The primary goal of any employer should be to provide a safe and healthy work environment for their employees. For employer’s whose businesses involve the use of radioactive materials, this goal is a bit trickier to meet.
Firstly, radiation is invisible, so it’s easy for employees to forget they are working with an extremely hazardous material. Then, the effects of radiation exposure are rarely immediate, or severe enough to notice right away, so any breakdown in the ALARA protocol can result in widespread damage that isn’t detected until it’s much too late.
For this reason, federal and state laws mandate that a qualified radiation safety officer (RSO) be employed to oversee and ensure the safe use and handling of radioactive materials and/or devices in any workplace environment where radioactive devices are present.
What is a Radiation Safety Officer?
The RSO is a primary point person who is educated, knowledgeable and skilled in regards to radiation, it’s risks and the safety measures required to eliminate its risks in the workplace environment. Radiation Safety Officers are licensedprofessionals. That means that the designation of RSO is not simply a badge passed from one management-level or team-leader employee to another.
Rather, they must be certified in compliance with the rules and regulations of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Paramount to this compliance is the RSO’s understanding of radiation principles, and the safe management of the types of radioactive exposure that is potential at their specific work site.
The level of education and training required is proportional to the size and complexity of your radioactive programs.
What Does an RSO Do?
First and foremost, an RSO is responsible for creating and/or maintain a comprehensive and workplace specific radiation protection plan. An active ALARA program can be a great start, but the program must be maintained in writing, updated on a regular basis to accommodate any changes or additions to the current radiation risk, and it must promote continued employee education training and safety.
This plan ranges from identifying radioactive materials and/or equipment in the workplace and determining the facility’s licensing requirements for each of these items, to monitoring leak detection and mandating the provision of adequate protective clothing, materials and containment devices for any employees who are at risk for radiation exposure.
It also requires that the RSO understand and implement the safest methods of using, storing and handling radioactive materials in compliance with state and federal mandates. Depending on the place of employment, the RSO may also:
- Review purchases or order for radioactive materials.
- Maintain the inventory of radioactive materials at a facility.
- Perform safety surveys.
- Promote workplace safety, focusing on the mitigation of radiation exposure.
- Update databases of authorized users and sites to organize and facility safety training, radiation surveys and relevant audits.
- Perform other duties specific to their workplace environment.
RSO Are Certificated Individuals With Specialized Education & Training
As mentioned above, RSO’s must be licensed, and these licenses must remain current. The information and job duties cannot be inherited or passed down from one experienced employee to the next. Rather, the position requires specific and extensive education and training.
Some RSO’s have bachelor’s degrees from an accredited university or a college that offers a program in science, physics or engineering – with the licensed RSO program included in the program, or augmented by tacking on additional courses and training hours. These RSO’s are approved by federal and state agencies, have licensing and continuing education responsibilities and must have sufficient knowledge to function independently on the job.
If persons already have a degree or sufficient graduate experience in an approved educational background, they may be able to obtain their RSO education and training through a subsequent and applicable RSO training program. In most cases, these programs cost between $2000 and $5000 dollars, costs that are typically reimbursed by the RSO’s employer upon successful completion of the course and/or the receipt of their license.
In terms of training, a radiation safety officer must complete at least 200 classroom and training hours and must have one or more years of supervised work experience, working under the watchful eye of another qualified radiation safety officer.
Radiation Safety Officers Are Rewarded for Their Expertise
The good news is that all that training pays off, literally. According to payscale.com, the median salary of a radiation safety officer is $75,862, with a pay scale ranging from $49,356 – $123,106, and these positions typically include generous benefits.
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