Safety, Health and Wellbeing

Working safely with radioactivity

Our role is to develop and assist in the implementation of the UWA safety, health and wellbeing programs in order to minimise the risk of injury, illness and property damage.

We provide consultancy and other services to promote best practice and legislative compliance in all University and related activities.

Further information

There are ten golden rules for working safely with radioactivity.

Ten golden rules

Rule Other considerations
  1. Understand the nature of the hazard and get practical training.

Never work with unprotected cuts or breaks in the skin, particularly on the hands or forearms. Never use any mouth operated equipment in any area where unsealed radioactive material is used. Always store compounds under the conditions recommended. Label all containers clearly indicating nuclide, compound, specific activity, total activity, date and name of user. Containers should be properly sealed.

  1. Plan ahead to minimise time spent handling radioactivity.

Do a dummy run without radioactivity to check your procedures. The shorter the time the smaller the dose.

  1. Distance yourself appropriately from sources of radiation.

Doubling the distance from the source quarters the radiation dose [Inverse square law].

  1. Use appropriate shielding for the radiation.

1 cm Perspex will stop all betas but beware of bremsstrahlung x-rays from high energy beta emitters. Use a suitable thickness of lead for X and gamma emitters.

  1. Contain radioactive materials in defined work areas.

Always keep active and inactive work separated as far as possible, preferably by maintaining rooms used solely for radioactive work. Always work over a spill tray and work in a ventilated enclosure except with small (a few tens of MBq) quantities of 3H, 35S, 14C and 125I compounds in a non-volatile form in solution.

  1. Wear appropriate protective clothing and dosimeters.

For example, laboratory coats, safety glasses, surgical gloves and closed top footwear. However beware of static charge on gloves when handling fine powders. Local rules will define what dosimeters should be worn e.g. body film badge, thermoluminescent extremity dosimeter for work with high energy beta emitters, etc.

  1. Monitor the work area frequently for contamination control.

In the event of a spill - follow the prepared contingency plan:

  • verbally warn all people in the vicinity
  • restrict unnecessary movement into and through the area
  • report the spill to the School Radiation Safety Officer
  • treat contaminated personnel first
  • follow clean up protocol.
  1. Follow the local rules and safe ways of working.

Do not eat, drink, smoke or apply cosmetics in an area where unsealed radioactive substances are handled. Use paper tissues and dispose of them appropriately. Never pipette radioactive solutions by mouth. Always work carefully and tidily.

  1. Minimise accumulation of waste and dispose of it by appropriate routes.

Use the minimum quantity of radioactivity needed for the investigation. Disposal of all radioactive waste is subject to statutory control. Be aware of the requirements and use only authorised routes of disposal.

  1. After completion of work – monitor yourself, wash and monitor again.

Never forget to do this. Report to the School Radiation Safety Officer if contamination is found.


Adapted from Amersham Life Science Safe and Secure series.

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