Don’t Let Safety Glasses Be Optional: How to Protect Employees in Your Fluoroscopy Lab and Hospital
Don’t let your fluoroscopy safety equipment end with lead aprons and protective colors. Every inch of exposed skin and tissue is vulnerable to radiation. While newer fluoroscopy machines are designed with more safety in mind, your technicians still need solid protective barriers to protect their hands, face, and eyes, not just their torso. Add radiation safety glasses to your list of required safety equipment so your employees can protect their eyesight and skin.
Safety procedures can’t replace safety equipment.
Your lab’s policies and safety equipment are both essential elements for keeping nurses, technicians, and physicians safe. Safe handling of fluoroscopy tools and limited exposure time to radiation prevent a great deal of potential harm, but no safety steps are enough to prevent damage by themselves. You need to have a full array of protective gear available, including lead aprons, protective collars, and safety glasses.
The main risk for medical staff is scattered radiation. They do not come into contact with the primary x-ray beam, but x-rays bounce off of every surface, including the patient. Multiple uncontrollable factors can alter the degree of scatter, so you have to focus on defending vulnerable targets instead of containing the x-rays.
What are the risks of working in a fluoroscopy lab without consistent eye protection?
Even traditional x-ray labs require a high degree of protection in the face of exposure. Because fluoroscopy involves continuous x-ray imaging instead of isolated flashes of radiation, the risk is much greater. It’s important to protect any potentially exposed organs, especially for patients with repeated sessions and technicians. Eyes are particularly susceptible to damage because of their fragility. Eyes also cannot be protected with traditional lead aprons or coverings, and the adoption of safety glasses has been slower. The unique health concerns for eyes include:
You can develop cataracts with even limited exposure over time.
Cataracts form when proteins in the eye lens build up and obstruct light. Affected eyes can start to look cloudy over time, and the condition blurs eyesight. If they are left untreated, cataracts can become more and more obstructive and lead to partial or complete blindness. While there are several underlying causes, exposure to ionizing radiation and long-term work in a fluoroscopy lab greatly increase the risk the risk of cataract development. The damage is gradual. While one incident of unprotected exposure may not be enough to cause significant harm or start the development of cataracts, labs that allow one incident are more likely to allow for repeated incidents over time or not have the necessary equipment to protect technicians.
The skin around eyes is sensitive and susceptible to erythema.
Safety glasses do more than protect the eyes themselves. They also block scattered x-rays from reached your staff’s eyelids and the surrounding skin. Erythema, or skin inflammation, can be caused by exposure to numerous irritants, not just radiation. But ionizing radiation doses above 2 Gy can redden the skin and cause hair loss. Radiation doses above 10 Gy, which are unlikely but still possible, can start to permanently damage skin through hardening or thinning the dermis.
Radiation exposure increases the risk of cancer.
Whole body exposure to radiation must be limited, especially under the potentially constant exposure fluoroscopy labs entail. The ICRP, or International Commission on Radiological Protection, and NCRP, or the National Council on Radiation Protection & Measurements, sets limits on holistic exposure. Safety glasses are just one part of this, but they help protect against stochastic risk as a whole as well as specific ocular cancers. The NCRM has set the radiation dose limit for eye lenses at 15,000 millirems per year.
What else can you do to protect your lab employees?
The more you can layer physical protection and policies to minimize radiation exposure, the safer your fluoroscopy lab will be.
Update your safety procedures according to the International Basic Safety Standards for Protection Against Ionizing Radiation and the Safety of Radiation Sources.
Talk to your hospital administrator and radiation safety officer about your established laboratory procedures. Without formal studies, it can be impossible to know whether the increase in fluoroscopy and the development of safer technology is balancing in the best interests of your employees’ health. So regularly ensure your procedures and dosage levels are within the most contemporary (and, whenever possible, the most conservative) limits.
If your lab or hospital doesn’t require the wearing of safety glasses, advocate for it to become a standard safety measure for all occupations with exposure to radiation. Different institutions are subject to different policies and guidelines.
Evaluate radiation risks for different subgroups of your staff.
Doctors, nurses, and technicians are each exposed to different degrees of radiation. Even people with the same position may face different levels of exposure to radiation due to different hourly shifts or scheduled workdays. Analyze the workload for your lab or hospital to identify the peak hours, days, and seasons. You can use this information to variegate your schedule or regulate exposure so all of your employees are kept safe.
Keep exposure below the established dose limit.
The ICRP established a limit of 20 mSv for occupational exposure. Additional limitations may apply to your specific lab or different roles within your building. Use thermoluminescent dosimetry to measure exposure and use the data to enact any necessary policy changes. Regular audits of exposure information keep employees safe, especially because you can use the data to:
- Analyze the efficacy of older or damaged safety glasses that need to be replaced.
- Determine whether older fluoroscopy tools are exposing patients and staff to too high of radiation doses.
- Look for outliers. Mitigating the dangers of radiation can be as simple as rearranging the workload and increasing the intervals between exposure. But there may be some less visible factors. Use data to refine your operations.
Radiation safety glasses are a crucial element of overall lab safety. Not only do they protect your technicians and staff from the dangers of short-term exposure and accidents, they help mitigate the risks of long-term exposure like cataracts. Keeping your employees safe reduces expenses and increases employee retention. If you need new safety glasses for your fluoroscopy lab, go to Phillip’s Safety Products to find safety glasses with the right protective thresholds and materials.