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The Next Frontier in Worker Radiation Protection

Occupational Radiation Protection Conference Yields Nine Action Items

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Al-Thawra General Hospital

Protecting medical workers and those exposed to naturally occurring radiation is the next frontier in occupational radiation protection, participants of a conference on the subject in Vienna learned last week. (Photo: M. Fairoz/Al-Thawra General Hospital)

Protecting medical workers and those exposed to naturally occurring radiation, such as air crew and miners, is the next frontier in occupational radiation protection, participants of a conference on the subject in Vienna learned last week.   

"The international safety framework for protecting workers is well established and effective. However, implementation of some of these recommendations in some areas, such as medicine and work involving exposure to elevated levels of naturally occurring radiation, is complex," said Michael Weber, Deputy Executive Director of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and chair of the four-day conference, entitled International Conference on Occupational Radiation Protection: Enhancing the Protection of Workers - Gaps, Challenges and Developments, organized by the IAEA and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

"[Also,] exposures of workers in the practice of medicine, including the use of conventional radiology for diagnosis and therapy, are generally well-controlled and in accordance with international safety standards. There are, however, new and emerging medical practices, especially interventional radiology and interventional cardiology, in which higher occupational exposures are occurring. These exposures to both workers and patients are growing as the procedures are being used with increasing frequency," Weber said. 

In his address to the conference, which attracted 470 delegates from 79 Member States, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said, "The number of people who encounter radiation in their daily work will continue to grow. It is essential that the highest priority is given to all aspects of safety so that we can enjoy the many benefits of peaceful nuclear technology while minimizing the risks. We have had reminders in the past that nuclear safety must never be taken for granted, even in advanced industrial countries."

To address these issues, authorities need to collaborate with the workers themselves to identify and implement the right protection guidelines, the ILO's Shengli Niu said.

"From the ILO's perspective, we really believe it is extremely important to involve the constituents - the workers and the employers. You have to involve those people who are directly affected by the issue," he said.

Radiation protection needs to become an integrated part of the general health and safety protection of workers, noted Weber in his closing remarks on the fifth and final day of the conference.

The concluding document from the conference pointed out that "workers may face a wide range of occupational hazards and unduly protecting workers against one or a few hazards may be detrimental to occupational safety and health, if such protection undermines protection against other comparable or greater workplace hazards. In some work settings, radiation protection may be of secondary or tertiary importance. Therefore, application of radiation protection measures must be examined within the context of the complexity of all foreseeable hazards in workplaces."

Niu noted the need for ongoing collaboration between agencies with different areas of focus and specialization. "A conference is useful for networking, exchanging experiences, but more importantly, it is the follow-up activities, particularly among the participants who take these things back and work among themselves, and then the collaboration among the organizations and the professional bodies [that's most important and beneficial]," he said.

Nine Areas of Focus for Follow-Up

After five days of presentations and intense discussion, the 470 attendees of the conference identified nine key areas of focus that require global attention going forward:

  1. Implementing the existing international safety standards to enhance occupational protection of workers, including assisting Member States in facilitating implementation and encouraging a holistic approach for worker protection.
  2. Developing and implementing new international safety guidelines for occupational radiation protection in different exposure situations, including advanced accelerator facilities and interventional radiology.
  3. Enhancing assistance to Member States with less developed programmes for occupational radiation protection to support practical implementation of international safety standards.
  4. Promoting exchange of operating experience, particularly for industrial radiography and medical radiology, and including appropriate consideration for human factors, not just among Member States and regulatory authorities, but also among operators, radiation protection officers and vendors.
  5. Enhancing training and education in occupational radiation protection to equip workers with the necessary knowledge, skills and competencies to implement protection measures for workers, including periodic refresher training in radiation protection and practical measures to reduce exposures.
  6. Improving safety culture among workers who are exposed to ionizing radiation, including promotion of safety culture by regulatory authorities through outreach and education.
  7. Developing young professionals in the area of radiation protection, particularly for developing nations, through communication, networking, training, research, hands-on experience and participation in technical meetings and conferences.
  8. Applying the graded approach[1] of the IAEA Radiation Protection and the Safety of Radiation Sources: International Basic Safety Standards (BSS) in protecting workers against exposures to elevated levels of naturally occurring radiation or radioactive materials, including flight crews, miners and other workers.
  9. Convening an appropriate international forum to exchange additional information and analysis of worker protection in different exposure situations, including during nuclear emergencies, to identify lessons learned, implement plans for the protection of workers and helpers, enhance worker preparedness, guide the development of measures for the rapid transition from planned exposure to emergency response, and improve radiation protection in emergencies.

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[1]Graded approach: For a system of control, such as a regulatory system or a safety system, a process or method in which the stringency of the control measures and conditions to be applied is commensurate, to the extent practicable, with the likelihood and possible consequences of, and the level of risk associated with, a loss of control.

 

 

Last update: 05 Jul 2019

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