Accidents during the clean-out and demolition of Britain’s former centre of fast reactor research are at their lowest level since records began.
The number of people being hurt while dismantling the redundant nuclear site at Dounreay has reduced ten-fold since 2005.
The pace of decommissioning work accelerated over the same period. Demolitions are averaging 100 sq ft a day and five times as many workers as before are now entering some of the most hazardous areas of the plant to clean them out.
The step-change in performance has earned the site the highest ranking possible in the annual awards of the British Safety Council.
More than 600 organisations from the public, private and third sectors entered the council’s International Safety Awards 2011.
Of the 546 awards announced, site clean-up contractor DSRL was one of 33 to make the top category for their performance.
“These winners have demonstrated their leadership in this vital area and their determination, like us, to do everything they can to ensure that no-one is killed, injured or made ill by their work,” said British Safety Council chief executive Julie Nerney.
Accident rates at Dounreay were improving but still among among the poorest of all nuclear sites in the UK when the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority took over in 2005 and appointed a clean-up contractor with international experience.
Since then, the rate of decommissioning work has accelerated while the rate of injuries has fallen ten-fold. The site now has one of the lowest accident rates in the UK nuclear industry.
“Our performance was starting to move in the right direction in 2005 but two things happened that year that gave real impetus to change" said Simon Middlemas, managing director of DSRL.
"The first was the arrival of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and the beginning of a new culture for the majority of the workforce as a contractor. The second was a serious setback in one of our high hazard plants that told us we weren’t as good as we probably thought we were.
"This award reflects the progress since then and the huge effort made by everyone here to focus on getting this job done safely and without harm, but we know there is still a long way to go. My focus, and the focus of everyone in positions of leadership, will continue to be relentless in pursuit of that."