Radiation is an ordinary part of everyday life, as its primary source is natural minerals. However, situations may arise where a person is exposed to an uncontrolled amount of radiation. This most likely occurs to workers who handle or who are in the proximity of radioactive material, and in the event of an accident. Exposure to radiation may lead to both acute injuries such as burns, and long-term health effects such as cancer.
The best way to protect yourself, especially if your facility handles radioactive material or regularly conducts procedures such as taking X-Rays, is to understand and practice radiation safety principles, and encourage a positive safety culture. Regular safety inspections, device tests, contamination surveys, and preventative measures all reduce the risk of overexposure.
There are three main principles that have been established to limit exposure. These help workers both in their day-to-day operations and in the event of an emergency. The three principles of radiation safety are:
- Time. Minimizing/limiting the amount of time you are exposed to radiation reduces the dosage received, as the impact of exposure accumulates and worsens over time. Workers should either reduce their time handling radioactive materials or reduce their usage time of radioactive equipment.
- Distance. The greater the distance from the source of radiation, the lower the dose. Maintaining as far a distance as possible from materials and equipment such as X-ray machines is an effective method for safety. In the event of an accidental exposure, move as far away as possible, as quickly as possible.
- Shielding. Shielding devices range from personal protective equipment (radiation reducing gloves, aprons, thyroid protectors, lead glasses, caps) to barriers of water, concrete, and lead that encase the radioactive material itself. For example, many nuclear power plants store their materials in lead-lined rooms, and patients are covered with a lead blanket when they receive X-rays at the dentist.
These three principles are the most successful way to minimize exposure. However, there are further radiation safety rules to remember whenever you are working with any type of radiation. These include:
- Adequate training to ensure workers understand radiation hazards
- Ensuring workers are mindful of distance, handling time, and proper shielding
- Containing or isolating harmful radioactive material
- Ensuring that radioactive material is disposed of correctly
- Conducting consistent contamination surveys within work areas
- Enforcing no drinking, eating, smoking, or applying cosmetics in an area where radioactive substances are handled
Overexposure to radiation can lead to serious health conditions. However, preventative measures and a positive safety culture in a wide variety of workplaces can encourage workers to be safe and reduce the risk of health consequences, both in the short term and the long term.