The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland regulates the use of radiation. The Department of the Environment and Local Government is primarily responsible for non-ionising radiation monitoring. The RPII licenses the use of custody, manufacture, importation, transportation and disposal of radioactive material. It licenses the use of both ionising and non-ionising radiation.
A licence is granted by the RPII, only where there is sufficient justification for the use of radiations, relative to the detriment to health, it may cause. The RPII commonly licenses users such as dentists, vets, hospitals, government departments and industrial users. The RPII prosecutes unlicensed activity and breaches of the legislation.
Ionising radiation is at the very high end of the electromagnetic spectrum. It is radiation which directly or indirectly produces ions. This includes rays and partilcles, including x-rays. Non-ionising radiation includes electromagnetic fields and optical radiation. This covers broadcasting waves, infrared and visible radation, including laser beams, micorwaves and security devices.. Optical radiation use is licensed by the RPII.
The legislation on ionising radiation implements EU Directives. It applies to;
- the custody, production, handling, importing, distribution of radioactive substances;
- the custody, distribution, use of irradiating apparatus including X-rays;
- work involving exposure to radon above certain 400 becquerels; and
- certain other matters.
The application to the RPII requires full particulars of the proposed activity and particulars of the applicant. It must include particulars of any premises involved, the proposed commencement date, a description of works, details of radiation involved, the source and the identity of persons involved.
There is an obligation to justify the requested licence proposal by reference to its social, economic and other benefits relative to any health risk. Exposures to ionising radiation must be kept as low as reasonably achievable. Protective measures must be identified and implemented.
Businesses using radiation must make a risk assessment acceptable to RPII, and identify the appropriate protective measures. Organisational measures are required to minimise the risk of exposure to radioactive substances. Exposures must be kept as low as reasonably practicable.
There are exposure limits for various categories of persons, which are expressed in technical terms. Exposures are to be measured and must fall within the required parameters. Exposure / dose limits must not be exceeded. There are published dose limits for workers.
There are differing exposure limits applicable to employees, apprentices, students and members of the public. Pregnant or breastfeeding employees may not be employed where there is a significant risk of radioactive exposure.
Steps and arrangements must be put in place to protect employees and the public. This includes the provision of information, the arrangement of controlled areas, the classification of employees with reference to their exposure, individual monitoring, medical surveillance for certain categories, protective equipment and inventories of substances.
There are obligations on exposed employees, not to knowingly expose themselves to ionising radiation greater than necessary for the purpose of the work. Employees have obligations to use personal protective equipment, report defects and to notify any breaches of the regulations. They must notify any suspected exposure.
Each outside worker must be provided with a radiation passbook, in which particulars of exposures are to be entered. It must be kept up-to-date.
Medical ionising radiation
The medical ionising regulations apply to exposure to radiation in the course of treatment, screening, health surveillance and diagnosis. They x-rays, in particular.
There are specific obligations in relation to exposure to medical ionising radiation. This includes exposure experienced by medical patients and others as part of health diagnosis and screening. Medical practitioners must comply with guidelines and with clinical audit requirements in relation to the use of ionising radiation.
Specific requirements apply to exposure to radiation for medical purposes. The applicant must show there is a sufficient net benefit to the health of an individual and to society at large against the individual detriment that exposure might cause. . It must be demonstrated that the benefits, including direct health benefits, outweigh the risks relative to alternative means.
There is an EU Directive on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to risks arising from artificial optical radiation. Optical radiation includes infrared and ultraviolet radiation. The exposure of workers to artificial optical radiation, laser, laser radiation and non-coherent radiation can have chronic adverse effects on the eyes and skin.
The Directive seeks to reduce the level of exposure to this radiation by the introduction of preventive measures in the design of workstations, in order to reduce the risks at source. It also fixes exposure limit values for workers exposed to non-coherent radiation and laser radiation.
The employer must assess or measure the levels of optical radiation to which employees are exposed so that they can be reduced if they exceed the applicable limits. They are measured on the basis of international standards. The employer must reduce the level of radiation if the assessment indicates any possibility that the exposure limit values have been exceeded, for example by choosing a different material or limiting the duration of exposure.
Workers or their representatives must receive the necessary information and training, such as in the use of protective equipment. Employers must consult workers or their representatives in advance with regard to the protection of the safety and health of workers. The workers may propose measures to improve this protection and may enlist the competent authorities if they consider that the health protection offered by the employer is not adequate.
The health of workers is subject to surveillance by a doctor, in respect of any risk arising from exposure to optical radiation. Health records must be made for each worker and updated after each health check. On request, individual workers may have access to their own personal health records.
In the event of exposure exceeding the limit values, a medical examination must be automatically made available to the worker. If the limit values have been exceeded and/or the workers have suffered harmful effects to their health:
- the worker must be informed by the doctor or qualified person of the results relating to him and any significant findings;
- the employer must review the risk assessment and the measures taken, implement the measures recommended by the competent persons and establish a continuous surveillance system.
Airline operators have obligations in respect of cosmic radiation. Issues arise for outdoor workers in terms of exposure to the sun. The relevant EU Directive and general health, safety and welfare obligations apply.
A Council Directive establishes a Community framework for the responsible and safe management of spent fuel and radioactive waste. It lays down principles to guide national policies on radioactive waste and spent fuel from civilian nuclear activities and rules on disposal.
Each EU state is responsible for managing its own radioactive waste and spent fuel. Each must implement a national legislative, regulatory and organisational framework for such material.
Companies that handle nuclear waste must apply for a licence to do so. They then have primary responsibility for its safe management. In order to be granted a licence, a company must demonstrate that it can safely set up, operate and decommission a nuclear facility, ensure that the post-closure phase of a facility is safe.
Radioactive waste must be disposed of in the country where it was generated, unless there are agreements with other countries. The directive contains measures for the disposal of radioactive material and temporary, or final, storage of radioactive waste, if waste is shipped to a country outside the EU, responsibility for safety still rests with the EU country that generated it. That country must ensure that the country receiving the waste:
- has an agreement with the EU on how to properly handle radioactive waste/ spent fuel,
- has waste management and disposal programmes that comply with this directive’s safety standards,
- has authorised facilities in operation before the material is shipped.
A Council Directive sets out how to ensure the safety and security of radioactive material and the mandatory information that must be provided in the event of an exposure emergency. The directive applies to any planned, existing or emergency situation which involves a risk to ionising radiation. In particular, it applies to:
- the manufacture, production, processing, handling, disposal, use, storage, holding, transport, import to and export from the EU of radioactive material;
- the manufacture and operation of electrical equipment emitting ionising radiation;
- human activities with natural radiation sources that could lead to a significant increase in the exposure of employees or the public, such as the exposure of space crew to cosmic radiation;
- domestic exposure to radon gas in indoor air and external exposure to gamma radiation from building materials;
- managing emergency exposure situations that require measures to protect the public and workers.
The legislation sets out general principles of radiation protection, giving a more prominent role to dose constraints for occupational, public and medical exposure. An annex lists the bands of reference levels proposed by the ICRP for existing and emergency exposure situations. Special provision is made to protect pregnant and breastfeeding employees and apprentices and students.
References and Sources
Safety, Health and Welfare and at Work Law in Ireland 2nd Ed 2008 Byrne Ch 32
Safety & Health Acts Consolidated & Annotated 2013 Byrne
Health, Safety & Welfare Law in Ireland 2012 Kinsella Ch 3
Health & Safety: Law and practice 2007 Shannon
Health & Safety at Work 1998 Stranks Ch.7
Civil Liability for Industrial Accidents 1993 While
The Health and Safety Authority www.hsa.ie
Health and Safety Executive (UK) www.hse.gov.uk
Tolleys Health and safety at work, 2017 29th ed Bamber,
Corporate liability: work related deaths and criminal prosecutions 3rd ed. Forlin
Health and safety at work: European and comparative perspective Ales
Health and Safety Law 5th Ed 2005 Stranks
Principles of Health and Safety at Work (8th ed) Holt, Allan St. John; Allen, Jim;
The Law of Health and Safety at Work 2014/15 (23rd ed) Moore, Rachel; Winter, Hazel;
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2016 (S.I. No. 370 of 2016)
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2016 (S.I. No. 70 of 2016)
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 (S.I. No. 36 of 2016)
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (S.I. No. 445 of 2012)
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2010 (S.I. No. 176 of 2010)
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2007 (S.I. No. 732 of 2007)
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 (S.I. No. 299 of 2007)
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