Occupational exposure: Industrial radiography workers

Half upper-body shot of male worker with hard hat looking intently at tablet in an indoor industrial setting

Summary

Industrial radiography workers must be trained in the correct use of industrial radiography equipment. Not following procedures, a lack of awareness and not setting-up the controlled area properly may result in over exposure to high levels of ionising radiation.

What do I need to know?

Manufacturers, and inspection and testing services, use a non-destructive method called industrial radiography to check for cracks or flaws in materials. There are two types of industrial radiography equipment, those using radiation generators and those using sealed radioactive sources. Industrial radiographs are performed in fully enclosed sites, partially enclosed sites, or open sites. Industrial radiography equipment can deliver large amounts of radiation in a short time. If the safety procedures are not followed, there is inadequate training and supervision, or a failure in the equipment, then it is possible that operators and other workers can be exposed to significant radiological health hazards including potentially lethal doses.

What is the possible exposure?

The main source of exposure for industrial radiography is by external exposure from the equipment’s source. Once the equipment or source of radiation is removed, the exposure stops.

External exposure from radiation generators or sealed radioactive sources that emit x-rays or gamma rays 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 a leakage of radioactive material creating a pathway for intake into the body. Good inspection and maintenance practices are essential to ensure industrial radiography equipment remain safe to use. 

There is no potential for internal exposure from devices using radiation generators.

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, equipment failure, or organisation factors.

Case Study 31: Accidental exposure of two radiographers1 

The incident was caused by human error and interchangeable control panels. When more than one team is working simultaneous in the same area, coordination is essential.

Two radiography teams were operating at opposite ends of a large workshop. Team A took longer to set up than team B. Both teams X-ray control panels and warning systems were in the middle of the workshop out of sight of the teams. Unfortunately, team B completed the set up before team A, and connected their control panel to team B's X-ray tube and commenced an exposure and left the area. After the exposure was completed, team B realised the control panel was connected to team A’s X-ray tube who were still setting up. Team A’s dosimeter measured doses of 18 mSv and 39 mSv. However, investigation of the incident revealed the estimated doses received would be 160mSv and 600mSv. Team A’s dosimeter underestimated the dose because team A had their backs to the x-ray generator and their dosimeters were shielded by their bodies. 

Who is responsible for your safety?

In Australia the use of irradiating apparatus and 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
  • participate 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 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 Lessons Learned from Accidents in Industrial Radiography IAEA Safety Report Series no. 7.