What is a Radiation Protection Supervisor (RPS)?

Source: Ionactive Consulting Radiation Protection Resource

A Radiation Protection Supervisor (RPS) is a post holder in the UK - required where employers work with ionising radiation in compliance with local rules, made under the Ionising Radiations Regulations 2017 (IRR17). In most cases where work with ionising radiation takes place, the employer will need to appoint one or more RPS. The RPS is required where local rules exist, and this in turn implies that a Controlled Area exists.

To investigate further some of the terms introduced above, head over to our Radiation Protection Glossary. For a more in-depth explanation of the terms you might wish to visit our IRR17 Guidance resource. If in doubt about the need to train and appoint an RPS, please consider seeking formal Radiation Protection Adviser (RPA) advice.

What is the role of the RPS?

The role of the RPS is heavily dependent on the scope of work involving ionising radiation. The RPS role for a simple benchtop cabinet x-ray system will be quite simple, probably taking up 30 minutes a month of RPS time (or less). An RPS for a nuclear medicine laboratory will be a far more significant role, requiring perhaps hours of resource (such that the RPS role may be part of the overall job description of the employee or even their full time job).

Regardless of the nature of the ionising radiation work , the primary role of the RPS is to ensure that the work is in compliance with local rules. Examples of duties vary widely but could include:

  • Supervising the ionising radiation work in compliance with local rules (the primary role).
  • Preparation of local rules.
  • Review of local rules.
  • Ensuring employees are aware of the content of local rules.
  • Routine radiation and contamination monitoring.
  • Make arrangements for the testing of monitoring instruments.
  • Perform checks on safety and warning systems.
  • Issue and collection of personal dosimetry.

For the simplest uses of ionising radiation, the above list may already exaggerate the role, but for more significant uses the role may grow to be as much as a full time position. A complete list of likely duties is given in our IRR17 guide - IRR17 (18) - Local rules and radiation protection supervisors part 2.

What do I need to do to appoint a RPS?

In order to appoint a RPS you need to consider the following:

  • Obtain advice from a Radiation Protection Adviser (RPA).
  • You will need to appoint the RPA in writing.
  • The RPA can assist with creating your radiation risk assessment, this will help define the radiation work, the content of the local rules and the scope of the RPS appointment.
  • Select one or more employees to undertaken the role of RPS (the numbers and scope will be defined by the risk assessment).
  • Ensure the prospective RPS is suitable for appointment (available commitment, suitable attitude to supervise, available resources etc).
  • Ensure employee is formally trained (e.g. consider the Ionactive online RPS training course, or other suitable bespoke training).
  • Ensure the employee understands the nature and significance of the ionising radiation work (e.g. whilst a manager might be selected to be the RPS, if they are too remote from the radiation work they may not be suitable).
  • Appoint the employee as an RPS in writing, providing them with an appointment letter which lists their duties.
  • Ensure that the RPS is supported in terms of resources, RPS refresher training, time to undertake the RPS role , support from management (i.e. giving the RPS delegated authority to act on their behalf).

Is the Radiation Protection Supervisor (RPS) the same as the Radiation Protection Adviser (RPA)

The answer is NO. It is entirely possible that an employee could be an RPA and RPS - but this is rare and you will see why if you consider the job role of each.

The RPS function is to supervise the ionising radiation work in compliance with the local rules. This is a local level appointment and could be the user / operator of the ionising radiation work, or perhaps a departmental supervisor.

The RPA function is to advise the employer working with ionising radiation - this is a mandatory legal appointment in most cases. See out IRR17 guidance on the role of the RPA: IRR17 (14) - Radiation Protection Adviser (RPA).

What types of work with ionising radiation would require a Radiation Protection Supervisor?

As noted above, an RPS is needed whenever local rules are required by IRR17. In turn, local rules are required whenever you have a Controlled Area (see above for links and definitions). Recently the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have formed an opinion / agreement between their inspectors regarding Controlled Area status and have tightened their approach. This means that more areas (including equipment) will be treated as controlled, which might not have been the case previously. An example of this would be a small benchtop cabinet x-ray system, with fully interlocked access door, active signage, and which is too small to be fully entered by any person. It is not the intention of this particular resource to discuss this specifically, Ionactive will be providing its own opinion in later resource. With this accepted, here are some examples.

  • Work with small benchtop cabinet x-ray systems in research, development and analytical laboratories.
  • Work with cargo / freight / airport x-ray systems for security screening.
  • Work with closed (sealed) radioactive sources in schools, higher education, process control, quality assurance and similar.
  • Work with open (unsealed) radioactive materials in universities, research and development, hospital nuclear medicine etc.
  • Work with x-ray units in food screening, beverage screening and related quality control
  • Work with High Activity Sealed Sources (HASS) in industrial sterilisation, industrial radiography, medical brachytherapy, industrial process control etc.
  • Work with linear accelerators, cyclotrons and other accelerators in medicine (e.g. radiotherapy and nuclear medicine) and industry

The above list is not exhaustive but you get the idea - the RPS can be found in almost any workplace you can think of where ionising radiation is used.

Radiation is one of the important factors in evolution. It causes mutation, and some level of mutation is actually good for evolution

– David Grinspoon -