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Human error still the biggest factor in radiation incidents

28 February 2020

ARPANSA has again collated data from radiation regulators around the country to provide a report on radiation safety and identify opportunities for improvement in the safe use of radiation, particularly in the medical sector. 

The Australian Radiation Incident Register (ARIR) report is a summary and analysis of data submitted to the ARIR for incidents that occurred in 2018. 

It’s good to see that we are continuing to see an increase in the number of submissions to the ARIR, as awareness of the register increases’, said Mr Jim Scott, Head of the Regulatory Services Branch at ARPANSA.

‘The report provides hospitals and other organisations that use radiation a unique opportunity to learn from each other’s experiences, and continue to develop safety practices and culture in their workplace.’

The 2018 feature topic is radiotherapy; the treatment of cancer or the symptoms of cancer using radiation. During 2018, more than 60 000 patients underwent radiotherapy treatment and more than 15 million diagnostic imaging procedures involving radiation were carried out in Australia.

Findings of the report include:

  • a total of 723 incidents reported – a 26 per cent increase from the previous year – demonstrating better awareness of the ARIR
  • medical procedures accounted for 98 per cent of incidents
  • human error was a trigger in 65 per cent of incidents
  • malfunction of medical equipment accounted for 19 per cent of incidents.

‘As in previous years, the 2018 data shows that human error continues to be the most common trigger of radiation incidents and contributes to many others’, said Mr Scott. 

‘Understanding contributing factors that lead to human error is key to avoiding similar incidents in future. This reinforces the importance of a strong safety culture as well as the need to continue to innovate and identify solutions that reduce likelihood of error.’

The Australian Radiation Incident Register raises awareness on where, how and why incidents and events involving radiation occur, and shares strategies to prevent them. 

It assists in identifying topical areas where safety efforts may be focused to improve radiation protection in Australia.

Example cases in the report demonstrate outcomes of real-life scenarios and more importantly the preventive measures to take to avoid reoccurring incidents.

Both the ARIR and this summary report play an important role in ensuring the ongoing safety of Australians using radiation.

Read more: ARIR annual summary reports.