Ionising Radiation Medicals
Ionising radiation occurs naturally at a background level all around us. It can also be produced artificially in various work environments. It exists as either electromagnetic rays (e.g. X-Rays) or particles (e.g. alpha particles). Ionising radiation is a potential hazard to health as it can damage cells within living tissue and cause the cells to either die (usually higher doses), or gain the ability to grow out of control to become cancerous. Workers can be exposed to ionising radiation in several industries including (but not exhaustive):
- Natural radon gas exposure in mines, quarries, caves and in the oil and gas extraction industry.
- Production of X-Rays such as in healthcare, engineering and non-destructive testing.
- Use of radioactive materials, such as in manufacturing, the nuclear industry, healthcare and education and research.
Anyone intending to work with ionising radiation needs to inform the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) at least 28 days prior to commencing this work. Work with ionising radiation is governed by several pieces of legislation including:
- Radiation Emergency Preparedness and Public Information Regulations 2001 (REPPIR). This is directed at those with responsibility for the storage or transportation of relatively large quantities of radioactive materials, which have the potential to endanger the wider public.
- Ionising Radiation Regulations 1999 (IRR)
These regulations require that those workers whose exposure to ionising radiation will potentially exceed certain threshold doses in a given year be designated Classified Persons. Employers of Classified Persons are required to ensure that their exposure to ionising radiation is monitored and recorded. This includes responsibility for engaging an appropriate dosimetry service, and providing the necessary training to allow the Classified Person to comply with the requirements of this monitoring.
Classified Persons are also required to undergo medical surveillance, which must consist of a review by an HSE Appointed Doctor at least once every 12 months.
What does the Ionising Radiation Medical consist of?
An initial medical must take place prior to commencing work with ionising radiation. This will require the Appointed Doctor to be fully appraised of the nature of the work and potential route of exposure to radiation. During the medical the Appointed Doctor will take a thorough medical history of any previous or current medical problems, treatments and any family history of relevance. An examination will be carried out, primarily looking at the skin (to ensure it forms an intact barrier to the entry of radioactive sources) and lungs/airways plus any additional factors relevant depending on the nature of the role and whether breathing apparatus or confined spaces are involved. This medical will usually take up to 45 minutes.
A review will then take place every 12 months as a minimum. Reviews may occur more frequently than this if:
- There is a change in role/nature of exposure which is felt by the Appointed Doctor to require a new medical.
- Accidental overexposure to ionising radiation occurs.
- Certain exposure thresholds are exceeded.
- Where the Appointed Doctor has previously indicated that this is necessary.
In many cases the review will be able to go ahead as a paper exercise only, but as a minimum a face to face review with the Appointed Doctor must take place every 5 years. At each review the Appointed Doctor will need to have full access to the exposure dose summary information and any other information about the nature of the work and exposure, plus a record of any sickness absence.