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Radiation Safety for EHS Professionals

Posted by EHS Insight Resources on August 15, 2019 at 11:16 AM

Radiation is something that humans encounter every single day, and in some industries, people are exposed to more radiation than others.

But that radiation exposure makes it all the more important to create a culture of safety in the workplace and take precautions to protect your workers from harm.

Here’s what radiation is, how it can harm your workers, and why you need radiation safety every day.

What Is Radiation?

Radiation gets a wild reputation from movies and comic books, but radiation is really just energy traveling through space.

Humans are exposed to radiation all the time. In fact, one of the most common forms of radiation is ultraviolet radiation, which comes from exposure to sunlight.

However, even ultraviolet radiation can cause problems with prolonged, unchecked exposure. And there are several other types of radiation much more powerful than sunlight.

There are several higher-energy forms of radiation (ultraviolet, alpha, beta, and gamma radiation), collectively known as ionizing radiation. We’re exposed to low levels of ionizing radiation from the earth due to naturally-occurring radioactive materials like uranium, actinium, potassium-40, and thorium.

We’re also exposed to ionizing radiation that comes from outer space and passes through the Earth’s atmosphere (cosmic radiation).

Basically, living things are used to a certain level of ionizing radiation. We’ve adapted to live with it unharmed.

How It Affects the Body

The problem comes when we’re exposed to high levels of radiation.

The health effects of radiation exposure depend on:

  • The type of radiation
  • The dosage
  • How you were exposed to it (i.e. skin contact, inhaling, having rays pass through your body, etc.)
  • Where the radiation concentrates in your body
  • How long the radiation stays there
  • How sensitive you are to radiation

Being exposed to a lot of radiation in a short period of time, as in a radiation emergency (i.e. nuclear waste, nuclear accidents, nuclear bomb fallout, dirty bombs) can have serious health effects.

One of the most common effects is acute radiation syndrome (ARS), a.k.a. radiation sickness. In mild cases, initial symptoms take a few hours or weeks to show up. In severe cases, symptoms can show up much faster.

Symptoms vary depending on the exposure, but can include:

  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Bloody vomit due to internal bleeding
  • Infections
  • Low blood pressure

If someone shows any signs of radiation sickness, make sure to get them checked by a doctor.

Why You Need Radiation Safety at Work

Radiation is insidious. At low levels, it doesn’t hurt us. But additional low-level exposure on top of background radiation (radiation we’re exposed to in the course of a normal day, like sunlight) can add up over time to create dangerous health problems.

High levels of radiation wreak the same level of damage – the difference is that it works much faster.

The problem is that we deal with natural and artificial radiation all the time, from medical uses to industrial work. And all that radiation adds up over time to harm your workers.

If your workplace handles radiation as part of your daily operations, you have a legal obligation under OSHA regulations as well as a moral obligation to your workers.

Topics: Workplace Health and Safety, EHS Management, Chemicals, Biotech & Pharmaceuticals, Safety Management, Lab Safety

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