A teal and white icon representing Chemicals and Radiation.


Top of Page | Next Section

What are chemical and radiation hazards? 

Rapid global growth in the production, trade and consumption of chemicals, coupled with factors such as a lag in the development of necessary regulatory capacities, means that global and national risk of chemical exposures of concern is high. Chemical incidents can have many manifestations, stemming from different events, which may be technological or natural in origin – these can lead to major accidents, accidental exposures and background exposures of concern. Examples of technological events which have resulted in chemical incidents include explosions and releases during transport and from industrial processes; accidental or intentional adulteration of consumer products; and releases resulting from conflict, criminal or terrorist activity. Accidental and background exposures may result from poor handling, transport and storage of chemicals and pollution of air, land, water, food and consumer products

Chemical incidents can impact upon the health of people in several ways, in addition to the more obvious burden on morbidity and mortality, such as impacts from environmental and economic damage. Efficient and effective detection and response to chemical incidents is therefore of key importance to reduce these impacts. This requires a coordinated public health response through multi-sectoral collaboration, to allow for assessment of exposure and risk and the provision of advice. To meet this challenge, the health sector has begun, to varying extents, to expand its traditional roles and responsibilities to be able to address the public health and medical issues associated with the use of chemicals. 

Radiation hazards may be natural, such as radon gas or solar radiation, or man-made, such as radiopharmaceuticals and industrial sources. Radiation is something we are all exposed to daily in the natural environment; however, high or excessive exposure to radiation can cause harmful health effects. It is, therefore, important to ensure the uses of radiation and radioactive materials are controlled and regulated to prevent overexposure. 

Radiation emergencies are situations that could potentially lead to an increased risk of exposure to significant radiation. Radiation emergencies are rare events, but we can greatly reduce their potential impact by being prepared for them and by planning the response and recovery.



Programme Scope 

This workstream collaborates with public health, environmental and response professionals from the UKOTs, providing support and technical assistance to strengthen public health systems and institutions in relation to the International Health Regulations (IHR) and environmental public health.  

The aim of the programme’s support is to enhance competencies, coordination and collaboration across the UKOTs to prevent, detect and respond to public health incidents involving chemical and radiation, as well as ‘business-as-usual’ chemicals and radiation hazard management. The programme focuses on improving indicator scores with reference to WHO State Party Annual Reporting (SPAR) Tool and IHR Benchmarks, resulting in greater situational awareness to deliver robust strategies and operational procedures at local and regional levels.  


Workstream Focus 

The overall aim is to protect UKOT populations from potential environmental public health threats. It seeks to:   

  • Improve situational awareness of hazards, risks and associated prioritisation and action planning.   

  • Build capacity for chemicals and radiation, including incident response, public health surveillance and risk assessments.   

  • Develop workforce through:  

    • Disseminating good practice ways of working and providing access to sustainable training.  
    • Engagement with stakeholders, and to establish networks and communities of practice.  
    • Strengthen multi-sectoral working, including planning and exercising, within and across UKOT stakeholders and the UK government on global public health. 



Example Projects 

  • Facilitating the development of a framework code of practise for risk management good practise for chemical hazards, working with the UK Health and Safety Executive and a multi-disciplinary steering group. This framework will be available to all territories and cover importation, transportation, storage and storage.

  • Supporting Cayman and Bermuda to develop standards and practices in the use of ionising radiation in healthcare.  

  • Virtual environmental public health seminars focused on sharing key challenges and learning on environmental issues involving chemicals and radiation and their actual or potential impacts on UKOT populations (presentations and recordings available on request).  

  • Development of a baseline self-assessment toolkit to support UKOTs to conduct assessments to improve situational awareness of potential threats to chemical hazards and health and support any action planning.  

  • Development of online training including a foundational course on the principles of chemical hazards and public health.  

  • Chairing the UK Cross-government Chemicals and Radiation Working Group, which was established by UKHSA and meetings quarterly  to support collaboration and communication on mutual areas of work for the strengthening of chemicals and radiation management. 



This network is for anyone in the UKOTs who is interested in the interactions between the environment and public health. The aim of the Network is to provide a forum to share knowledge and experience between territories; discuss and share challenges; discuss relevant good practice, guidance, policies and legislation; support capability and capacity development; share information on resources, events, guidance, research and other relevant information, which supports the above; and identify needs and take action to address these, including through Task and Finish Groups to deliver agreed outputs. 

The Network meets once every 3 months using MS Teams, with Task and Finish Groups working on specific objectives and meeting at other times. UKHSA currently provides Chair and Secretariat for the Network. For more information or to join the UKOTs Environmental Public Health Network please email UKOTs.Programme@ukhsa.gov.uk 


Training Opportunities 

Key Resources