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Radiation safety incidents in Australia

1 August 2019

ARPANSA collates and publishes an annual report on radiation incidents in Australia. This report is produced with input from various radiation regulators around the country, based on incidents submitted to them and any subsequent investigations they carry out.

ARPANSA regulates Commonwealth entities that use radiation, while state and territory regulators oversee all other radiation use including medical procedures, industrial applications and cosmetic treatments within their region.

The latest Australian Radiation Incident Register Annual Report has recently been featured in the media. The report covers incidents that have occurred in Australia in 2017 (published in December 2018).

The register highlights an increase in reports of radiation incidents with 575 recorded in the 2017 calendar year. We believe this is a positive sign, showing an increase in reporting, rather than increased occurrence, due to greater awareness of the national register amongst regulators and end users. We expect this trend to continue over the next few years as we further develop and promote this register.

Radiation is routinely used across Australia by more than 50 000 licensed users who perform millions of individual tasks each year. The incidents that occur and the resulting outcomes show that radiation use in Australia is generally very safe. However, unexpected events occasionally occur even with strict controls in place.

The vast majority of these incidents (95%) occurred in relation to medical procedures including diagnostic radiology, nuclear medicine and radiotherapy. The largest primary factor was human error, which was found to trigger 69% of incidents. However, incidents typically have a range of contributing factors without which an incident may not have occurred.

The collation and publication of an annual report is an important tool for analysis and education to reduce incidents involving unintentional exposure. In particular, the insights gained from this work can help regulators and users to learn from events that did not happen locally, and mitigate risks to reduce the likelihood and severity of any future incidents.

The Australian Radiation Incident Register annual report covering all 2018 incidents will be published at the end of this year.