Being a radiological technologist is a safe job, however it does have some risks. Most of which involve working with ionizing radiation. The initial radiation workers and patients experienced biologic effects from their exposure to radiation. Cancer deaths amongst radiation workers were reported as early as 1910. This forced the development of occupational exposure guidelines. In present day, radiological technologists have a code to live by that protects themselves, their patients and fellow allied health professionals from receiving too much radiation. These standards must be followed by the radiographer to prevent excessive radiation exposure. These same standards are set to prevent students in radiological technological programs and other health professionals from receiving an excessive amount of radiation.
Sources of radiation:
- Naturally occuring: cosmic radiation from the sun.
- Man-made: Medical x-rays, air travel, and consumer products containing radioactive material.
What is excessive radiation?
In Canada the standards are set by a National Committee and they list their guidelines in a document called Safety Code 20A . The maximum persmissable dose a radiation worker can receive is 20mSv/yr. However, radiation workers rarely receive an annual dose near this amount. If a radiation worker does receive this dose, or receives an excessive dose than the radiation worker will have their daily habits monitored and more improved radiation protection behaviors will be suggested. In the United States it is estimated that individuals receive a radiation dose of 1.98mSv/yr (includes all radiation sources). Maximum permissable dose values indicate the largest radiation dose that an occupational exposed person is permitted that will not result in a major adverse biologic effect.
There are ways to measure the dose a radiographer receives. It is called a Thermoluminescent Dosimeter (TLD) badge, these badges measure the amount of radiation the radiographer would receive during working hours. They are worn on the uniform usually on the hip or chest area.
There are numerous methods and materials used to reduce overall radiation exposure to the patient and yourself (radiographer), some which include:
- Lead aprons (Fig-1) : are worn by the radiographer and the patient. Lead absorbs radiation and therefore reduces overall dose received.
- Thyroid shields: are composed of lead. These shields are worn around the thyroid (neck) to reduce the overall dose to the thyroid, which is a radiation sensitive organ.
- Lead googles: protect the eyes (extremely radio-sensitive).
- Proper communication to reduce patient motion.
- Use of proper positioning skills: radiographer should achieve optimal radiographs 95% of the time.
It is important to note that ionizing radiation exists in all areas of general life. Ionizing radiation produced for medical reason only make up 11% and individuals exposure to ionizing radiation. Whether one uses a cell phone, microwave or embarks on a trans-atlantic flight, or works as an radiological technologist, there is always some form of exposure to radiation.
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Bontrager, K.L. & Lampignano, J.P. (2005). Radiographic Positioning and Related Anatomy. Elsevier Mosby, 6th Ed.
Torres, L.S., Watson-Norcutt, T.L., & Dutton, A.D. (2003). Basic Medical Techniques and Patient CAre in Imaging Technology. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 6th Ed.