Know Your Radiation Exposure Limits

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Radiation is bad right? Well, not necessarily.

First, it depends on the type of radiation. Some radiation isn’t all that harmful at all within a reasonable limit. Other types of radiation are much more powerful and require heavy protection, limited exposure and an ample supply of education and safety training in order to keep yourself safe.

Read, What is Radiation? to learn more about the various types of radiation, and which types are worth worrying about.


At What Point Does Radiation Make You Sick?

Most of us have the ability to handle a little radiation here and there. That’s why things like full-body airport security scanners are legal. There is a point, however, where repeat exposure to ionizing radiation begins damaging cellular DNA. The results of over-exposure to radiation in a single dose, or cumulative exposure to small amounts of radiation over a prolonged period of time, can cause radiation sickness and even death.

It’s important to know how much is too much, especially if your job requires exposure to radiation or radioactive materials or equipment.

In the words of the Health Physics Society:

From follow-up of the atomic bomb survivors, we know acutely delivered, very high radiation doses can increase the occurrence of certain kinds of disease (e.g., cancer) and possibly negative genetic effects. To protect the public and radiation workers (and environment) from the potential effects of chronic low-level exposure (i.e., less than 100 mSv), the current radiation safety practice is to prudently assume similar adverse effects are possible with low-level protracted exposure to radiation. Thus, the risks associated with low-level medical, occupational, and environmental radiation exposure are conservatively calculated to be proportional to those observed with high-level exposure.

If you work in a career or location that exposes you to radiation, make it a point to know and monitor your exposure limits.

The tricky thing is that doses vary according to particular regions or parts of the body. Currently, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) keeps the following as the “Standards for Protection Against Radiation.”

It is important to note that a “Rem” is a unit of radiation (like the amount you experience from a single X-ray). It is defined as the dosage in rads that will cause the same amount of biological injury as one rad of X rays or gamma rays. A single rem is fairly substantial, so you’ll notice that the following annual radiation dose limits are mrems, or millirems, which are much smaller amounts.

  • Whole body: 5,000 mrem/year
  • Any organ: 50,000 mrem/year
  • Skin: 50,000 mrem/year
  • Extremity: 50,000 mrem/year
  • Lens of Eye: 15,000 mrem/year
  • Embryo/fetus: 500 mrem/year
  • Member of public: 100 mrem/year

Keep in mind that as a member of the public, your doctor and dentist provide you with things like lead aprons or other protective shielding any time you have to get an X-ray so you probably don’t have cause for concern if this is your only exposure.

Does Your Employer Have an ALARA Attitude?

If you work in an environment that exposes you to radiation – whether directly or via scatter radiation – safety is a top priority.

It is imperative that those in radioactive careers have employers that maintain an attitude of ALARA, which stands for As Low As Reasonably Achievable, when it comes to radiation exposure and their employees’ health.

Ask yourself the following questions:

Do we have a radiation safety officer? In a large company, and one where radiation exposure is the norm, the position of radiation safety officer (RSO) might be a full-time job. For other companies, this position is an added certification that designates one employee to take charge of radiation safety. The RSO may serve as the liaison between the management and staff, and they are in charge of overseeing that the right protective clothing and equipment is being used. They should also ensure that employees and new hires are properly education about the risks and precautions associated with radiation exposure, and so on.

Does our company provide appropriate protection? Do a little online research regarding your company, its products and equipment and the industry recommendations for radiation protection. If you don’t feel your company is doing its part or providing what you need, bring it to management’s attention immediately. Radiation shielding and protective clothing is key to your health.

Are your employees educated and informed? If radiation is a concern at your place of business, education and information about radiation, protection and safety precautions should be a part of the typical safety culture. If that isn’t the case, gather employees together and petition your management staff to begin introducing radiation safety as a routine topic. You can never be too careful when it comes to your body and radiation exposure limits, so always err on the side of caution.

Are you concerned about your radioactive exposure at work? Contact Lancs Industries to start the conversation about the types of radiation shielding and/or protective clothing that makes the most sense for your place of employment. Odds are we have products ready to order. Otherwise, we’re happy to custom-design and manufacture site- or task specific equipment for you.

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