We all get exposed to radiation everyday. And while that may sound scary, it’s not in most cases. There’s radiation in the sun and the Earth. Even our own bodies contain background radiation, but according to Harvard Medical School, it’s not at a level strong enough to cause any sort of disease. It’s even in airport scanners, but you’d have to go through them 25,000 times a year just to equal the amount of radiation you’re exposed to naturally.
But if you work in a medical facility where X-rays and especially CT scans are performed regularly, you do need some protection. Read on to find out how you can protect your body from workplace radiation.
Why radiation protection matters
The field of radiology can be used to do tremendously helpful things, including diagnosing diseases like cancer. Over the last 20 years, the link between environment and cancer has become much more clear. In fact, the WTC Victims Compensation Fund was established to help cancer patients whose cancer can be traced back to 9/11 and they have identified 70 different types of cancer that are related to this one event. Radiology sends energy through your body so doctors get an image of what your insides look like. It may sound creepy, but it actually saves lives. While most of us will only need a few X-rays or CT scans throughout our lives, people who work in the radiology field assist with those procedures every day.
The US Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, lists three key ways to protect yourself from radiation: time, distance, and shielding. Time is obvious, as that means limiting the amount of minutes you spend exposed to radiation from things like CT scans. Distance also helps you stay safe, as you get less direct exposure the farther you are away from the radiation source.
If you’re in a room where a CT scan or X-ray is being performed, then that room has been specially designed to keep the radiation in the room. Containment helps ensure that only the people inside the room have to worry about protecting themselves. A radiologist will also often get the machine ready, then step away while the machine does its job.
Shielding yourself from radiation is one of the most obvious ways to protect yourself at work. You can only get so far away from the radiation, and if your job is in radiology, you’re going to spend a fair amount of the workday in a lab. That’s where protective equipment like a lead apron enters the equation.
If you ever had a lead blanket positioned over your body while at the dentist, then you essentially know what a lead apron does. The only difference is in the structure, as a lead apron can be tied around the body while a person moves. Someone wearing a lead blanket obviously won’t have the same kind of mobility.
Lead aprons are a key way to protect yourself from excessive radiation exposure if you work in certain environments. However, they aren’t the only tool in the arsenal. Goggles, gloves, and even masks are also commonly used by people who work around high levels of radiation. Protective eyewear such as lead glasses can help protect one of the most important parts of your body from X-ray radiation and more.
An X-ray technician doesn’t just get to work every day and decide, “Today seems like an apron day.” There are specific procedures in place every single time someone performs or assists with an X-ray or CT scan.
What about pregnant woman? Many women have been asked, “Are you pregnant?” before they get so much as a dental X-ray. It may sound like an annoying invasion of privacy at the time, but radiation can have some risks for a developing fetus. That doesn’t mean a radiologist who gets pregnant must automatically quit her job, but she will likely need to have some additional conversations with her employer.