ALARA: What Is It And What Can It Do For You?

ALARA is both a safety principle, as well as a regulatory requirement, for those of us who work in radiation safety programs. It was designed with the understanding that even minimal exposure to radiation and radioactive materials in the environment can be detrimental to human and other life forms. The acronym stands for:

As Low As Reasonably Achievable

It serves as a reminder and a standard that we need to protect ourselves, our co-workers and employees as much as possible from the dangers of radiation. The more exposed a human being is to radiation and radioactive materials, the more likely he or she is to be affected by genetic and cellular mutations, including those that lead to cancer.

Thus, companies and entities that use the ALARA program make every effort possible to utilize practical, cost-effective methods to shield their employees and staff from radiation. This includes adhering to legal dose limits as well as investigating dose levels that exceed these limits in order to review the work practices and environment of a radiation worker. It also involves the use of shielding equipment to keep worker, work stations and the surrounding environment safe.

How is The ALARA Program Implemented?

There are several steps involved with implementing the ALARA program. These include things like:

    1. Providing the technical support and guidance required for companies and their staffs to implement the ALARA concept, including continuing education and training.

Conducting routine lab inspections to identify any issues or situations that may conflict or undermine the ALARA program.

Using dosimetry and use of bioassays as needed to measure and monitor worker radiation doses.

Taking a close look when worker radiation levels exceed recommended levels and respond to those situations accordingly.

Provide consultation and training to ensure workers understand the importance of maintaining radiation does that are as low as reasonably achievable, and to provide access to tools, equipment and techniques that minimize radiation exposure.


A Successful ALARA Program Relies on Transparency and Employee Cooperation

The concepts of the ALARA program are only as successful as the commitment level of the persons implementing them. That means that everyone – from management to staff – must be honest, transparent and responsible about upholding the tenets of the program. This includes things like:

1. Being aware of what radiation is and an understanding of what the potential radiation hazards are, what constitutes safe and unsafe exposure levels and the types of safety controls and protocols that have been set in place in work areas.

2. A clear awareness and understanding of the procedures and protocols in case of an emergency.

3. Awareness of practices that don’t follow ALARA procedures and confidence that workers have a safe company culture in which to make these concerns known.

4. Agreement to comply with reporting unsafe worker conditions and/or incidents to supervisors or, if necessary to the Radiation Safety Division (RSD).

5. Wearing personnel dosimetry to ensure radiation exposure is minimized and returning it to the RSD at its proper exchange frequency.

6. Providing bioassay samples to the Radiation Safety Division as required.

There are multiple steps employees can take to minimize their radiation exposure

The most basic of these includes time, distance and shielding.

Time: The less time an employee is exposed to radiation, the more direct radiation contamination they will experience. Thus, managers should minimize direct exposure time and rotate their worker’s jobs and responsibilities accordingly.

Distance: The further away you are from the radiation source, the less exposed you are. Thus, doubling the distance between yourself and the source of radiation actually cuts your radiation exposure by a factor of four. Work stations should be designed with this principal in mind.

Shielding. Employees should always be working with the proper shields in place to protect their bodies from exposure, for example using Plexiglas to deflect beta particles or using lead shields to block X-rays and gamma rays.

Other steps include using good hygiene and not consuming food or drinks in working areas that contain radiation exposure. Working areas should be swiped and surveyed regularly, as should other areas and objects in the building, including phones, desktops, toilets, computer keyboards, etc. Finally, proper protective equipment should be worn and used at all times to mitigate radiation exposure.

Are you interested in learning more about protective products that will enhance your facility’s compliance with the ALARA program? Would your company’s management and/or staff benefit from innovative radiological work practices and ALARA techniques. Contact Lancs Industries, a leader in providing radiation shielding products and solutions since 1974.

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