Invisible Threats In Workplace – An Overview Of Radiation

Radiation is the energy that travels through space as a wave or particle. Since its discovery, scientists have been developing various uses for radiation. In recent times, radiation benefits mankind through its application in research, medicine, industry, and generating electricity. Radiation also has numerous applications in areas like agriculture, space exploration, geology, archaeology (carbon dating), and many more.

TYPES OF RADIATION

Although there are many types of radiation in nature they are generally classified into two categories namely Ionizing radiation and Non-Ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation comprises particulate radiation (Alpha, Beta, Neutrons) and electromagnetic radiation (X-Rays, gamma rays). While Non-Ionizing radiation comprises electromagnetic radiation ranging from extremely low frequency (ELF) to Ultraviolet (UV).

The difference between Non-Ionizing and Ionizing radiation is the latter’s ability to alter the atomic structure of the exposed atom through the removal of electrons. Ionizing radiation is considered to be highly dangerous as it can cause some serious damage to human cells which are also made up of atoms. Whereas Non-Ionizing radiations cause the atoms of a material to vibrate causing it to heat up. They aren’t considered dangerous and used in appliances like microwave ovens.

MEASURING RADIATION

Generally, four different units are used for measuring radioactivity, exposure, absorbed dose and dose equivalent, shortly termed as R.E.A.D by USNRC. These units are interrelated and often used interchangeably.

  • Radioactivity is the amount of ionizing radiation emitted by radioactive material. Irrespective of the particle emitted the amount of radioactive material can be measured in terms of its radioactivity. The decay of atoms in radioactive material in a given period of time is represented as radioactivity. The measuring units of radioactivity are Becquerel (Bq) and curie (Ci).
  • The quantity of radiation in air is defined as radiation exposure. Radiation monitors are used for measuring exposure. Coulomb/kilogram (C/Kg) and roentgen (R) are the units of exposure.
  • Energy absorbed or deposited in an object or a person’s body is known as absorbed dose. Gray (Gy) and radiation absorbed dose (rad) are the units for absorbed dose.
  • Dose equivalent is the quantity of radiation absorbed combined with the medical effects of radiation. Doe equivalent differs depending on the type of radiation. Sievert (Sv) and Roentgen equivalent man (rem) are the units of dose equivalent. Commonly, 1/1000th of rem or millirem or simply mrem are used for the measurement of biological dose equivalents.

HEALTH EFFECTS

Radiation can have adverse health effects on the human body. The amount, time, and type of radiation exposure determine the potential radiation impact on the human body. As each radiation energy have different properties, their impact on human health varies depending on their type. One of the most commonly known effects of radiation is their biological impacts. The effects of radiation can be either short term or long term and even fatal sometimes. Long term exposures to ionization radiation of low levels can cause different kinds of cancer. Even though the cells of a healthy human body can repair itself over time, the cells that are affected by radiation grow at an uncontrolled rate. In medical terms this is called cancer.

Apart from cancer, DNA mutation is another serious health effect of radiation. Altering human DNA creates a mutated gene that can be carried on for many generations. Some mutations are limited to the affected person only, but other mutations can be passed on to the next few generations.

Other health effects include radiation poisoning, and burns that are caused due to short exposures to high levels of radiation. Degradation of bone marrow, nervous breakdown, and digestive system failure can also be caused when exposed to higher levels of radiation.

The health effects of radiation depending upon the amount and time of exposure are given below.

RADIATIONEXPOSUREHEALTH EFFECTS
1 remShort or long periods• Considered to be safe.
• No noticeable health effects
10 remShort or long periods• Considered to be safe for short term exposure.
• This might not cause any immediately observable health effects, but the chances of acquiring cancer are increased
100 remShort or long periods• It causes observable health effects that can wear off over time.
• Increases the chances of acquiring cancer
1000 remShort periods• Causes immediately observable health effects and can be fatal

RADIATION AT WORKPLACE

According to OSHA, radiation sources can be found in a variety of settings in industries. The most common uses of radiation in industries are radioisotope instruments like industrial tracers, inspection (NDT), and gauges. In addition, nuclear power plants, sterilization of products, soil moisture detection, and production of weapons are also some of the uses of radiation in industry. In health care and medicine sectors radiation is employed in a wide range of devices like X-rays, CT scanners, and in treatment for cancer and tumors. These devices are considered safe as long as the safety devices are properly used and functioning.

Training and personal protective equipment are crucial while working with such devices. Shielding, lead aprons or vests, lead gloves, and safety goggles are some of the PPEs used in protection against radiation in workplace. Workers should be properly trained and well informed about the various hazards relating to the device. A safe distance should be maintained while working near the source. Workers should be informed about the emergency procedures that are to be followed in case of any radiation exposure or leak.

DETECTING RADIATION

Ionization radiations are invisible to the naked eye. The source of radiation can be present in any state in the environment. Depending upon the work environment, various safety devices are utilized for detecting the radiation exposure of that particular environment. Dosimeters are the most commonly used protection device that, when worn by a person, detects the amount of radiation that a person has been exposed to. Dosimeter badges are used mostly in all nuclear power plants. Personal Radiation Detector(PRD), Radiation Isotope Identifier Device(RIID) handheld survey meter, Radiation Portal Monitor (RPM) are some of the devices that are used to detect and identify the radioactive materials and ionizing radiation.

Radiation has a lot of advantages when used properly but can be highly dangerous when safety is disregarded. Always follow safety procedures and respect the rules to keep yourselves and your workplace safe.

Written by – Davis Franco
UPES, Dehradun

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