Radiation Protection Program
Developing and implementing a radiation protection program is a best practice for protecting workers from ionizing radiation. A radiation protection program is usually managed by a qualified expert (e.g., health physicist), who is often called a radiation safety officer (RSO).
Another best practice is designating a radiation safety committee, which includes the RSO, a management representative, and workers who work with radiation-producing equipment, radiation sources, or radioactive materials (or who are otherwise at risk of exposure on the job).
A radiation protection program should include, at a minimum:
- Qualified staff (e.g., RSO, health physicist) to provide oversight and responsibility for radiation protection policies and procedures.
- ALARA stands for As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA). It is a guiding principle in radiation protection used to eliminate radiation doses that have no direct benefit.
- A dosimetry program in which personal exposure monitoring is conducted, as required by federal or state regulations, for external dose and, as needed, for internal dose.
- Surveys and area monitoring to document radiation levels, contamination with radioactive materials, and potential worker exposures.
- Radiological controls, including entry and exit controls, receiving, inventory control, storage, and disposal.
- Worker training on radiation protection, including health effects associated with ionizing radiation dose, and radiation protection procedures and controls to minimize dose and prevent contamination.
- Emergency procedures to identify and respond to radiological emergency situations. (OSHA’s Radiation Emergency Preparedness and Response page also provides information about this topic.)
- Recordkeeping and reporting programs to maintain all records and provide dosimetry reports and notifications, as required by federal or state regulations.
- Internal audit procedures to annually audit all aspects of the radiation protection program.
A key concept underlying radiation protection programs is keeping each worker’s occupational radiation dose As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA). An ALARA program usually involves maintaining radiation doses to workers as far below the federal and state regulatory occupational dose limits as is reasonably achievable taking into consideration the state of technology, economics, and social factors.
ALARA in the workplace minimizes radiation doses and releases of radioactive materials using all reasonable methods available. ALARA procedures are typically developed for working with specific radiation sources, for example, diagnostic radiography (e.g., medical X-rays), fluoroscopy in medicine, or industrial radiography.
Radiation Exposure Protection
External exposure is radiation that comes from somewhere outside the body and interacts with us. The source of radiation can be a piece of equipment that produces the radiation, like an x-ray machine, or it can be from radioactive materials in a container. The amount of external radiation exposure received is related to the distance from the source, the energy of the emitted radiation, the total amount of radioactive material present or the machine setting, and the time of exposure. Radiation workers can control and limit their exposure to penetrating radiation by taking advantage of time, distance, and shielding.
Reduce Time: By reducing the time of exposure to a radiation source, the dose to the worker is reduced in direct proportion with that time. Time directly influences the dose received: if you minimize the time spent near the source, the dose received is minimized. For example, if possible, interview a nuclear medicine patient before drug administration not after.
Increase distance: When appropriate, increase the distance between you and the radiation source (e.g., sealed source, x-ray tube). The exposure rate from a radiation source drops off by the inverse of the distance squared. For example, if a problem arises during a fluoroscopy procedure, stand on the image intensifier side of the C-arm if possible, or, when not assisting, step away from the patient if feasible.
Use shielding: The third exposure control is based on the proper radiation shields, automatic interlock devices, and in-place radiation monitoring instruments. Except for temporary or portable shields, protective drapes, lead or lead equivalent aprons, this type of control is usually built into the particular facility, such as concrete walls next to a radiation oncology accelerator. For portable x-ray devices, follow the vendor instructions.
In general, alpha, beta, gamma and x-ray radiation can be stopped by:
- Keeping the time of exposure to a minimum,
- Maintaining distance from the source,
- When appropriate, placing a shield between yourself and the source, and
- Protecting yourself against radioactive contamination by using proper protective clothing.
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