Any amount of ionizing radiation exposure can increase the risk of negative health consequences, and repeated exposure over time has a cumulative effect. Therefore, a radiation safety program is key to preventing unnecessary exposure and minimizing risks.
In the United States, the guiding principle in regulating radiation risk is ALARA, which stands for “as low as reasonably achievable.” ALARA reduces risks for occupationally exposed workers. Discover how you can help prevent radiation exposure in the workplace.
Understand the Sources of Radiation
The first step in developing a robust radiation protection program is to identify potential sources of workplace radiation. Understanding the nature and intensity of radiation from workplace sources is also essential for following applicable federal regulations.
Probable sources vary greatly depending on the environment and industry. For example, X-ray machines, radioactive materials used in medical or industrial settings, and some lab equipment are common sources of radiation in healthcare and medical research.
NORM and TENORM Radiation Sources
Naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) is found in the environment and naturally contains radioactive elements. Isotopes of NORM are found in the earth’s crust in low concentrations, but human activity and industrial processes can modify NORM and increase the concentration of radioactive materials.
When the concentration is increased in this way, the resulting substance is classified as a technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material (TENORM). TENORM includes oil and gas industry waste, fertilizer waste, and water treatment plant waste.
Know the Dangers of Ionizing Radiation Exposure
To underscore the importance of minimizing exposure, it’s essential to understand the dangers of ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation can penetrate living tissue and change it at the cellular and molecular levels. Ionizing radiation can break chemical bonds in cells and alter DNA.
Health concerns from ionizing radiation exposure include acute radiation sickness, genetic mutations that may be passed to future generations, chronic health effects such as cancer, and tissue and organ damage. The possibility of developing any of these conditions depends on various factors, such as the duration and intensity of exposure.
Implement Engineering and Administrative Controls
Businesses can use engineering and administrative controls to create safer work environments. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets the ionizing radiation standard (29 CFR 1910.1096), which details what employers must do to protect workers from possible radiation exposure.
Engineering controls are physical design features that reduce risk factors. Such engineering controls include shielding, interlocks, alarms, and proper material containment.
Administrative controls are policies, procedures, and practices that minimize worker exposure. Since administrative controls do not eliminate hazards, they are less effective than engineering controls; even so, they are an essential protection element. Employee training and posted signage on normal and emergency operating procedures are examples of administrative controls.
The first essential principle of ALARA protection is to limit workers’ time spent near radioactive materials. The longer an individual stays near a radiation-emitting material, the higher the cumulative dose they receive.
Workers required to be near radiation-emitting materials should finish their tasks quickly without detracting from efficiency. In industrial settings that require radioactive material handling, workers should rotate tasks or assignments to reduce exposure duration per individual.
Tip: Use Dosimeters
Dosimeters track how much radiation you have been exposed to. An alarm-equipped dosimeter will notify the worker if the threshold for exposure rate or accumulated dose is exceeded. Dosimeters help workers stay mindful and limit their time near radiation sources.
The second essential ALARA principle is to maximize the distance between workers and radiation sources. Radiation intensity decreases with distance—the further you get from the source, the less radiation you receive.
Workers should use tools to manipulate radioactive materials from a distance whenever possible. Radiation exposure levels are inversely proportional to the square of the distance. In other words, doubling the distance from a radiation source reduces exposure to one-fourth of the original amount.
The third essential ALARA principle is to use shields to minimize exposure. Shields act as barriers between the source and the worker, absorbing or reflecting the radiation. The choice of shielding depends on the type and energy of the radiation, and shielding design requires a qualified expert, such as a health physicist.
Floors, walls, ceilings, and doors of rooms can be constructed with shielding materials. Inches of lead or several feet of concrete are used as shields for gamma rays and X-rays. Water is another shield option, so radioactive materials are commonly stored under water.
Leaded Glass and Curtains
Leaded glass is used in X-ray rooms, clinics, laboratories, materials testing facilities, and many other places that require observation. Leaded glass can be inserted into doors, mobile shield barriers, and walls.
Personal Protective Equipment Shields
Personal protective equipment (PPE) cannot protect against all possible radiation hazards, and PPE should be combined with engineering and administrative controls. Workers should wear the appropriate PPE to shield them from radiation. PPE ensembles are prescribed sets of individual PPE pieces worn together to provide protection that is proportional to the risk.
Common types of PPE that protect from X-rays and gamma rays include lead aprons and vests, lead thyroid collars, lead gloves, and leaded safety googles. Workers should wear respirators, such as a full-face air purifying respirator with a P-100 or High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter.
Employees require comprehensive training on radiation safety, the risks associated with radiation exposure, and how to use the ALARA principles of time, distance, and shielding. Employees must also learn about applicable PPE, its limitations, how to don and doff PPE, care requirements, and disposal procedures.
Radiation monitoring devices track employees’ exposure levels and allow for timely intervention. Qualified individuals should be trained on inspecting and maintaining monitoring devices and radiation-emitting equipment to ensure proper functioning.
Shop for Radiation Monitoring Devices From TG Technical Services
Limiting time near the radiation source, maximizing distance, and using shields are the three essential ALARA principles that mitigate radiation exposure in the workplace. Employers must assess potential radiation sources and associated risks to develop comprehensive protection programs.
TG Technical Services provides precise radiation monitoring devices for essential worker protection. Our devices use cutting-edge technology to detect and measure radiation levels.
Equip workers with alarming dosimeters that help limit worker exposure and perform an effective role in PPE. Shop with us today for area radiation detectors and alarming dosimeters.