What are the risks of radiation exposure in the operating theatre? How can hospitals encourage their staff to minimize exposure levels?
An Essential Guide to Radiation Safety Levels
What is ionizing radiation? What are the radiation safety levels in the United States and Europe?
Both natural and artificial sources can produce ionizing radiation or energy. Ionizing radiation can cause structural and functional changes in the human body by interacting with the living tissue, intracellular mechanisms, and breaking bonds between chemical structures in cells.
X-rays and gamma rays are types of ionizing radiation in the upper end of the electromagnetic spectrum. These radiations have higher frequencies and shorter wavelengths. For instance, the frequency is 100 billion-billion hertz, while the wavelength is in the range of one million millionths of a meter.
Ionizing radiation has enough energy to break the nucleus and strip electrons from atoms. Alpha, beta, and gamma particles are the three primary sources of ionizing radiation.
The World Health Organization (WHO) highlights that exposure to different ionizing energies or radiations can produce different harmful effects. For example, exposure to UV rays can cause cataracts, skin burns, and cancer.
Likewise, exposure to ionizing radiation in a medical setting can cause blood vessel data, DNA alteration, infertility among pregnant workers, congenital disabilities, and cancer.
Radiation Safety Levels in the United States
According to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), radiation safety is the responsibility of radiation safety officers and technologies working in a medical or radiology department.
The safety officers monitor medical workers and track their radiation exposures through personnel devices like dosimetry badges. Medical professionals wear these badges at all times and undergo exposure assessments performed by a third-party service every month.
The NRC says receiving 5,000 millirems a year is safe for health workers and other occupational professionals working around radiation sources. Bear in mind that this figure also includes the background radiation they receive throughout the year.
Likewise, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicated that 5rem or 0.05 sieverts or SV is the annual radiation dose limit for medical and other workers. However, if the radiation increases or reaches above 10-50 MSV, institutions must evacuate their workers and follow necessary safety protocols. Although this rarely happens, the EPA standard is for emergencies.
The U.S Nuclear Regulation Commission (USNRC) states that pregnant workers who receive radiation doses above 500 mrem or 5.0 MSV are at high risk of developing health conditions, including harmful effects on the developing fetus.
However, radiation below 50 MGY is safe for pregnant women workers and does not cause harmful effects on the fetus. Therefore, pregnant women must be extra careful and follow the protocols to protect themselves from ionizing radiation.
Radiation Safety Levels in European Countries
The European Union and member countries have played a substantial role in creating policies and legislation for radiation exposure and safety. The Basic Safety Standards Directive has set the guidelines and standards for radiation protection for all EU member states.
The primary goal of radiation protection is to safeguard medical workers and other occupational professionals from the dangers of ionizing radiation. The Directive highlights that ionizing radiation usually results from practices like diagnostic procedures, interacting with radioactive substances in factories, and nuclear fuel cycles.
The radiation safety level in European countries for exposed people is 20 MSV per year compared to the 50 MSV standard in the United States. The 20 MSV dose or exposure is the same for both men and women.
However, pregnant workers must not receive more than 2MSV radiation per month. If the radiation exceeds 2MSV, it can severely affect the childbearing mother and the developing fetus.
Moreover, people under 18 must not receive a dose of 1MSV in Europe. People above 18, however, can receive a safe radiation dose of 20 MSV. It’s essential to provide adequate, professional, and formal training based on evidence-based information and standards set by the authorities.
Although radiation plays a crucial role in various industries, including healthcare, it can pose severe risks to human health if workers fail to follow the safety protocols. The risk of excess radiation exposure is significant and can lead to various conditions, from hair loss to cataracts to inefficient fetal development and birth effects to cancers and tumors.
Therefore, everyone must understand the radiation safety levels and follow the procedures defined by the authorities to safeguard themselves from harmful/high-frequency/low-wavelength ionizing radiation.