Home' Defence Magazine : Issue 6 2009 Contents 33
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overnance of Defence’s
radiation sources is serious
business. The Australian
community needs to be
confident that there is no
risk to their health or their
environment as a result of Defence’s
use of specialised radiation materiel.
In 2007, renewed media claims about
a Tritium contamination incident some four
years earlier prompted the Minister for
Defence to call for a review of Defence
policies and procedures for the management
of this weak radioactive isotope of hydrogen.
The outcome was the most significant change
to the management of radiation safety
in Defence since the introduction of the
Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear
Safety (ARPANS) Act in 1998.
Tritium is used by Defence and others in
the form of gaseous tritium light sources. Also
known as GTLS and often as small as a grain
of rice, these objects provide illumination for
many military and civil applications including
compasses and weapons sights as well as
The contamination incident occurred at
a Brisbane workshop which had been used
for many years to repair and replace GTLS in
military equipment. Although the workshop was
managed in accordance with conditions set
down by the Commonwealth radiation safety
regulator (Australian Radiation Protection
and Nuclear Safety Agency - ARPANSA), the
contamination still occurred.
The 2007 Review reported back to the
Minister that the tritium-based light sources
used by Defence posed an insignificant
risk to personnel, provided operators and
maintainers adhered to standard safety
measures. However, the Review noted that
aspects of Defence’s management of tritium-
based light sources reflected a combination
of lack of knowledge, complacency and poor
work practices over a prolonged period and
that Defence’s management of its regulatory
requirements under the ARPANS Act required
The Brisbane incident did not occur for
want of policy or guidance. Defence activities
in the radiation space are subject to many
rules including the ARPANS legislation,
Defence source and facility licence
conditions, ARPANS Codes of Practice and
Australian Standards, as well as the corporate
policies and procedures in SAFETYMAN.
What the incident did show was that Defence
lacked a mechanism for efficiently and effectively
delivering these rules to the workplace. Defence
needed a business model that told people what
needed to be done, offered best practice guidance
on how to do it and measured performance and
conformance, whilst leaving the actual method of
implementation up to them. A brand new governance
model was required.
Such a governance model, incorporating the
Review’s recommendations, was developed and
approved for use by the Vice Chief of the Defence
Force in September 2008.
Director Defence Radiation Safety and
Assurance (DSRA), Tony Mills-Thom said that
tritium was just one component of a larger set of
radiation sources used in Defence.
“Knowing this, we expanded the model’s
coverage to include all these sources and the
facilities where they are used,” Mr Mills-Thom said.
“We have collocated radiation specialists
within DRSA to maximise the effectiveness of the
team’s radiation safety knowledge and resources and
enable their skills to be shared across Defence while
simultaneously growing their capability by drawing on
one another’s knowledge and experience.”
In the new governance model, Commander
Joint Logistics becomes the single point of
accountability for management of radiation sources.
“Under him, the DRSA Directorate operates as
a centre of excellence at the corporate level with
the detailed knowledge of applicable legislation,
industry best practice, and the underlying science
and strategic direction to exert technical control
over the radiation space,” Mr Mills-Thom said.
“Personnel at Unit level, who have a detailed
knowledge of their individual Group and Service
context, especially the strengths and weaknesses
of their people, their culture and their environment,
are then better placed to implement radiation safety
capability under this technical control framework.
“The model draws on the command chain to
interpret the strategic and corporate requirement
into an organisational context and to monitor its
delivery on a day-to-day basis.”
The new governance model also required the
reworking of the existing committee process.
Firstly, the old radiation safety committee
was reformed at the strategic level to become
the Defence Radiation Safety and Assurance
Committee (DRSAC), with membership consisting
of SES Band 1/1 Star Nominees who are
responsible for the effective control of radiation
safety within their Groups and Services.
The DRSAC meets quarterly and reports to the
Defence Logistics Committee.
Secondly, external communications to
ARPANSA have been strengthened through a
reworked Defence ARPANSA Liaison Forum that
meets twice yearly to discuss matters affecting the
Defence – ARPANSA relationship.
Communications, both within Defence and
externally to ARPANSA, have noticeably improved
with positive outcomes for compliance reporting
and the uptake of legislative changes.
“Our new governance model gives Defence
a robust methodology for demonstrating to the
Australian community that we can be trusted
to handle radiation sources safely in our
Establishments, wherever they may be sited,”
Mr Mills-Thom said.
Mr Mills-Thom reminded commanders,
managers and supervisors of personnel using
radiation equipment to remain vigilant.
“They are responsible for ensuring that policy
and procedures are in place to ensure safe use of
equipment, that staff comply with those policy and
procedures, that accidents are reported up chains
of command to DRSA, that radiation hazards within
work areas are clearly marked and that personnel
using equipment are adequately trained,” he said.
“Complacency is our worst enemy and puts
lives at risk.”
- Director Defence Radiation Safety
and Assurance, Tony Mills-Thom.
Complacency is our
worst enemy and
puts lives at risk
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