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Risks and Challenges of Radiation Exposure at Work

Medical Workers

Millions of workers in a variety of industries, including medicine, are exposed to ionizing radiation on the job. Above, medical workers in a clinic in China screen for Hepatitis-B using a radioimmunoassay (RIA) technique provided through IAEA technical assistance.. (Photo: Y. Xie/IAEA)

Millions of workers in medicine, construction, mining, shipping, agriculture and nuclear power are routinely exposed to ionizing radiation. These people are employed in commercial nuclear-power generation and decommissioning, in academic research, food processing, industrial imaging, weld-defect inspection, leak tracing, automobile-steel testing, mineral-deposits discovery, as surgeons and medical technicians.

The need to more adequately protect these workers when they are exposed to radiation, and to reiterate the need for the doses they receive to be as low as reasonably achievable, is the main thrust behind the International Conference on Occupational Radiation Protection: Enhancing the Protection of Workers—Gaps, Challenges and Developments from 1 to 5 December 2014.

The conference will be attended by stakeholders involved in the implementation, management and/or development of occupational radiation protection policies, representatives of regulatory bodies, workers and employers involved in the use of radiation sources and in the operation of installations containing or handling radioactive materials, radiation protection experts, researchers, persons responsible for occupational monitoring services, and manufacturers of radiation emitting apparatus and other radiation sources.

It is organized by the IAEA and co-sponsored by the International Labour Organization (ILO), with cooperation from 14 other international organizations.

The conference will cover: radiation risks and health effects at the workplace; occupational radiation protection at workplaces involving exposure to radon, and exposure to natural radiation sources, including naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) and cosmic radiation; protection in industrial, research and educational facilities, nuclear reactors/fuel cycle facilities, and during emergency exposure situations.

The five days of presentations and discussions will also cover radiation protection of workers for special cases (itinerant workers, pregnant workers, miners, and lens of the eye dose monitoring), education and training, health surveillance, worker compensation, and the ways workplace culture impacts radiation safety.

Beyond Past Success

The first conference of this kind was held in Geneva in 2002 and resulted in the creation of an international action plan on occupational radiation protection, which was comprised of 14 action items that have all be completed in the last 10 years.

Despite this success, other pressing issues have arisen since 2002; issues relating to medical personnel, nuclear industry workers, and those who are exposed to naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM).

This December conference, with its 560 registered participants from 95 countries and more than 15 organizations, seeks to address these issues.

IAEA Radiation Protection Initiatives

To improve and facilitate radiation protection of workers, the IAEA creates safety standards such as the Radiation Protection and Safety of Radiation Sources: International Basic Safety Standards No. GSR Part 3, which was published in July of this year.

Such standards are based on recommendations from the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) and the scientific findings from the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), as well as other experts in the field of radiation protection.

The IAEA also promotes occupational radiation protection networks that allow radiation protection practitioners to share information on effective safety and security guidelines, procedures and standards, and learn from their colleagues’ experiences. The networks include: Information System on Occupational Exposure (ISOE), a forum for radiation protection professionals in nuclear power plants, jointly operated by NEA/OECD and the IAEA; the IAEA-operated Information System on Occupational Exposure in Medicine, Industry and Research (ISEMIR); the ISEMIR-Interventional Cardiology,  operational since 2013; and ISEMIR-Industrial Radiology, which is being developed.

Last update: 05 Jul 2019

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