Exposure to ionizing radiation in the workplace is a fact of life in many occupations, whether in hospitals, mines, nuclear installations, aircraft, or in areas with naturally high levels of background radiation. The IAEA, jointly with the International Labour Organization (ILO), has worked over the years to establish guidelines to protect workers in these environments.
This month, issues surrounding radiation protection in the workplace are on center stage in Geneva at ILO headquarters. Government officials, employers, workers' representatives, and radiation protection experts will meet from 26-30 August 2002 at the first International Conference on Occupational Radiation Protection: Protecting Workers against Exposure to Ionizing Radiation, hosted by the Swiss government. The meeting will be presided over by Professor T. Zeltner, Director of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health in Berne, who will chair the background sessions and make the final summary presentation. Topical and roundtable sessions will address issues of concern. These include questions surrounding radiation risk; implementation of international basic safety standards on radiation protection; and in-depth sessions on individual workplace environments, such as those in medical facilities, mining, and industrial research and nuclear facilities.
One highly complex issue on the table will be occupational exposure to natural sources of radiation. This is a matter of particular concern: an estimated 11 million workers worldwide are monitored for radiation exposure, and more than half of them work in environments having higher than normal levels of natural radiation. The protection of these workers has proved difficult. IAEA guidance includes standards for natural background radiation exposure in the workplace, but now for the first time scientific and government authorities from all over the world will meet to address this issue.
The meeting will go beyond the scientific to address other aspects vital to workers' safety in radiation environments. The IAEA and the ILO recognize that cooperation and communication are essential in establishing, maintaining and implementing the standards that protect workers, and encourage information exchange between authorities. Participants include international scientific commissions and associationsthat can help to broadenthe exchange of information on workers' protection from ionizing radiation.