Have you just received the designation of Radiation Safety Officer in your company or department? Or, is your lab hot – and you realize the established safety protocols aren’t up to par? Depending on the types of radiation you’re working with, it’s essential to have a response plan for any level of radiation exposure employees may experience.
While skin contamination isn’t common, radioactivity in liquid form poses a risk, and it’s essential that you’re prepared to protect yourself, fellow colleagues and employees.
A Skin Contamination Response Plan Requires Soap, Water and Diligence
While soap and water are the simple solution to most scenarios involving liquid radioactive splatter, the hand washer must be extremely diligent about how the hands and other exposed body parts are scrubbed. Then, how do you assess how much is enough? What kind of follow up is required? Is there someone you should contact?
Good questions – and that’s why it’s important to have a specific response plan. The plan will walk you and others ,step-by-step to the other side, ensuring the contamination incident is handled safely, efficiently, and consistently.
There are three macro steps required in any decent response plan:
- Have a detailed procedure to follow
- Know how to completely de-contaminate the skin, which requires knowing when you’re done cleaning up.
- Determine whether any further follow-up will be required.
Create a detailed procedure
First, create a detailed procedure. It should start by determining what skin contamination means. This will be determined by the nature of your work and its environment(s). Perhaps you’ll define skin contamination after a certain exposure limit has been reached, or maybe it will be defined as the presence of any contamination above the background. This is for your company or department to determine.
The procedure will also include steps such as:
- Contacting the radiation safety officer ASAP.
- Perform a count rate survey at the contaminated site and document the number of CPM.
- Move to the nearest sink available to begin cleaning the contaminated area.
- Continue additional clean-up at and around the contamination site.
- Contact additional or outside assistance whenever necessary. Never err on the side of waiting too long or hedging at the idea of requesting more support. When it comes to radiation contamination; it’s always better request additional assistance that you don’t need, rather than the other way around.
- Document everything.
Know how to clean up radioactive contamination on the skin
In almost all cases, de-contaminating the skin is a very straightforward procedure, requiring nothing more than soap and water. Cleaning wipes, damp rags and sponges may also work. However, if you are working with a highly specific product or scenario, the situation may require more specialized products. If this is the case, always have those products on hand.
Decontamination should never be painful. Remember that your skin is a very tough and protective barrier. Doing anything that causes pain or discomfort – using harsh, abrasive scrubbing materials, water that is too hot, drawing blood from over-exuberant scrubbing – all of these can actually increase the chances of internal contamination through broken skin.
If the hands are contaminated, be very careful to clean around the nails and nailbeds, all around and in between the fingers – including the webbing, and around the thumbs and wrists, the creases and crevices in the palms, etc. Those are the areas most likely to remain contaminated if they are not washed thoroughly enough.
Re-count contamination levels after every few washes and/or wipes. As long as numbers continue to go down, you are doing it right. If the number of CPM levels off, it’s time to try something else because washing is no longer working.
Consider what additional, follow-up measures may be necessary
Sometimes, additional measures may be necessary. For example, certain contamination levels or contamination via certain compounds may lead to thyroid counts or urine bioassays to be on the safe side. A consultant might be called in to calculate radiation doses if skin contamination exceeds certain limits after de-contamination efforts have been exhausted. Radiation doses can probably be established in house, using online calculators like this one from the Radiation Safety Division at Duke University. If the individual has exceeded 50 rem to the skin, a regulator will need to be contacted.
Make sure everything is documented, starting with a brief description of what happened, the instrument used for count measurements, how often they were taken, what those counts were and a brief description of the decontamination procedure. You don’t have to write a novel, but all of the pertinent details should be included in an organized, legible format. If follow-up measures are required, these will be documented as well.
While skin contamination is serious, there is no need to panic. In fact, methodology is your friend here, keeping you calm, focused and attentive.
Need assistance preventing yourself and/or your employees from radioactive skin contamination in the first place. Contact Lancs Industries and have a conversation about the radiation protection that makes the most sense for your industry or area of expertise.
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