A radiation safety officer is an individual responsible for radiation safety in a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or Agreement State licensed program. They ensure that any activity involving radiation and radioactive materials is conducted safely to prohibit unnecessary exposure and that all licensed activities are conducted in compliance with both license and regulation requirements. Their responsibilities are varied and extensive, however, an RSO can generally expect to conduct reviews of occupational exposures, surveys and program audits, and lead radiation safety training sessions for authorized users, workers, and ancillary personnel. They are also in charge of spill response and contamination protocols, radioactive material transportation, storage, and disposal, and enforcing the ALARA (As Low as Reasonably Achievable) principle.
RSOs are frequently found in medical facilities that intentionally administer radioactive materials to patients in the form of X-ray and fluoroscopy procedures, radiopharmaceuticals (bone scan, stress test, PET/CT, etc), and radiation therapy. To perform these procedures, medical facilities are required to obtain a permit or license, either issued by the NRC or Agreement State, which an RSO must be listed on.
But is an RSO needed for non-medical facilities as well?
In short, yes. Having an RSO on your team is not only beneficial for the overall safety of your clients and staff but is also a requirement of any licensed radiation safety program. We have outlined five reasons that will help you determine if your facility needs an RSO.
1. Your facility houses or utilizes radioactive materials, radiation-producing machines, and/or non-ionizing radiation sources such as lasers.
Specific regulations vary from state to state, however, if your facility utilizes any kind of ionizing or non-ionizing radiation source, you need a radiation safety program, and someone specifically trained to manage it.
In addition to overseeing the radiation safety program and all that entails, the RSO will keep an inventory of all material and machines located in your organization, ensure proper labeling, maintain current machine registrations, and ensure appropriate calibration and testing are performed regularly.
2. You need a highly trained individual who is well-versed in the U.S. NRC or state specific regulations that govern radiation safety and medical use of radioactive materials.
An RSO is properly trained on principles and practices of radiation protection, radiation measurement and monitoring, the biological effects of radiation, and more.
As part of their training, they are also familiar with the extensive regulations laid out by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or Agreement States. It is their duty to navigate these regulations for your organization to ensure compliance, and to keep on top of any updates that may impact your organization or its employees.
3. You need someone to enforce radiation policies and procedures.
An RSO is granted the authority by management to enforce policies and procedures regarding radiation safety and regulatory compliance established in an organization’s radiation protection program or license. With all that is required of a safe, successful radiation protection program, you can rely on the RSO to make sure everything is in order and the rules are being followed by all participants.
4. You want to identify problems and implement corrective actions quickly.
Of course, accidents happen. Whether due to human error or technical malfunction, they are unavoidable. While we are all familiar with the devastating effects of radiation-related accidents, including those which occurred in the wake of nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island and Fukushima, these types of accidents are not likely to occur in your organization’s day-to-day activities. However, issues such as missing signs, incorrect labels, faulty shielding, or improperly calibrated instruments can not only cost your organization big fines but can pose direct health risks to you and your staff if left unchecked.
A designated RSO not only takes charge and initiates corrective actions during an emergency, but they are also responsible for investigating incidents and finding solutions to ensure such issues do not occur again. They are often the link between management and operations, alerting them to any problems that exist, and continually update and revise the policies laid out in their radiation safety program. They also perform regular safety training and program audits which are excellent ways to identify problem areas and terminate unsafe operations before they become a problem.
5. You want to protect your personnel from occupational radiation exposure risks.
Medical personnel are not the only ones at risk of occupational radiation exposure. Anyone who regularly uses or operates radiation-producing machinery, including researchers, manufacturers, and salespeople, can be exposed. If not properly controlled and monitored, these exposures can cause damage to the cells and genetic material and lead to serious health problems such as cataracts, temporary or permanent sterility, and cancer.
Although direct supervision of individuals using ionizing radiation is not typically a role of the RSO, the RSO is responsible for ensuring all authorized users and ancillary workers are properly trained in basic radiation safety and enforce control measures, such as shielding and personal protective equipment (PPE).
An RSO will also likely suggest a personnel monitoring program that assigns dosimeters to your staff and monitors their received radiation dose as well. In addition to advising on who and when individuals should be monitored, they will regularly monitor doses, manage declared pregnancies, and provide compliance reports.
A properly trained individual, whether they are a licensed medical professional or not, can be added to a license as the RSO if they have successfully completed all the education and experience requirements of the current regulations and agree to be responsible for implementing the radiation safety program. Depending on their other professional responsibilities, they can serve as full or part-time. An RSO should also have excellent management and record-keeping skills and be comfortable with interacting with regulatory agencies.
Due to the extensive training and knowledge required for this role, many organizations choose to outsource this work. Versant Physics offers RSO and Regulatory support for traditional medical facilities such as hospitals and clinics, universities, small businesses, medical equipment manufacturers, and more. Whether you are looking for a consultant to assist on minor aspects of your program, on-site personnel to perform a program audit or survey, or you need help managing your personnel dosimetry program, our experienced, knowledgeable medical and health physicists, qualified experts, and support specialists can help.
- Versant Medical Physics and Radiation Safety. Virtual MRSO Course. January 22, 2021. https://www.versantphysics.com/online-mrso-training
- 35.50 Training for Radiation Safety Officer and Associate Radiation Safety Officer. January 16, 2019. https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/cfr/part035/part035-0050.html
- “RSO Responsibilities” https://www.apnga.com/rso-responsibilities/
- AAPM Report No. 160. “Radiation Safety Officer Qualifications for Medical Facilities.” November 2010.