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Comcare findings demand immediate action to clean up Lucas Heights facility

The Australian Greens have called on the Government to take immediate action to clean up Australia's only nuclear isotope production facility after the damning findings of an investigation by Comcare.

While investigating the suspension of an Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation health representative, the agency responsible for workplace safety in the Commonwealth sector recommended the nuclear body engage in far-reaching reform of its safety standards.

Greens spokesperson for nuclear affairs Senator Scott Ludlam said the safety issues identified by the Comcare report made it clear that "the Australian Government must look to alternate methods of isotope production".
"We don't need a nuclear reactor to produce medical isotopes, but phasing out the reactor will require investment in alternative technologies," he said.

Comcare found the suspension of Lucas Heights safety representative 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 Mr Reid had not been given a reasonable opportunity to defend himself.

"Here you have a worker raising safety issues and then being accused of inappropriate conduct, he is suspended for four weeks before even knowing what he has been accused of, and then half of the claims are thrown out and the other two considered too minor to justify the penalty - but he is still suspended now," said Senator Ludlam. "Comcare essentially vindicated Mr Reid's original complaints about safety by recommending a radical overhaul of the way ANSTO runs its radiopharmaceutical operations."

"ANSTO indicates that Comcare is now reviewing the report in question. The Government must ensure that the findings of that review are made public as soon as they are reached." Senator Ludlam said. "This is an extremely grave matter. It indicates not only serious safety issues, but also what appears to be the use of disciplinary action to silence a whistle-blower."

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.

While Comcare could not establish that Mr Reid was suspended because he raised safety concerns, it did find he was denied procedural fairness, that another employee accused of similar conduct was subject to quite different treatment and that the person investigating Mr Reid's conduct was not properly qualified and overemphasised certain evidential materials while underemphasising others.
Comcare investigator Scott Notley expressed "grave concerns" about the "multiple inadequacies" in the process which resulted in Mr 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 Mr Reid.
Mr Notley said it was incumbent upon ANSTO (under section 16(1) of the occupational Health and Safety Act) to investigate Mr Reid's allegations of bullying and harassment and ANSTO failed to do so.
Senator Ludlam said the Government must act immediately to ensure ANSTO is complying with the recommendations made by Comcare.

Media contact - Giovanni Torre 0417 174 302







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