying at the nuclear site. ARPANSA last year released two conflicting reports on the claims at the Lucas Heights facility."

31 May 2011 − The Australian reports that:

  • "[ANSTO] has been cleared of safety breaches and a culture of cover-ups in a report tabled in Canberra yesterday but the Government-appointed panel that authored the report said the Lucas Heights reactor in Sydney's south was ageing, staff were worried that maintenance occurred only for the most urgent matters, and an even more open approach to reporting health and safety problems should be adopted."
  • "... But the report also said staff were concerned that their managers lacked a good grasp of the plant's production processes and that there was not enough long term or strategic maintenance work done at the facility. Despite the existence of maintenance plans, "staff argue that maintenance is only undertaken for the most urgent matters," it said."
  • "The report also recommended the organisation allow staff to report safety problems directly to the radiation safety watchdog and Comcare if managers failed to respond to their concerns. In 2009-10, ANSTO Health had one breach of its licence and 56 radiology "events or near misses.""
  • "The facility is also the subject of other, ongoing review, including one by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency."

30 May 2011 − The ABC reports:

  • "The independent panel did not investigate individual incidents. While it didn't find management has breached workplace safety laws, it said some staff members could be more open about reporting safety problems."
  • "David Reid says the review's narrow terms of reference have meant that serious problems have been glossed over."
  • David Reid: "If you do not take safety seriously and do a root cause analysis of each accident, the accidents, they won't learn from them and they'll keep repeating the same accidents, which has happened over and over again. You have the same few people having the same accidents and the same people under-reporting or not reporting them."

30 May 2011 − Senate Estimates − Greens Senator Scott Ludlam with ANSTO's Dr Paterson.

  • Senator Ludlam corrects a previous assertion by Senator Carr that the Comcare report was leaked − it was released under freedom of information.
  • Senator Ludlam: "Dr Paterson, have the two union reps, Messrs Howe and Bourke, who were suspended around an incident in September last year, been vindicated of charges in relation to bringing up safety issues? Are they back at work on normal duties?"
  • Dr Paterson: "In our agreement that we reached with the union for their return to work we agreed that we would continue our investigation, but on a no-blame basis. That investigation is still in train. ANSTO management still retains the view that they were suspended in relation to inappropriate behaviour in respect of escalating an incident and potentially intimidating some of their colleagues in the workforce. We retain that position. We also recognised, in discussion with the union, that with proper assurances from staff members it was more appropriate to return them to work to give them the opportunity to be in the workplace. We have been encouraged in that process that we were able to find a resolution that returned them to work while we continued a no-blame investigation in order to discover the types of behaviours and the types of approaches that we might take in the future to these sorts of incidents."

June 2011 − Federal Department of Health and Ageing statement regarding its 'Review into ARPANSA's Handling of Certain Safety Matters at ANSTO':

  • The Secretary of the Department of Health and Ageing advised the ARPANSA CEO on 25 March 2011 of assistance which would be provided by the Department to undertake an initial investigation into ARPANSA's handling of investigations into Yttrium 90 and Molybdenum 99 incidents at ANSTO with specific regards to matters relating to impartiality.
  • In June 2009, an ANSTO employee advised ARPANSA of contamination incidents relating to Yttrium 90 and Molybdenum 99. The investigation of the contamination incidents within Building 23A raised questions concerning the appropriateness of ARPANSA's handling. ARPANSA commenced a series of inspections with the Molybdenum report being finalised in March 2010 and the Yttrium 90 report in September 2010. With regards to the ARPANSA Yttrium 90 finalised report this incorporated extensive input from ANSTO as to timelines and did not include a reference to contamination of two employees during the morning of 3 September 2007.

7 July 2011 − The ABC reports: "The Health Department's audit and fraud control branch has been investigating how ARPANSA handled allegations of safety breaches and bullying at the nation's only nuclear reactor in Sydney. Whistleblowers had alleged ARPANSA was too close to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), which runs the Lucas Heights research facility. The whistleblowers claimed that safety reports were being compromised. The Health Department review also questioned ARPANSA's impartiality."

7 July 2011 − Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing Catherine King said in a media release that the Department of Health and Ageing will review the regulatory powers of ARPANSA. This review follows the receipt of an independent audit by the Audit and Fraud Control Branch of the Department of Health and Ageing into ARPANSA's handing of two safety incidents at ANSTO in September 2007 and August 2008. The audit, requested by the new CEO of ARPANSA, found that while the incidents were investigated and concluded at the time, there was a lack of consistency in evidence and transparency in the handling of one of the incidents.

7 July 2011 − An initial review conducted by the  Department of Health and Ageing into ARPANSA's handling of safety incidents at ANSTO in September 2007 and August 2008 finds that: perceived doubts about ARPANSA's impartiality have been resolved by a recent management reorganisation; the actions of ARPANSA in relation to the Molybdenum 99 incident of August 2008 were performed in an impartial manner; and ARPANSA's investigations into the September 2007 Yttrium 90 contamination events in Building in 23A at ANSTO should be subject to further investigation. As a result of the report ARPANSA will be reopening an investigation into its handling of the Yttrium 90 safety incident of September 2007. An independent investigator will be appointed to assist with this investigation. ARPANSA will also be undertaking a number of actions to improve its regulatory functions including strengthening ARPANSA's oversight of ANSTO and improving transparency within the agency.

8 July 2011 − the ABC reports that the review of ARPANSA found an improper relationship with ANSTO. The Health Department's audit and fraud control branch has been investigating how ARPANSA handled allegations of safety breaches and bullying at the nation's only nuclear reactor in Sydney. Whistleblowers had alleged ARPANSA was too close to ANSTO. The whistleblowers claimed that safety reports were being compromised. The Health Department review also questioned ARPANSA's impartiality. The Federal Government is now reviewing ARPANSA's regulatory powers, with Thursday's report recommending they be strengthened if necessary.

19 October 2011 − Senate Estimates (Economics Committee) with Greeens Senator Scott Ludlam and ANSTO's Dr Paterson:

  • Dr Paterson tables the Review of Current Health and Safety Arrangements at ANSTO Health: ANSTO's Response October 2011.
  • Senator Ludlam refused access through FoI process to the June 2011 report arising from the Department of Health and Ageing's review into ARPANSA's handling of certain safety matters at ANSTO. ANSTO has only been given the Executive Summary − Dr Paterson says that "it was not an investigation of ANSTO but a department of health internal audit review of ARPANSA, which is their instrument."
  • Senator Ludlam: "How many reports of radiological contamination do you get in an average month?"
  • Dr Paterson: "In a typical month we would be talking about between three and perhaps 10, if there had been a significant number in relation to particular production activities. For example, if there is contamination in one area it may affect more than one worker at different times. We can provide the summary you request."

15 November 2011 − Nuclear and radiation safety experts assembled by the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded an eight-day mission to review ARPANSA. This follow-up mission examined ARPANSA's progress in acting upon the recommendations and suggestions made during the 2007 mission and reviewed the areas of significant regulatory changes since that review. The review team found that ARPANSA has made significant progress toward improving its regulatory activities, as most of the findings identified in the 2007 report have been effectively addressed and therefore can be considered closed. The team also made recommendations and suggestions to further strengthen ARPANSA's regulatory system. The team identified areas where the Australian Government should take actions to enhance the national regulatory infrastructure for nuclear safety and security, including revising the ARPANS Act to take full account of international principles, recommendations and IAEA safety standards and guides; and enhancing the national framework for nuclear and radiation emergency preparedness by clearly identifying and assigning responsibilities to ARPANSA and other appropriate organizations.

20 February 2012 Senate Estimates with Greens Senator Scott Ludlam and ANSTO's Dr Paterson:

  • Senator Ludlam: Dr Paterson, welcome back. I note that a Department of Health and Aging review was undertaken into ARPANSA's handling of certain safety matters in ANSTO, that there was a report issued last year and that, as a result of that report being produced, an investigation, I believe, has been reopened within ANSTO into an incident that happened five years ago with yttrium-90. Can you tell us why that is?
  • Dr Paterson: ANSTO has not reopened an investigation into that matter, but we have received notification from ARPANSA that an independent person appointed by ARPANSA is going to undertake a review of whether an incident with yttrium-90 took place on the morning of 3 September 2007. ...
  • Senator LUDLAM: Are there particular recommendations that have fallen out of that [Comcare report] that you are taking up?
  • Dr Paterson: Yes, there is a set of recommendations that were made in the report. We have reviewed those recommendations. We have accepted all of those recommendations and we have met with Comcare to brief them on the actions we are taking to meet those recommendations. ...
  • Dr Paterson: "Over time, certainly over the last two years there has been an improvement in incident reporting and the effectiveness of that incident reporting and in the total number of reports, and I think that that has been a really good benefit."
  • Dr Paterson: I think it is very clear that the original Comcare review found that Mr Reid had not been sanctioned for any health-and-safety related matter. The second Comcare review in relation to suspension of employees found that there was no breach in respect of the suspension process and that the suspension process was not in any way associated with health or safety concerns.

February 2012 − Senate Estimates - Greens Senator Scott Ludlam with ARPANSA's Dr Larsson:

  • Senator Ludlam: I would like to acknowledge your decision to ask the department of health to review some of the investigations into practices at ANSTO. We heard their side of the story a little earlier in the day. I am informed of a vastly improved safety culture at ANSTO. That shows, I suppose, that there was enormous room for improvement from when we started this a couple of years ago. I asked ANSTO this morning about an investigation that was being reopened as an outcome of that department of health investigation held five years ago into an incident involving Yttrium-90. They said that that is being reopened because what has been revealed is the possibility that a relationship between ANSTO staff and someone at ARPANSA might have influenced a report. We had some of the story described very briefly from ANSTO this morning, but they have handballed it to your desk. So can you just tell us what is occurring there?
  • Dr Larsson: I will recap. You might remember that I actually called for a review of two of the previous inspections that we had done at ANSTO—one that related to an incident in 2008 and the other that related to an incident in 2007; the one that you mention about the protection of Yttrium-90. I asked for assistance from the department of health and I got a report from the department of health which said that the incident in 2008 relating to the production of molybdenum could be a closed case. There was still a possibility of questions that needed to be asked in relation to the Yttrium-90 incident, which was back in 2007, 4½ years ago. As a result of that review that I got from the audit and fraud unit of the department of health, I contracted KPMG to look further into this. The report is likely to be delivered to me by the end of March. Before that, I do not have any more information to provide to you.

16 March 2012 − The Australian reports that:

  • "[ANSTO] used findings of an inaccurate, biased and partially fabricated in-house report as the pretext to suspend − and recommend the dismissal of − two employees who raised health and safety concerns over the mishandling of radioactive materials. The conclusion comes from an investigation by the national workplace regulator, Comcare, into events surrounding an incident in September 2010 in which a third employee was contaminated with radioactive yttrium-90 at the radioisotope production facility (ARI)."
  • "The Comcare investigation report, completed last December and obtained by The Australian, confirms long-running claims of bullying and cover-ups at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation's Lucas Heights facility in Sydney's south."
  • "Comcare found the ANSTO investigator's report "was not impartial or reliable". He noted as well, that the investigator included fabricated statements and "relied on hearsay and opinion from personnel . . . in the form of emails, conversations and handwritten notes"."
  • "Comcare concluded that the men had been denied procedural justice, and that the ANSTO investigation's findings "cannot be accepted as factual evidence"."

22 March 2012 − The Australian reports that ANSTO is facing legal action brought by David Reid, a former technician and staff-elected health and safety officer. Mr Reid is seeking compensation for harm he claims he suffered after raising concerns about contamination incidents in the radioisotope production facility between 2007 and 2008.

28 May 2012 Budget Estimates - Economics Committee, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam and ANSTO's Dr Paterson:

  • Senator LUDLAM: Yes, if you want to make nuclear weapons and stuff, but let us not go there. Mr Paterson, I do not think you addressed this in your opening statement. On 16 March, 2012 a piece that ran in the Australian reported that ANSTO had used findings of an inaccurate, biased and partially fabricated in-house report as the pretext to suspend a number of workers, and ANSTO still appears to be a rather unhappy workplace. An investigation by a regulator into activities at ANSTO finds room for improvement in some fairly basic and fundamental areas, and nine recommendations were made by Comcare. Could you please tell the committee how ANSTO is making the multiple additional improvements identified by Comcare in its report? Do you want to just give us an update on what ANSTO is doing in response to that report?
  • Dr Paterson: The media report or the report of Comcare?
  • Senator LUDLAM: No, the report of Comcare.
  • Dr Paterson: In respect of the that report, the first point that I wish to make is that ANSTO and I, as the leader of ANSTO, do not tolerate any kind of workplace bullying. The employees concerned continue to work at ANSTO in positions mutually agreed by ANSTO, the unions and the employees concerned. ANSTO continues to have a good relationship with those employees and their union representatives. They are performing a valuable role. In respect to the Comcare report, Comcare made no findings of any breach. Comcare proposed a series of recommendations that ANSTO has accepted and has developed into an action plan agreed with both Comcare and the relevant union. The report made recommendations about ANSTO improving investigations, which have been accepted. ANSTO has now adopted the Australian government investigation standard as the basis for all of our investigations, and is rolling out appropriate training to those staff who are involved in such investigations to ensure that they meet the relevant standard.
  • Senator LUDLAM: Who were not appropriately trained.
  • Dr Paterson: They were trained in investigative processes, but we were not aware that there was an Australian government investigation standard. Our investigators have always been trained, but this is a higher bar and we are very happy to complete with that higher bar. We urge all other institutions that conduct human resource investigations to meet the same standard.
  • Senator LUDLAM: Could you table for the committee the action plan that you mentioned?
  • Dr Paterson: I would be prepared to take that on notice, but we can table it.
  • Senator LUDLAM: I do not know whether there would be privacy implications.
  • Dr Paterson: There may well be some privacy implications, but those will not be extensive. I think we would be very happy to share that action plan.
  • Senator LUDLAM: Take names out if you will, but that would be much appreciated.

19 June 2012 − A KPMG report commissioned by ARPANSA finds that:

  • on 3 September 2007, two personal contamination events were reported
  • it is likely that one or more ANSTO employee received radiation exposure during the 3 September 2007 incidents
  • "The recollection of events by existing and former ANSTO employees is imprecise at best."
  • "In summary, we find that it is possible that the version of events in Mr Reid's allegations did occur."
  • a 28 May 2010 report by ARPANSA notes that ARPANSA "investigators were not able to piece together the full events of the day."
  • the incidents were "most likely caused by escape of materials through the service port of the "glove box" used to manufacture Y-90, not through a pinhole in the glove as the internal ANSTO review had found."
  • ARPANSA supplied ANSTO with transcripts of interviews with ANSTO staff.
  • on 18 May 2010 ARPANSA provided ANSTO with a preliminary inspection report, and the final inspection report was supplied to ANSTO on 10 September 2010.
  • on 23 February 2011, the CEO of ARPANSA sought assistance from the Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) to undertake an investigation to incidents in September 2007 (Y-90) and August 2008 (Mo-99)
  • on 10 June 2011 the DoHA investigation concluded that Mr Reid's allegations regarding 3 September 2007 incidents had not been adequately tested. DoHA recommended that an independent reviewer be engaged to reinvestigate the allegations − hence this ARPANSA-commissioned review by KPMG.
  • neither the interim report nor the final report by ARPANSA "sufficiently examined Mr Reid's allegations that a contamination incident ... occurred during the morning of 3 September 2007."

More information on inadequate safety practices at ANSTO and inadequate regulation:

Updates

"KPMG conducted the most recent investigation into the incident, reporting in June that many current and former ANSTO employees had ''imprecise at best'' recollections of the incident. But it found the regulator - the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency - failed to properly investigate the matter and neither its interim, nor final inspection reports, ''sufficiently examined allegations that a contamination incident … occurred''."