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9/9/2018 - RPS Training Courses (Who attends?) – Part 2 – Quality Assurance (QA)

In the second part of this Radiation Protection Supervisor (RPS) training series, we turn to a second set of delegates who work with ionising radiation sources in the quality assurance (QA) sector. The QA sector is quite wide ranging but is generally looking for defects or is being used to assess the quality of an item in terms of surface chemistry, coating thickness, elemental analysis, absence of physical contaminants and similar. Whilst defect analysis is similar to industrial radiography, industrial radiography as defined in the Ionising Radiations Regulations 2017 (IRR17), is a separate class of work. If a person can have physical access to the Controlled Area (either an area of premises or site, or shielded enclosure) then its industrial radiography. If defects are surveyed using a small x-ray cabinet that cannot be physically entered, it not industrial radiography.

A good RPS understands the type of ionising radiation sources being used

In QA related work it is important that the RPS understands the nature of the source of ionising radiation being used. Often x-rays systems will be side by side with other analytical equipment in a laboratory. Without a well-trained RPS many staff in these areas might wrongly believe the x-ray unit is the most hazardous object in the room. Generally, the opposite is true and a well-trained RPS will being able to explain "what the x-ray system is NOT capable of doing" (this is considered during RPS training). Furthermore, spending some time comparing radiation risks against other more conventional risks in the workplace is useful. A good RPS can reassure the workforce and enable them to concentrate on the dominant risks in their area (e.g. slips, trips, falls etc) - i.e. in many cases not radiation related.


Ionising radiation sources in QA are diverse

QA processes using ionising radiation will either be in the form of gauge (e.g. level gauge, thickness gauge, density gauge etc), or utilise a type of x-ray cabinet (similar in principle to an airport security machine). The use of gauges, often denoted Nuclear Gauges, is closely related to process control systems where continuous monitoring is required (e.g. flow of oil / water mixture in a pipe / depth of beer in drinks cans etc). These often provide feedback loops so that adjustments can be made in real time. The use of x-ray system cabinets will either be continuous (e.g. a conveyor moving product through an x-ray unit), or by a batch-process (e.g. screening a single component in an x-ray inspection cabinet).

Example of nuclear density gauge considered in RPS training
Nuclear density gauge (using radioactive Cs-137 and Am-241)


Exceptions are as important as the 'rules'

For any of the above processes the choice of source (x-ray / sealed radioactive source) will be governed by the nature of the measurement and the properties of the material being tested. High density materials (metal, concrete) will generally require higher energy gamma sources (e.g. Ir-192, Co-60 etc) or high kV x-ray systems (e.g. 150 kV and above). There are exceptions to this, for example XRF (X Ray fluorescence) can be used to analyse metals for their elemental composition and the x-ray source is generally < 50 kV as only surface analysis is required (no penetration is required or desirable).

Know the extent of Local Rules and the role of the RPS

QA delegates learn that where there are designated areas (Controlled or Supervised) then Local Rules and Radiation Protection Supervisors are mandatory. However, some QA systems (e.g. completely shielded x-ray screening cabinets) do not have designated areas (since the extremities or body cannot enter the screening area when ionising radiation is present due to physical restriction). In these cases, the RPS will learn that Local Rules and their own appointment are still best practice and are comparable to procedures and competent persons required by The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. The rules and their role may however be proportional to the risks and therefore perhaps not as detailed as formally required by Regulation 18 of IRR17. 


29/8/2018 - RPS Training Courses (Who attends?) – Part 1 – X-ray Security

I thought it would be interesting to provide a few posts to describe the typical range of delegates that attend Ionactive Radiation Protection Supervisor Courses (and the sources they work with).   For some time (> 10 years), we have delivered RPS courses that are designed for all users of ionising radiation, rather than courses that consider sealed / unsealed radioactive sources users and x-ray workers separately. We believe this is the best way to ensure all RPS delegates understand their uses of radiation in context with others. It assists in the understanding of radiation risk (comparison of risk is so much easier to understand than absolute risk).

RPS training delegates from x-ray security sector

X-ray security Ionactive RPS Training

A good example of relative risk in the x-ray security sector is the fact that delegates (or more specifically operators of the x-ray equipment), are likely to receive higher radiation exposures from background (principally Radon gas) than they are from operating their equipment.  This does not negate the need to use their x-ray equipment correctly, but it allows the delegate to appreciate the occupational exposures in context.

X-ray security - x-ray equipment from kV to MV

X-ray security operators will work in the airline, cargo, freight forwarding, hospitality and related industries. The x-ray equipment they use will range from the small “portable” (relatively!) devices for screening handbags and similar, through to airport cargo scanners for screening hold baggage, on to port security screening where complete cargo containers will be surveyed. With this huge range in size and density you would not find at all surprising that the x-ray technology also varies significantly.  At the smaller end, 100-140 kV systems at 1-2 mA are the norm, whereas at the largest end 6MV linear accelerators are regularly used. Therefore, the exposure risks also vary considerably too – the smallest x-ray devices only able to expose extremities (if an operator were to place a limb beyond the radiation shielding curtain), whereas the larger linear accelerators are capable of exposing someone to a significant dose (>> 1mSv) if not used compliantly.

X-ray security equipment - IRR17 applies

All of the above security uses of ionising radiation are subject to controls under the Ionising Radiations Regulations 2017 (IRR17).  The RPS delegate sometimes finds the interpretation of IRR17 surprising. For example, the interior of a security x-ray cabinet that can physically allow person entry (even if this is absolutely prohibited where x-rays are present), would be designated a Controlled Area under IRR17, even though it is an area obviously designed NOT to be worked in.  This is because the employer needs to ensure there are special procedures in place (Local Rules) to avoid prohibited entry.  Therefore, the whole of IRR17 applies to security equipment including risk assessment, local rules, contingency arrangements etc. In addition, when a service engineer attends site to undertake service or repair, the Local Rules should provide a procedure for formal “hand over” of the Controlled (designated) area to the engineer, and then handback following completion of the works.

Overall, RPS delegates working in the x-ray security sector soon realise that compliance with IRR17 is not difficult, but still requires investment in training and procedures to ensure safe working practice.

Ionactive offer RPS Training Courses every month – see here for details.

22/8/2018 - RPS Training - Being animated!

I have been going through some pictures  from past RPS training courses - some from my phone and some via archive picture folders. I have been told more than once that I am quite ‘animated' when I train. I do tend to move around quite a bit (my Fitbit is evidence enough) - I am generally not the sort of person who is static when in the training room. This is partly due to having a genuine passion for my subject area - I love the training side of being a consultant. Its also down to the epic subject matter - physics, numbers, things you cannot see (so you need to describe somehow).  Here are two examples.

Describing the huge activity of radioactive Co-60 contained in an industrial irradiator

Mark Ramsay  - RPS Training -  Talking about the magnitude of activity in an industrial irradiator

Describing the size of an electron :)

Mark Ramsay  - RPS Training -  Describing the size of an electron



20/8/2018 - On leave - Pondering radiation website direction

Technically on leave this week. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your own personal point of view, a consultant's life is never totally in holiday mode. So, it is in down time I begin to look at the services around my core role (Radiation Protection Adviser and RPS training provider). Services like this very website. The current Ionactive website started life in 2005 (when I left full time employment to run my consultancy). I had a website with the domain running from 2002 - made by myself using Dreamweaver. It was not very impressive visually, but what it had was a personable (ok slightly homemade) look which was not overtly commercial. Even back in those days I wanted to offer more than commercial radiation safety services, and I rounded up loads of relevant links (when links really matters). I have to remind myself that in the early 2000's Google was young and not that relevant - today, it seems Google is everything!

From 2005-2008 the Ionactive website grew. It was popular and hit the top, or very near the top, of all Google searches. I admit there was a certain pride in all this. From 2008 until today, I have tweaked the site, but it has not really changed. It still appears to remain popular, but I have noticed that it has dipped in the apparent ratings offered by Google listings. Websites have moved on and as I sit here in August 2018 I must concede the website is looking somewhat dated. It does not work well on mobile platforms, and when looking at other sites (both radiation and non-radiation related) I think its too bloated with information. Google bots appear to be looking for some very specific things nowadays and crowding a site with information, even if unintentional and a genuine belief the information will be useful, no longer pays dividends.

Websites today that are doing well in Google listings, are the ones selling radiation safety and training services (like Ionactive), but do not present much else (other than the obligatory listings page and perhaps a news section). Its almost as if I should strip the Ionactive site back to little more than explaining what we can offer clients who use ionising radiation. The other area Ionactive has not really expanded into is social media. Facebook, Twitter and the like - this is something we need to look at.

So, what to do? Well first off, I am not getting too stressed about all of this. The site still lists of the first page of Google, and we have plenty of work (both current and new clients), and lots of referrals. But the site does need to change, become more focused, adapt to the modern world of mobile gadgets and incorporate social media. For this reason, I see a whole new site coming up in the near future - I will be looking for a company to take this on.

17/8/2018 - August 13-17 - Radiation admin week

Mostly a week of administrative matters (quite nice and sandwiched between two periods of family holiday). We have been working on a Radiation Safety Programme for a client based in UAE. We do not often take on remote (desk top) based work (preferring a site visit wherever possible), but in this case the client put delegates on a RPO course we were running in Dubai with RNA Safety International - so we do know each other.

Also undertaking a 6-month (slightly late) review of our Radiation Protection Supervisor (RPS) course. The course underwent a considerable amount of updating December 2017 in readiness for the new Ionising Radiations Regulations 2017 (IRR17). Current and new client experience is that there are no radical changes, but we note there is certainly increased activity from HSE in certain areas (e.g. the rehearsal of contingency plans) - we have built this aspect into our 2018 RPS Training Course.

Talking of HSE - the cargo / freight sector continues to feature in the interests of HSE and we have had a number of new clients come to us to assist them in getting their radiation safety systems up to scratch.


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This is the company blog of Ionactive Consulting Limited, a Radiation Protection Adviser consultancy. Visit here often to read our views on radiation protection and related matters. You can contact our director and RPA directly at

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