Workers can be exposed to two distinct types of radiation in the course of their work, ionising radiation and non-ionising radiation.
Ionising radiation comes from radioactive materials, X-ray tubes, particle accelerators, and is present in the environment. It is invisible and not directly detectable by human senses, so instruments are usually required to detect its presence. Ionizing radiation is widely used in industry and medicine, but presents a significant health hazard. It causes microscopic damage to living tissue, resulting in skin burns and radiation sickness
at high exposures and statistically elevated risks of cancer
and genetic damage
at low exposures.
Regulations require employers to ensure that their employees and others are not exposed to health risks as a result of their use of ionising radiations. Compliance will require the assistance of a certificated Radiological Protection Advisor (RPA) to advise the employer on the local rules that will be required if they are to meet the specific requirements. Employers will also need to appoint competent Radiation Protection Supervisors (RPS) with sufficient management responsibility to ensure that the local radiation protection arrangements are properly implemented and managed.
- UV radiation which can cause eye damage. Over exposure to UV radiation can also cause skin damage with symptoms ranging from redness, burning and accelerated ageing through to various types of skin cancer.
- the misuse of powerful lasers. High-power lasers can cause serious damage to the eye (including blindness) as well as producing skin burns.
- In most cases the risks to health are controlled by safeguards build into equipment that generated optical radiation. Workers who work out of doors do however need to protect their skin from prolonged exposure to sunlight; employers need to remind them of the widely known risks of sunburn and in some cases may need to provide sunscreen ointment.
Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) are created whenever electrical energy is used. They are generated at low levels by electrical appliances such as kettles, computers, and machinery and at high levels by work processes such as radiofrequency heating, welding and drying, security detection devices and radio, TV and telecoms broadcasting masts. Exposure to high levels of EMFs can give rise to acute effects which depend on the frequency of the radiation. At low frequencies the central nervous system is affected whilst at high frequencies, heating effects occur leading to a rise in body temperature.
An EU Directive on EMF radiation comes into force in 2012. It places a number of duties on employers. The main ones being:
- to conduct a risk assessment and calculate EMF strengths
- to eliminate or reduce as low as possible the risk of exposure; where risk can’t be eliminated measures are required to reduce the risk of exposure below the ELV (Exposure Limit Value)
- to provide the risk assessment to the nominated person responsible for health surveillance
- to carry out an investigation and medical examination where an employee is ‘detected’ as having been exposed
- to maintain records of Health Surveillance.
See also; Artificial Optical Radiation; Lasers