Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is an APNZ news reporter based in Wellington.

Sacked radiographer awarded $3k in compensation

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

An experienced South Auckland radiographer who exposed a 15-year-old patient to excess radiation and then failed to report the incident has been awarded $3000 in compensation for unjustified dismissal.

Medical radiation technologist Hasheem Kamal was dismissed from Horizon Radiology after the incident at the clinic on Dawson Rd, Flat Bush, in September last year.

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) heard how Mr Kamal took five x-rays of the boy's wrist, but the first two were unsuccessful.

A later investigation found the boy had been over-exposed to radiation, but there had been no harm to the patient.

Mr Kamal had been employed to work afternoon shifts at the Horizon clinic in Dannemora but after an equipment failure shut that clinic down, his afternoon shifts were moved to the Dawson Rd clinic.

He received no formal training at the new clinic, but radiographer manager Jenny Painter said he seemed comfortable with the equipment, and had indicated he had previously worked at the Dawson Rd clinic.

Mr Kamal said he had previously used x-ray equipment similar to that at the clinic, and had felt confident in using it.

But when he saw his first patient, a 15-year-old boy needing a hand x-ray, he had difficulty setting up the machine, which kept returning to default settings.

He was able to set up the machine and started the first x-ray, but immediately heard a sound as if the machine was cutting out, either due to a malfunction or incorrect set-up.

Mr Kamal considered the radiation exposure to be small, so decided to press ahead with another x-ray. But after setting up, checking and starting the machine again, he heard the same sound.

He told the ERA he was "baffled" about what was happening with the x-ray machine so he switched it off, waited a few minutes, and changed its cassette cartridge.

Mr Kamal then took the remaining three x-rays, which were of good diagnostic quality.

He did not report the incident, but it was discovered the next day when Ms Painter carried out a quality check on the cassette.

Ms Painter had expected to see an unexposed image, but instead, an image of a hand appeared on the monitor, suggesting the image had been burnt into the image plate and was unable to be erased.

She said the over-exposure was extremely concerning, as it was a serious matter that needed to be reported to the National Radiation Laboratory (NRL).

Ms Painter discussed the matter with Mr Kamal, who accepted there had been over-radiation and attributed the problem to a lack of proper training on the equipment.

Mr Kamal later completed an incident report and notified the NRL, which attributed the over-radiation to a lack of training.

Horizon managing director Mary Gordon then launched an investigation into the incident and informed Mr Kamal he was being summarily dismissed for serious misconduct.

Mr Kamal responded the x-ray equipment was responsible for the error, the company's physicist had found the patient was unharmed, and he had not needed to report the incident immediately.

Ms Gordon considered his submissions and decided summary dismissal was too harsh. Instead, she decided to dismiss him with payment in lieu of notice on the grounds he had over-radiated a patient; had continued with the procedure despite knowing he needed more training; and had failed to report the incident.

ERA member Eleanor Robinson found Horizon had carried out a full investigation and was right to conclude Mr Kamal's actions amounted to serious misconduct.

However, she found a fair and reasonable employer would have taken Mr Kamal's significant service into consideration and decided not to dismiss him.

Ms Robinson found Mr Kamal was unjustifiably dismissed, but not unjustifiably disadvantaged.

She ordered Horizon to pay three months' salary and $10,000 in compensation for distress and financial hardship. However, that amount was reduced by 70 per cent because Mr Kamal had contributed by delaying his report on the incident.

Costs were reserved.

- APNZ

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