What is a Radiation Protection Officer (RPO)?

Source: Ionactive Consulting Radiation Protection Resource

A Radiation Protection Officer (RPO) is a specialist in radiation protection and regulatory compliance and is usually appointed in writing to this role. However, the role means different things depending where you are in the world.

RPO - United Kingdom

The RPO is not a legally defined position in the UK but is commonly reserved for use in the university and teaching sector. Typically, the RPO under these circumstances manages the administrative (executive) functions of radiation protection. Examples could include dosimetry provision and collection, compiling records, undertaking radiation safety audits in the workplace, performing critical examinations of research XRF / XRD systems, undertaking risk assessments, radioactive material purchase, and radioactive waste accumulation and disposal. The RPO may also be involved in running onsite radiation safety training courses and ensuring new users of radioactive materials are adequately supervised locally.

The RPO may also be a Radiation Protection Adviser (RPA) and / or a Radioactive Waste Adviser (RWA) – however, this is not necessarily required for the role. To a reasonable degree the RPO is taking on a role of senior Radiation Protection Supervisor (RPS) for the whole site where ionising radiation is used. Each department will then appoint one or more local RPS positions to supervise radiation work in their own specific work areas.

As stated, the RPO role is not recognised specifically in UK legislation, unlike the RPS and RPA which are defined in the UK Ionising Radiations Regulations 2017 (IRR17). Nevertheless, the RPO is a significant appointment and has its own professional body – the AURPO (The Association of University Radiation Protection Officers). The AURPO promotes safety and knowledge in the use of ionising and non-ionising radiations and is often consulted by other UK bodies including the regulators.

RPO - outside the UK (IAEA definition)

We now turn to the role of the RPO outside the UK (and the USA). The USA is excluded from this discussion since they have yet another position - the Radiation Safety Office, (or RSO), which will be the subject of future Ionactive resource.

The RPO is a specific designation given in the IAEA publication “Radiation Protection and Safety of Radiation Sources: International Basic Safety Standards” (General Safety Requirements Part 3 - No. GSR Part 3). This is one of several documents that member states of IAEA will follow when creating their own radiation protection system. This document defines the RPO as:

A person technically competent in radiation protection matters relevant for a given type of practice who is designated by the registrant, licensee or employer to oversee the application of regulatory requirements.

In many ways the IAEA RPO definition is similar in scope as to the RPO role as defined by AURPO (see above). The IAEA RPO role is not necessarily compatible with the UK definition of the RPS – since strictly speaking the UK defined RPS role is to supervise work in compliance with Local Rules. This is a tighter definition than being responsible for all of the administrative arrangements of radiation protection. Many smaller UK users of ionising radiation may have one site RPS (broadly undertaking similar but still limited duties as compared to a RPO) and normally an external Radiation Protection Adviser (RPA).

Outside the UK the RPO will need to seek advice from a Qualified Expert (QE). This position is broadly equivalent to a UK RPA, except that it will often also encompass aspects of the Radioactive Waste Adviser (RWA) and possibly the Medical Physics Expert (MPE) – depending on the nature of the work undertaken. The UK decided to split the radiation protection advisory function up into a number of roles (RPA, RWA, MPE etc), whereas this is recognised specifically as the QE (Qualified Expert) under IAEA standards. Member states of IAEA can of course split that role as the UK has.

Radiation Protection Officer (RPO) Training Courses

If you are looking for an RPO training course be sure you understand what you are after!

United Kingdom - RPO Training

Generally, in the UK training for the RPO role may be a mixture of on-the-job experience, combined with attendance at formal courses. For example, the UK RPO might attend an RPS training course or higher-level course such as the “AUPRO/University of Strathclyde Certificate of Professional Development in Radiation Protection”. If the RPO is also a UK RPA they will have undertaken formal training and have been assessed by RPA 2000 (i.e. to become a certificated RPA).

The rest of the world - RPO Training

Outside of the UK RPO training courses have a much wider scope – partly because the role is not specific to the university sector as it is in the UK. RPO courses will generally be based on the IAEA standard noted above (General Safety Requirements Part 3 - No. GSR Part 3) and often the member states local laws. For example, Ionactive has run successful face-to-face RPO training courses in Dubai for many years. These courses are based on UAE local radiation protection laws (e.g “Basic Safety Standards for Facilities and Activities involving Ionising Radiation other than in Nuclear Facilities FANR-REG-24)” ) which are compatible with the IAEA standards. The scope of this training is far wider than that required for a UK RPS or university RPO.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and a general move towards using information technology in training, Ionactive now offers a fully 24/7 on demand online Radiation Protection Officer (RPO) training course. For the avoidance of doubt, this course is for those outside the UK who need training to take the role of the RPO as defined by IAEA. This online RPO course is based on the IAEA GSR Part 3 standards noted earlier, so is open to all parts of the world.

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