The Ionising Radiations Regulations 2017 – an overview

Date published




  This article was co-written by Olivia Allbright, Litigation Assistant, London. 

The Ionising Radiations Regulations 2017 (IRR17) came into force on 1 January 2018, replacing the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999 (IRR99). It has brought a host of new challenges for employers working with ionising radiation, which now extends to operators of mines and quarries.

Ionising radiation is radiation consisting of particles, X-rays, or gamma rays with sufficient energy to cause ionisation in the medium through which it passes. Ionising radiation can present a health hazard if proper control measures are not put in place to limit and prevent exposure. It has many industrial, military and medical uses. Recently there have been key changes to the regulations.

IRR17 provides new responsibilities for employees so that the burden of working safely with ionising radiation is shared in a more balanced way between employer and employee. Of course as with almost all health and safety matters, the employer still has by far the lion’s share of the responsibility and should ensure processes, procedures and training requirements are updated. The HSE has produced an Approved Code of Practice to help employers comply with their duties.

Notification to the HSE

One of the main changes is the introduction of a risk-based approach to notifications to the HSE of work with ionising radiation. The IRR17 replaces the IRR99 requirement of notification and prior authorisation with a three-tier system:

  • Notification - lowest risk
  • Registration - medium risk
  • Consent - highest risk

The requirement to notify now starts at a lower level of activity so that more employers will need to inform the HSE. Notification will apply to any work with ionising radiation that does not require registration or consent. For example, work with radiation generators such as X-Ray devices, do not require notification but do require registration.

Change in radon reference level

There is an amendment to the radon reference level from 400 BQ m(-3) over 24 hours to 300 BQ m(-3) at an annual average activity. This difference is minimal in practice however; as calculations have shown that the IIR99 radon reference level is broadly equivalent to the annual average reference level in IRR17.

Outside workers

Another significant change concerns the scope of the definition of an ‘outside worker’ being broadened to include both classified and non-classified workers. This means that any person carrying out services in a controlled area or supervised area but who does not have an individual contract of employment with the employer responsible for that area. In particular this will include:

  • Protective equipment
  • Training
  • Dose monitoring
  • Entry to controlled/supervised areas.

Employers are responsible for making sure that both employees and outside workers understand the risks associated with their work and what they are required to do to control them.

Public protection measures

There is now a requirement to put procedures in place to estimate doses of exposure to members of the public, when it is anticipated that they are likely to be exposed to direct radiation or contamination.

Where employers anticipate this could occur, they should apply a dose constraint that has been recommended to not exceed 0.3 mSv a year. This is especially important for healthcare employers to take note of, due to the chance of the public being exposed to ionising radiation, via a patient who has received ionising radiation treatment.

Changes in healthcare

IRR17 has brought several new changes specific to ionising radiation in healthcare. Such changes include reducing the dose limit in the lens of the eye for employees from 150 mSv to 20 mSv a year. There is some flexibility with this as it can be averaged over a 5-year period. A further change is that any medical appeals by an employee need to be made to the HSE within 28 days of an appointed doctor’s decision, and registered medical practitioners no longer have to be appointed in writing, making it an easier process.

New obligations for employees

Under the new regime, employees must not knowingly expose themselves or others more than necessary for the purposes of their work, and they must exercise reasonable care. This duty applies to both employees and outside workers – however, employers have to ensure that both employees and outside workers understand how they can keep themselves safe.


The introduction of IRR17 has brought more challenges for employers. In particular getting to grips with the new three-tier system and knowing when to notify, register or gain consent from the HSE. In addition is the added responsibility for non-classified workers and members of the public.

To ensure that employers are compliant they should make a suitable and sufficient assessment of risk to employees and others before commencing a new activity with ionising radiation.

The driver behind the amendments to IRR99 was the requirement imposed by EU law for all EU member states to incorporate a 2013 EU Directive (2013/59/Euratom) into their national law by 2018. These regulations will continue to apply even after Brexit, unless a decision is taken to alter them.

This article was co-written by Olivia Allbright, Litigation Assistant, London. 

Read other items in the Health, Safety and Environment Brief - August 2018