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Tailored Approaches Key to Optimizing Occupational Radiation Protection


There is an increasing awareness of the need to protect people exposed to radiation in the course of their work. Methods and approaches must be tailored towards broader workforce requirements as the use of radiation and nuclear technologies grows across a range of sectors, experts agreed at the third International Conference on Occupational Radiation Protection  that took place in Geneva last week.

The event, organized by the IAEA in collaboration with the International Labour Organization and hosted by the Government of Switzerland, brought together around 700 radiation experts from 105 countries and representatives from regulatory bodies, workers’ associations and employers’ organizations, to identify emerging challenges and opportunities for workers in operations involving containing or handling radioactive material.

During the week, participants identified and discussed ways of strengthening the protection of workers across a broad range of workplaces, such as industrial, medical, research and educational facilities, nuclear power plants and nuclear fuel cycle facilities, and workplaces involving exposure to naturally occurring radioactive material, radon and cosmic rays.

“More than 24 million people are counting on us,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi emphasized in a video address at the opening of the conference, referring to the millions of people exposed to natural and artificial sources of radiation in the course of their work. He added: “Those numbers will rise as industrial processes involving naturally occurring radioactive material…increase across the globe; as more countries turn to nuclear power to address climate change and energy security, and as more patients across the world gain access to life-saving radiotherapy and nuclear medicine.”

The conference is the third of its kind on occupational radiation protection (ORP), with previous conferences having taken place in 2002 and 2014. Participants discussed technical and regulatory advances, challenges and opportunities that have arisen since the last conference on the topic, the global situation on radiation protection of workers and priorities for the future.

Key emerging challenges identified were around the application of new radiation technology in the medical area, new technology as nuclear reactors come to the end of their operation life, and steps to address the robust integration of safety elements in the design of new types of nuclear reactors.

Opportunities highlighted included the potential for developments in technology to allow for more effective monitoring, assessment and implementation of protection of workers exposed to radiation; machine learning, and virtual reality environments that avoid exposure to real risks.

“New challenges call for new solutions on the protection of workers against radiation,” said ILO Director of the Enterprises Department Victor van Vuuren. “This conference served as an excellent opportunity to exchange knowledge and experience and set the course for further concrete progress in enhancing radiation protection of workers in all industries and countries.”

The conference participants identified a number of actions to enhance the protection of workers, including trainings in ORP for occupationally exposed workers; improving commitments to safety culture at management levels and promoting a safety culture among workers, and continuing the exchange of operating experiences.

The IAEA has played an active role in supporting and promoting occupational radiation protection efforts across the world, by providing guidance and assistance to countries based on IAEA Safety Standards. The IAEA promotes the optimization of occupational radiation protection through the development of these Standards along with Guidelines to aid their technical application.

During the conference, participants also gave feedback on the implementation of IAEA standards related to occupational radiation protection, for harmonisation and possible future revision of the standards. “In this way, the conference is helping to further the process of implementing sufficient national legal standards to ensure the adequate protection of workers against ionizing radiation in all related industries around the world,” said Jizeng Ma, Head of the Occupational Radiation Protection Unit at the IAEA.

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