OSHA’s Ionizing Radiation Page: A Resource Guide

If you didn’t know, OSHA is working to help protect employees who are exposed to ionizing radiation as an effect of their job environments. Check out the OSHA ionizing radiation page for information on radiation standards, health effects, and control and prevention methods.

Every person is exposed to natural background radiation; however, some workers are exposed to harmful ionizing radiation sources in the workplace. These radiation sources can be dangerous to employee health if not properly controlled.

Luckily, OSHA has the Ionizing Radiation Safety and Health Topics webpage, and it includes everything employers should know about health risks, standards, and prevention methods to keep workers safe. This is incredibly important given that some workers simply cannot avoid radiation source at work. Occupational settings with ionizing radiation sources include:

  • Medical and dental offices (e.g., X-rays).
  • Hospitals and outpatient treatment centers, including specialty departments in:
  1. Radiology (e.g., medical X-rays and computed tomography (CT) scans).
  2. Nuclear medicine.
  3. Radiation oncology.
  4. Interventional fluoroscopy or radiology.
  5. Cardiac angiography.
  • Nuclear power plants (reactors) and their support facilities.
  • Nuclear weapons production facilities.
  • Industrial operations (e.g., radiography equipment for testing materials or products).
  • Research laboratories (universities, colleges, and other scientific institutions).
  • Veterinary facilities.
  • Manufacturing settings and construction.
  • Security operations.
  • Air and space travel and transport (i.e., in-flight) operations, especially at high altitude.
  • Workplaces with high levels of naturally-occurring radioactive materials (NORM), such as radon.
  • Worksites with high levels of technologically enhanced naturally-occurring radioactive material (TENORM), such as uranium and other radioactive elements encountered during hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as “fracking”) as part of oil and gas well development.

Understanding the health risks associated with exposure to ionizing radiation is crucial to taking the right safety steps. The health effects associated with ionizing radiation depend on the type of radiation emitted, the radiation dose received by a worker, and parts of the body exposed, among other factors. Health effects also depend on dosage, the person’s distance from the radiation source, and the amount of shielding in place.

Ionizing radiation first affect’s a person’s cells, causing cell damage and affecting genetic material. If not properly repaired this damage can result in the death of the cell or potentially harmful changes in the DNA (i.e., mutations).

Depending on all factors of exposure and dosage, a person affected by ionizing radiation could have a number of health issues including skin reddening or even cancer. The short- and long-term effects from exposure are often unpredictable and without a threshold dose below which they do not occur. This is why no level of radiation dose is considered to be completely “safe.”

For more information on the short- and long-term effects, risks, and potential harms associated with ionizing radiation exposure, look at the OSHA ionizing radiation health risks page.

Mitigating radiation risk in the workplace requires attention to not only radiation standards, but also other OSHA and PPE standards and regulations. The webpage also urges readers to note that OSHA’s Ionizing Radiation standards have long since been substantially revised—the original 1971 version of 29 CFR 1910.1096 has not been largely revised since its creation. Other agencies have updated standards based on more recent radiation protection guidance, but there have been no large changes made.

But, OSHA has recommendation for control and prevention methods regarding ionizing radiation in the workplace. The webpage explains a number of prevention options that employers can implement including radiation protection programs, engineering controls, area surveys/monitoring, administrative controls, personal exposure monitoring, PPE, and information for pregnant workers.

Some jobs are inherently riskier than others, but that does not mean workers cannot be protected and healthy. Especially for occupations that expose workers to ionizing radiation, staying mindful of the health risks and regulations of radiation is crucial to protecting employees. Check out OSHA’s free ionizing radiation page now!

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