Occupational exposure: Management of pregnant workers

Female in buttoned white shirt with one hand on her pregnant belly and one hand being used on a laptop

Summary

Control of the occupational exposure of women to ionising radiation who are not pregnant is the same as that for men. If a woman is, or may be pregnant, additional controls should be considered to protect the unborn child.

What do I need to know?

Many women who work in industries that make use of ionising radiation wish to do so during their pregnancies. As long as guidelines are followed, the health detriment to the unborn child is minimal. Once the pregnancy has been declared, and the employer notified, additional protection of the unborn child should be considered. The working conditions of a pregnant worker, after the declaration of pregnancy, should be as such to make it unlikely that the additional dose to the unborn child will exceed about 1 mSv (milliseivert) during the remainder of the pregnancy.

What is the possible exposure? 

The restriction on dose to the unborn child does not mean that it is necessary for pregnant women to avoid work with radiation or radioactive materials completely, or that they must be prevented from entering or working in designated radiation areas. It does, however, imply that their employer should carefully review the exposure conditions of pregnant women. In particular, their employment should be of such a type that the probability of high accidental doses and radionuclide intakes is insignificant.

What are the possible health effects?

When doses to the foetus are kept to that of the member of the public's annual limit of 1 mSv during the pregnancy, then the risk of health effects is insignificant.

The recommended dose limit applies to the foetal dose and it is not directly comparable to the dose measured on a personal dosimeter. A personal dosimeter worn by a worker may overestimate foetal dose. Foetal doses are not likely to exceed 25 percent of the personal dosimeter measurement.

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.

How do I modify a pregnant worker's duties?

When a radiation worker has declared pregnancy, there are three options that are often considered in the workplace:

  1. No change in assigned working duties.
  2. Change to another area where the radiation exposure may be lower.
  3. Change to a job that has essentially no radiation exposure. 

There is no one correct answer for all situations, and in certain jurisdictions there may be specific regulations. It is desirable to have a discussion with the employee. The worker should be informed of the potential risks, local policies, and recommended dose limits.

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.

Further Information