A Brief Guide to Starting a Radiation Safety Program
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A Brief Guide to Starting a Radiation Safety Program

By Dr. Zoomie

Hi, Dr. Z – our former radiation safety officer left abruptly and, as the slow runner, I got the job. I know nothing about radiation or running a radiation safety program – can you tell me where I can find some information to help me get started? We don’t have much in the way of sources, but we’re a small nuclear medicine clinic so we get daily deliveries of radiopharmaceuticals and we’ve got a few sources to check our gamma camera and the dose calibrator. Any suggestions?

Wow – where to start? Well…the best place to start is by taking a 40-hour RSO course. First, because your regulators are going to require it. Second, because it will give you a great overview of the basics – radiation science, health effects, instruments, regulations, and much, much more. But even the best class will only get you started – there’s a lot more to being an RSO than what even the best 40-hour class can cover.

A good general source of information is the website of the Health Physics Society (www.hps.org) – the American professional society for radiation safety scientists and other professionals. There’s a ton of information on the site, and there’s also their Ask the Experts feature – first, you can search their previously answered questions to see if your topic of concern has already been addressed. And if it hasn’t, you can post the question yourself and one of their highly qualified experts will be able to give you an answer.

You might also want to consider joining your local HPS chapter (https://hps.org/aboutthesociety/organization/chapters.html). You do not need to be a full HPS member to join your local chapter, and the chapter will include a lot of your local radiation safety officers, radiation safety professionals, and possibly even some of your state regulators. Chapter dues are normally about $20 or so annually, and they normally hold at least one annual meeting…and possibly additional ones as well.

For medical radiation safety, you might also want to check out the Academic and Medical Radiation Safety Officers (AMRSO) email list (sorry, I don’t have an up-to-date contact, but if you contact the RSO at a large research university or hospital, chances are that they’re a member and can put you in touch with the person who is now managing AMRSO). AMRSO membership is limited to 2 people per licensee, both designated by the RSO, and it’s only open to academic and medical radiation safety officers (as the name suggests) – no regulators, no vendors, no anti-nukes, and so forth. It’s intended to be a place where RSOs can candidly share information, ask for advice, and so forth – when I was an academic RSO I got a lot of good help and advice from being a member of the list. And – for those reading this – membership is strictly limited, so if you’re not an RSO or you don’t work for an academic or medical licensee, you won’t qualify for membership…sorry.

Yet another good source of information is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s website (www.nrc.gov). You can find the full text of all of the NRC regulations – you can also find their regulatory guidance documents, including NUREG 1556 volume 13 is the one that applies to your license). I should also note that the majority of states regulate their own licensees under the Agreement State program – these states have their own websites, their own regulations, and their own guidance documents, so you should first find out if your state is an agreement state (https://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/state-tribal/agreement-states.html) and, if it is, find your state’s radiation safety regulatory program’s web page and check there first. Oh – and I should note that regulations in Agreement States are required to be compatible with the majority of NRC regs, so most of the regulations in New York, Ohio, Louisiana, and other Agreement States are likely to read exactly the same as the comparable parts of the NRC regulations.

From here, you’re looking at more specialized websites.

The Radiation Emergency Medical Management (REMM) website (https://remm.hhs.gov/) is aimed at emergency and medical responders, but it has a ton of information about radiation health effects, transportation of radioactive materials, and much more.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a tremendous amount of material on the health effects of radiation exposure, including the effects of radiation on pregnancy (if, for example, one of your patients finds out she’s pregnant after having a nuclear medicine procedure). A search using the terms “CDC radiation” will turn up a number of links, including https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/radiation/default.htm.

Another medically oriented site, RADAR (the Radiation Dose Assessment Resource) will, among other things, let you calculate radiation exposure to a patient from nuclear medicine and radiology procedures they might receive. It also automatically generates an informed consent form with appropriate language.

A very nice on-line radiation calculator is called RadPro (http://www.radprocalculator.com/). RadPro will calculate radioactive decay, it converts radiation units from SI to US and back, has some nice information pages, dose rate calculators, and so forth. I use this one fairly frequently myself – enough to have it bookmarked on both my work and personal computers.

Finally, the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) has written 187 reports, 32 Commentaries, and 16 Statements (as of July, 2023) on an amazing variety of subjects dealing with various aspects of radiation safety. Report 187, for example, is titled Operational Radiation Safety Program and it goes into detail on how to manage a radiation safety program. Report 182 goes into Radiation Safety of Sealed Radioactive Sources, and Report 124 discusses Sources and Magnitude of Occupational and Public Exposures from Nuclear Medicine Procedures. There are many more (clearly!) that are likely on point for your program – and for many others as well.

These websites and documents will get you started, and even a little more than started. And if you can’t find what you’re looking for here, try the HPS Ask the Experts feature, or drop me another line. Good luck!