Radiation legal base

The main legal requirements enforced by HSE are the Ionising Radiation Regulations 2017 (IRR17). Also relevant are the Radiation (Emergency Preparedness and Public Information) Regulations 2001 (REPPIR).

IRR17 replaced the Ionising Radiations Regulations IRR99 and implement the worker safety aspects of the Basic Safety Standards Directive (96/29/2013/59/Euratom).

Employers can find practical help in Work with ionising radiation: Ionising Radiations Regulations 2017 Approved code of practice and guidance.

IRR17 applies to a large range of workplaces where radioactive substances and electrical equipment emitting ionising radiation are used. They also apply to work with natural radiation, including work in which people are exposed to naturally occurring radon gas and its decay products. Any employer who undertakes work with ionising radiation must comply with IRR17.

IRR17 requires employers to keep exposure to ionising radiations as low as reasonably practicable. Exposures must not exceed specified dose limits. Restriction of exposure should be achieved first by means of engineering control and design features. Where this is not reasonably practicable employers should introduce safe systems of work and only rely on the provision of personal protective equipment as a last resort.

Risk assessment

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR), all employers must undertake a risk assessment and this should consider the risks from radiation in the workplace. Under IRR17 employers must undertake a radiation risk assessment before they start any new activity with ionising radiation, giving particular consideration to exposure levels and accident situations.

Once the work commences, regulation 3 of MHSWR requires the recording of the assessment (if there are 5 or more employees) and the maintenance of the risk assessment to keep it up to date where there has been a significant change in the matters to which it relates. Regulation 5 of MHSWR also requires employers to make arrangements for effective planning, organisation, control, monitoring and review of preventative and protective measures, including those for restricting exposures to ionising radiations.

Radioactive substances

The Environment Agencies enforce the Radioactive Substances Act 1993, which is mainly concerned with the control of radioactive waste.

High activity sealed radioactive sources

The Environment Agencies also enforce the High Activity Sealed Radioactive Sources and Orphan Sources Regulations 2005 (HASS) with the exception of high activity sealed radioactive sources that are kept, used, accumulated and disposed of on nuclear licensed sites, where the HSE is the regulatory authority for Great Britain.

The HASS Regulations do not affect a user's requirement to comply with IRR17, despite some of the requirements of the HASS Directive duplicating to some extent requirements of the IRR17. Users must comply with both sets of legislation. HSE and the Environment Agencies will work closely to ensure a consistent and comprehensive regulatory approach.

Article 8(1) of the HASS Directive (appropriate training of, and adequate information to be given to, employees and other persons concerning ionising radiation), as stated by regulation 19 of the HASS Regulations, is implemented by regulation 15 of the IRR17 and regulation 15 of the Ionising Radiations Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017 (IRR(NI)2017). This means that in relation to HASS, the appropriate training and adequate information (which must be repeated at regular intervals and documented) required by IRR17/IRR (NI) 2017 shall include:

  • specific requirements for the safe management of such a source
  • particular emphasis on the necessary safety requirements in relation to such a source
  • specific information on possible consequences of the loss of adequate control of such a source

Medical exposure

The Department of Health take the lead on the Ionising Radiations (Medical Exposure) Regulations 2018.


Justification is one of the key principles of radiological protection established by the International Commission on Radiological Protection on which the radiological framework of the UK is based. The principle of justification is that no practice involving exposures to radiation should be adopted unless it produces sufficient benefit to the exposed individuals or to society to offset the radiation detriment it causes. The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs take the lead on the Justification of Practices Involving Ionising Radiation Regulations 2004.


The Radiation (Emergency Preparedness and Public Information) Regulations 2001 (REPPIR) implement in Great Britain the articles on intervention in cases of radiation (radiological) emergency in Council Directive 96/29/Euratom, except where they apply to transport by road, rail, air, sea or inland waterway.

The Regulations also partly implement Council Directive 89/618/Euratom on informing the general public about health protection measures to be applied and steps to be taken in the event of a radiation emergency.

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Updated 2023-08-31