How do I become a Radiation Safety Officer?

Dear Dr. Zoomie – our Radiation Safety Officer just left and my boss tells me I’m the new RSO. I’m not sure if I’m qualified – how can I find out?

For starters, no matter what your boss says, you’re not the RSO until your regulators say that you are. So you’re going to have to write a letter to them requesting that they amend your license to name you as the RSO. And in order to do that you’re going to have to provide them with your credentials to show that you’re qualified to be an RSO. But then that gets into your second question.

The exact skill set you’re going to need to be an RSO is going to depend on how big and how complex your radioactive materials program happens to be. If all you have is a few small (i.e. low-activity) sources, then you won’t need nearly as much education, training, and experience as you will if you work for a major university or hospital. But in general, what your regulators will be looking for is to see whether or not your education, experience, and training are adequate to run your company’s radiation safety program.

Although there aren’t any specific regulatory requirements to be an RSO for specific types of radiation safety programs , there are guidelines – federal guidelines are found in a document called NUREG 1556, and many states have their own requirements (most of which are very similar to NUREG 1556). I’ve worked with some companies that had a very small radiation safety program – their RSOs only had to have a high school degree and no radiation safety experience at all. To be a RSO for a major university or hospital, you’ll probably have to have at least an undergraduate degree in a scientific or technical field along with 6 years of radiation safety experience. In most cases, you will need to attend a 40-hour RSO short course. And make sure you keep the course completion certificate so you can prove to your regulators that you did actually finish the class! If you need a little help figuring out what kind of training you’ll need please contact us.

So what you’re going to have to do to be named RSO is to send a letter to your regulators asking that they amend your license naming you as RSO. You’ll need to attach copies of your qualifications (course completion certificates, resume, diplomas, etc.) that should either meet or exceed the requirements your state asks for. Then you wait for the regulators to get back to you – within a month or so you should receive an amended license that names you as the RSO for your organization. Until then, no matter what your boss might think, you’re not officially the RSO.

You might not meet all of the requirements to be an RSO. In some cases, you can work with the regulators to get past this snag. For example, if you haven’t yet had a chance to attend the RSO class you might be provisionally approved to be an RSO, provided you send a course completion certificate within a few months to show that you’ve completed the training. Or if you lack whatever amount of experience they’re looking for it might be possible to contract with a consultant who can visit your facility once a month or so to check on things and to act as a mentor for a year or so. And it’s also possible that your regulators will simply insist on an RSO who meets all of their requirements – if they do (and you don’t meet the requirements) then your boss is going to have to find a different person to be RSO.

Once you’re named as RSO the fun begins…

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