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Radiation protection of workers and the public


Radiotherapy is a multidisciplinary modality which involves a variety of workers from different backgrounds. In external beam radiotherapy, occupational exposure levels as a normal part of the profession are often low. The potential for workers to be exposed to very high doses in an accident must, however, also be considered. Brachytherapy has the potential for significant occupational exposure levels, which might be reduced by using remote afterloading techniques. Radiation protection arrangements for workers in radiotherapy must include all relevant personnel, such as radiation oncologists, nurses, radiation therapists (radiographers), mould-room and laboratory staff, physicists, engineers, and maintenance, domestic and portering staff. Occupational radiation protection in radiotherapy includes manufacturers' features in the treatment machines; designs of the treatment rooms and provision of safety interlock systems for machine operation so that personnel are not accidentally irradiated. Radiation protection of the public will in addition be aided by an efficient housing of the radiation source, by the structural shielding of the treatment room and by safe working procedures.

Important Principles

The basic aims of radiation protection may be summarized as the prevention of all deterministic effects by limiting exposure to the levels below the threshold for such effects and, at the same time, restricting the risk of stochastic effects. Radiation protection is based on the principles of justification of a practice, which implies doing more good than harm; optimization of protection, which implies maximizing the margin of good over harm; and the use of dose limits which implies an adequate standard of protection. For radiotherapy, optimization of occupational radiation protection will require considerations when planning and designing a facility; classification of workplaces as controlled areas or as supervised areas; equipment design; shielding of sources; handling of sources; personal protective equipment; monitoring and assessment of workers’ exposure; as well as education and training. Dose limits are introduced to ensure that the occupational exposure of any worker is controlled and below a certain effective dose per time period, as outlined in the International BSS. The sources of exposure of the general public are primarily the same as for workers: teletherapy equipment, sources used in brachytherapy, etc. Basic protection measures for the public are combinations of design of equipment and facilities as well as safe working procedures. Different dose limits apply to members of the public than for workers.

Introduction to References

The Radiation Protection of Patients (RPoP) website contains information to help health professionals achieve safer use of radiation in medicine, also from the viewpoint of occupational and public exposure. This website also contains training material on radiation protection in radiotherapy, including specifically radiation protection of workers and the public.

The key standards in this area are the International Basic Safety Standards for Protection against Ionizing Radiation and for the Safety of Radiation Sources, also known as the International BSS. These standards mark the culmination of efforts that have continued over the past several decades towards the harmonization of radiation protection and safety standards internationally.