Occupational radiation protection: What measures are in place to protect staff from the effects of radiation?


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Pilots, nuclear medicine physicians and staff of nuclear power plants have one thing in common: they are exposed to ionising radiation in their jobs. In order to protect these from the harmful effects of radiation, numerous measures and safety precautions are in place. In Germany, more than 400,000 people are subject to occupational radiation protection monitoring. All those are monitored for occupational radiation exposure who may receive an effective dose of more than 1 millisievert during their professional activities in one year.

Official dosimeter with film badge (source: GRS)Dosimeters measure the radiation dose

For most occupationally exposed persons, exposure to radiation is determined continuously during their work with dosimeters. The limit for the occupational radiation dose is 20 millisieverts per year. For comparison: the average effective dose due to natural radiation in Germany is 2.1 millisieverts per year.
In particular, film badges are used for official dosimetry. They can be applied to determine the total dose for a specified period of time, usually one month. The dosimeters are evaluated by officially approved measuring institutions. In nuclear power plants, for example, the staff must, in addition to the film badges, also wear an electronic dosimeter with direct display of the radiation exposure.

Radiation passbook for contractor’s personnel

About 30,000 people working in various companies are also in possession of a so-called radiation passbook. These are, for example, craftsmen or technical examiners in nuclear power plants. The aim of the radiation passbook is to prevent limit values from being exceeded due to changing workplaces. For this purpose, the radiation passbook contains information about the dose received by a worker. The holder of a radiation passbook card must be registered with the competent authority. Prior to taking up work, the person employed presents the radiation passbook to the respective company. After termination of work, the company makes an entry, specifying what dose was measured with the electronic dosimeter.

Radiation Protection Register (SSR) collects all data

The official dose data of occupationally exposed persons measured with film badges are collected in the German Radiation Protection Register (SSR) and evaluated. The SSR has the task, among other things, to control that the limits are not exceeded.
It is kept and updated by the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS). The BfS evaluates the collected data statistically and publishes the results. Besides control, the data serve the purpose of scientific analysis and contribute to the optimisation of radiation protection.

New Radiation Protection Act

In May 2017, the Bundesrat approved the Gesetz zur Neuordnung des Rechts zum Schutz vor der schädlichen Wirkung ionisierender Strahlung (Act on the Reorganisation of the Law on the Protection against the Harmful Effects of Ionising Radiation). Among other things, it abolishes the previous distinction between practices and work activities. To date, practices have referred to all activities in which radioactive substances are deliberately and consciously used, e.g. the handling of man-made radioactive substances. The term work summarised all actions in which radioactivity is not deliberately used.

Radiation exposure record card

Furthermore, the Act introduces a new category of prior regulatory control by the competent authority: the so-called notification. For example, in the future, workplaces will have to be notified to the authority where the radon-222 activity concentration in the indoor air exceeds a certain level.
In September 2018, the Cabinet of the Federal Government passed the ordinance on the further modernisation of radiation protection legislation (Verordnung zur weiteren Modernisierung des Strahlenschutzrechts) to supplement the Radiation Protection Act. The ordinance should come into force after the approval by the Bundesrat by the end of 2018 and will for the first time also include regulations on non-ionising radiation sources such as lasers and ultrasound.

GRS activities in the field of applied radiation protection

GRS evaluates, on behalf of the Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMU), the dosimetry data for staff in nuclear facilities measured with electronic dosimeters. Based on the resulting findings, developments in occupational radiation protection can be derived. These, in turn, can be used to improve radiation protection. Moreover, GRS supports the BMU in further developing the regulations for radiation protection of the staff. As, for example, in medicine and industry, new techniques and appliances constantly enter the market, the standards must be continuously adapted.

In a current project with the Augsburg Hospital, GRS is researching, for example, the radiation exposure of medical staff in interventional radiology. In another project, GRS developed a software-based model in cooperation with the University of Cologne that makes the complex influencing factors for the calculation of the so-called local dose rate in a nuclear power plant manageable. This is relevant not only for activities during operation as well as during maintenance and refuelling outage, but also for the phase of decommissioning and dismantling where many longer lasting work is to be carried out. In addition, GRS continuously monitors the latest technical developments in radiation protection.

Find out more

GRS activities on radiation protection
IAEA – International Conference on Occupational Radiation Protection
The new Radiation Protection Act: The major changes in radiation protection
Radiation Protection Ordinance (Strahlenschutzverordnung – StrlSchV)
Ordinance on the further modernisation of radiation protection legislation (in German)