Occupational exposure: Borehole logging

Close up of male hands holding a notebook with a series of graphs and measurements


Exploration workers must be trained in the correct use of borehole logging devices containing radiation sources. Not following procedures may result in exposure to high levels of ionising radiation.

What do I need to know?

Oil, gas, and mineral exploration workers use borehole logging devices containing sealed radioactive sources to measure the density and porosity of geological formations surrounding the borehole. Sources used for borehole logging could deliver large amounts of radiation in a short time. Workers may be exposed to significant radiological health hazards including potential lethal doses if:

  • safety procedures are not followed
  • there is inadequate training and supervision. 

Or during the following activities:

  • fault/jam occurs while operating the borehole logging device
  • recovering lost sources
  • transferring the source to the shielded transport container. 

What is the possible exposure?

The main source of exposure for workers using borehole logging devices containing radioactive sources is by external exposure from the sealed radiation source in the device. Once the source of radiation is stored in the appropriate shielded transport container, the exposure stops.

External exposure from the sealed radioactive source that emits gamma or neutron radiation can interact with your body that may result in health effects that could result in serious injuries.

Internal exposure from sealed radioactive sources due to ingestion or inhalation under normal operating conditions is unlikely. However as these sealed radiation sources age there may be leakage of radioactive material creating a pathway for intake into the body. Good inspection and maintenance practices are essential to ensure workers using borehole logging equipment containing radiation sources remain safe to use. 

What are the possible health effects?

There are no radiation health effects below 100 mGy (milligrays). However above this level skin burns, hair loss, and eye damage have been observed. The severity of the effect depends on the dose received, the type of radiation, and the sensitivity of the tissue or organ exposed.

In Australia there have been incidents that have resulted in severe radiation health effects. These incidents have been caused by one or more for the following factors: human error, technology factors, and organisation factors.

Case Study: Australian Radiation Incident Register: Borehole Logging Incident1

A serious incident occurred in Australia in 2014 involving borehole logging source. This incident was reported to the Australian Radiation Incident Register (ARIR).

Due to human error while transferring sources between the borehole device and the shielded transport container workers:

  • failed to place all the sources in the shielded transport container
  • failed to perform a radiation survey of the area before removing the area barriers and warning had been removed.

As a consequence work continued in the area and three workers received high doses in the short time before the source was identified. The workers were hospitalised for three days for monitoring and blood tests. Further blood tests were performed every two days for the remainder of the month. 

Following this incident, the responsible company and one worker are subject to an ongoing prosecution.

Who is responsible for your safety?

In Australia the use of borehole logging devices containing radiation sources is regulated. Each state and territory is responsible for enforcing their respective radiation safety act and regulations in their jurisdictions. The Australian government is responsible of enforcing the radiation safety act and regulations of commonwealth entities only.

Organisations/employers are responsible for:

  • devising, implementing, and regularly reviewing their radiation management plan
  • regulatory compliance
  • induction and ongoing training of workers, including contractors.

Workers are responsible for:

  • following radiation protection practices specified in the radiation management plan
  • complying with legitimate instructions of the employer or designated radiation safety officer
  • participating in radiation protection training.

What are dose limits?

The Australian State and Territory jurisdictions have uniform annual limits for public and occupational exposure: 1 mSv (milliseivert) for the public and 20 mSv for workers who are occupationally exposed. Despite this, there are different definitions of who is ‘occupationally exposed’ and who should wear personal dosimeters. You can further discuss occupational radiation exposure with your facility’s Radiation Safety Officer or the relevant state or territory regulator.

For a pregnant radiation worker, the dose to the unborn child is restricted to the same as a member of the public – 1mSv. See Occupational exposure: Management of pregnant workers factsheet.

Further information

1  Australian Radiation Incident Register , summary of Radiation Incidents 1 January 2014 to 31 December 2014.