What is the ALARA principle?
ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable) is a radiation safety principle that was established to minimize radiation doses and the release of radioactive materials into the environment. The ALARA principle is considered as the gold standard for radiation protection as it can reduce the risk for occupationally exposed workers such as rad techs. ALARA is also a regulatory requirement for radiation protection programs.
According to this study, a practicing radiologist in the U.S. receives an annual average X-ray dose of 3.2 mSv.
Any amount of radiation exposure increases negative health effects since radiation can damage the DNA in our cells. Radiation at high doses can cause cancer and even lead to death. Infants, young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems are more vulnerable to these health effects compared to healthy adults.
The ALARA radiation safety principle is important since it can help prevent both unnecessary exposure and overexposure to ionizing radiation. There are three cardinal principles that anyone who works with radiation sources should follow to help keep radiation doses “as low as reasonably achievable”.
3 cardinal principles of ALARA
These three cardinal principles of ALARA can minimize or even prevent unnecessary radiation exposure when working with or near radiation. The ALARA goal can be achieved by putting these principles into action:
If you work near a radioactive source, you should try to limit the amount of time spent near it. Finish your task as quickly as possible to avoid spending more time near the source than necessary. Avoid lingering in risky environments like contaminated areas and airborne radioactivity areas.
The further away you’re from the radioactive source, the better. By keeping a safe distance from Xray sources, you ultimately decrease your dose. Maximize your distance and avoid picking a strong source up with your hands.
Shielding is another protective measure against radiation. Put something between you and the radiation source to minimize your exposure. Keep in mind that the most effective shielding depends on what kind of radiation the source is emitting. Some examples include concrete, lead, and special plastic shields.
How to protect yourself from radiation exposure
The basic radiation safety principles above are commonly regarded as some of the most important ones for protection against external radiation sources. However, there are even more risk-limiting measures you can follow to stay protected against intakes of radioactive materials or ontakes (skin contamination).
Learn more about these 8 additional radiation protection principles and their accompanying commandments.
This principle applies to radioactive materials in the air, water, or soil. “The solution to pollution is dilution” is a commonly referenced phrase that applies to the dispersal principle. The idea is that using lower concentrations will reduce intakes and ontakes.
5. Source reduction
Source reduction refers to reducing the amount of radioactive material produced or used. It may also refer to reducing the amount of radiation that’s produced by a machine. To practice this principle, remember to “use as little as possible” or to “clean it up and keep it clean”.
6. Source barrier
Achieving the source barrier principle involves engineering controls to concentrate and contain the radioactivity. Common examples include primary and secondary containers. Work compartments such as hot cells, glove boxes, and fume hoods may also be used.
7. Personal barrier
Similar to the “shielding” principle, personal barrier refers to isolating yourself from radioactive material or radiation by using a personal barrier. Some barrier examples include personal protective equipment (PPE) such as thick glasses, lead aprons, and gloves.
The decorporation principle is especially relevant to anyone who has received intakes or ontakes of radioactive materials. Decorporation refers to the removal of radioactive material from the inside or surface of the body.
It may also involve blocking of uptakes from systemic circulation by specific tissues or organs. “Get it out or off of you” is the commandment here; decorporation can range from simple cleanup or to procedures that only physicians should perform.
9. Effect mitigation
Effect mitigation includes reducing the effect of a given individual dose or collective dose. Some examples of effect mitigators include free-radical scavengers like vitamin E (α-Tocopherol), superoxide dismutase, and agents that reduce oxidative damage.
10. Optimal technology
“Choose the best technology” is the commandment for this principle. That could mean using an ionizing radiation technology that produces a lower dose or technology that doesn’t involve ionizing radiation at all.
11. Limitation of other exposures
The key to this principle involves limiting exposures to other agents that could work together, like genotoxic agents or those that cause initiation, promotion, or progression of tumors. “Don’t compound risks” is the commandment to remember here.
The most effective way of limiting occupational radiation exposure
Minimize your exposure and enhance safety within the workplace by always following the ALARA principle.
If you’d like to know more about RIS/PACS integration, visit our extensive guide about PACS system blog post!