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Are Your Radiation Sources Safe?

August 15, 2012

Are your radiation sources or x-ray machines safe? Before you answer this question you have to decide, “What does safe mean?” If you are inclined to answer, “Yes, my radiation sources are safe,” then you must have some basis for that answer. How do you know that your radiation sources are safe? What information did you rely upon? What data or understanding did you bring to your decision? What observations? What experience? What have others told you? Do you have any knowledge of radiation risks beyond what others have reported? How did you evaluate this information? How long did you take to answer the question? Was your decision on radiation safety logical, analytical, and rational? Did you carefully analyze any data before arriving at your conclusion?

If you answered the question about radiation safety instantly, and most people do, then your decision was not based on logical rational analysis. Carefully analyzing information to draw conclusions takes time and this slow deliberate process does not lend itself to instant decisions for safety. Quick decisions have to draw upon previous knowledge, experience, or beliefs stored in memory. Some of the factors leading to your decision may include:

  • the results of safety inspections,
  • annual audits,
  • radiation surveys,
  • the results of your personnel monitoring program,
  • your radiation safety program,
  • meeting regulatory requirements,
  • meeting license or registration requirements,
  • response of radiation meters,
  • trust in co-workers,
  • trust in manufacturer’s design and safety testing,
  • training for radiation safety, and
  • technical understanding of radiation.

Do you have all the facts for a fully informed, rational, analytical decision for the safety of your radiation sources? How much do you rely on information provided by others? How do you judge trustworthy data? Who do you respect as a resource? How would you defend your decision on safety?

Many of you were able to answer the question about radiation safety because you already have knowledge or experience to draw upon. If you have worked with radiation for a long time, then you have made the decision about safety dozens or hundreds of times over the years, such that now your decision is automatic. But, how would you answer the question without direct knowledge or experience? How would workers or the public decide on the safety of your sources without special safety training or knowledge? What information would they rely upon? What source of information would they trust? What would they likely conclude about radiation safety? We know that much of the public would conclude that any source of radiation is unsafe. How would they arrive at that conclusion and how long would it take?

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