Radiation Safety: Industrial solutions for public and worker safety

by Gladys Johnsen – Radiation has increasingly become an integral part of food processing and manufacturing. In February 2017, Health Canada announced changes to Food and Drug regulations to allow irradiation of ground beef. On the manufacturing side, radiation is now routinely employed for detection of hairline cracks and weaknesses in pipelines, process control and weld inspection.

Irradiation in the food industry is a process that blasts food with a low level of ionizing radiation. Steve Horvath, President of the Radiation Institute of Canada, which promotes radiation safety and awareness through sharing science and best practices, says, “Food processing is one of the largest users of radiation for producing a more consistent, safer product.” Radiation sources are commonly used in industry for quality assurance and public and worker safety.

Nuclear gauges commonly examine product flowing through a pipe into containers for contaminants and can ensure that the same amount is put into each jar or package.

Steve said, “the oil and gas industry use radiation sources for drilling and refining processes and the examination of pipelines where x-rays are used to determine the security of welds or the thickness of the pipeline wall.”

Depending on the type of work, the installation and use of radiation products is highly regulated to ensure worker safety. The federal government is responsible for regulating the use of nuclear materials and energy. This would include radiation sources, nuclear gauges, irradiators, cancer treatment using nuclear sources or high energy x-ray systems. Provincial governments regulate uses of radiation not included in the federal regulations. This would include industrial and medical radiation and x-ray applications and the use of lasers. In BC, the responsibility for worksite safety is delegated to WorkSafeBC.

Any company that has made the decision to introduce radiation into a process to increase quality and speed up production needs to be completely aware of the workplace hazards and create a plan to mitigate them.

A good way to start the plan is to include the company’s health and safety team from the beginning. Being part of the planning and implementation allows the creation of a policy, including appropriate training. – Steve Horvath, President of the Radiation Institute of Canada

Exposure to radiation can cause harmful effects, which makes it critical to understand the hazards and have radiation included in the core of the health and safety program that is developed. The primary goal of any health and safety policy related to exposure control is to keep any contact to as low a level as is reasonably achievable by using control measures.

Engineered design and construction, administrative policy or procedures and personal protective equipment address the three fundamental principles of dose reduction:

Time: Spend the shortest possible amount of time close to the source

Distance: Increase the amount of space between the worker and the source

Shielding: Have material between you and the radiation source that can reduce or eliminate the radiation intensity

Depending upon the kind of radiation process which is being introduced the company may have to be licensed by the appropriate federal or provincial regulator. All workers who will be working with or near the radiation source must be trained to the standard included in their licence. Additionally, federally regulated users require that refresher training be done at a defined frequency. Provincial regulations don’t generally indicate any particular requirement for refresher frequency. However, best practice is to have refresher training every three to five years.

The health and safety professional in a company that uses radiation has a constantly evolving job. There is a need to be aware of any changes to federal or provincial regulations and of updates from the manufacturer of the machinery, and they must ensure that all workers as well as contractors entering the space where the radiation is present understand the company safety standard. For more information on radiation in the workplace or at home go to the Radiation Safety Institute of Canada’s website: www.radiationsafety.ca

This story appeared in the Spring 2017 edition of Make It Safe, the Quarterly Occupational Health & Safety Newsletter for BC Manufacturers