Current guidelines are based on the conservative assumption that there is no safe level of exposure. In other words, even the smallest exposure has some probability of causing a stochastic effect, such as cancer. This assumption has led to the general philosophy of not only keeping exposures below recommended levels or regulation limits but also maintaining all exposure "as low as reasonable achievable" (ALARA). ALARA is a basic requirement of current radiation safety practices. It means that every reasonable effort must be made to keep the dose to workers and the public as far below the required limits as possible.
Regulatory Limits for Occupational Exposure
Many of the recommendations from the ICRP and other groups have been incorporated into the regulatory requirements of countries around the world. In the United States, annual radiation exposure limits are found in Title 10, part 20 of the Code of Federal Regulations, and in equivalent state regulations. For industrial radiographers who generally are not concerned with an intake of radioactive material, the Code sets the annual limit of exposure at the following:
1) the more limiting of:
- A total effective dose equivalent of 5 rems (0.05 Sv)
- The sum of the deep-dose equivalent to any individual organ or tissue other than the lens of the eye being equal to 50 rems (0.5 Sv).
2) The annual limits to the lens of the eye, to the skin, and to the extremities, which are:
- A lens dose equivalent of 15 rems (0.15 Sv)
- A shallow-dose equivalent of 50 rems (0.50 Sv) to the skin or to any extremity.
The shallow-dose equivalent is the external dose to the skin of the whole-body or extremities from an external source of ionizing radiation. This value is the dose equivalent at a tissue depth of 0.007 cm averaged over and area of 10 cm2.
The lens dose equivalent is the dose equivalent to the lens of the eye from an external source of ionizing radiation. This value is the dose equivalent at a tissue depth of 0.3 cm.
The deep-dose equivalent is the whole-body dose from an external source of ionizing radiation. This value is the dose equivalent at a tissue depth of 1 cm.
The total effective dose equivalent is the dose equivalent to the whole-body.
Declared Pregnant Workers and Minors
Because of the increased health risks to the rapidly developing embryo and fetus, pregnant women can receive no more than 0.5 rem during the entire gestation period. This is 10% of the dose limit that normally applies to radiation workers. Persons under the age of 18 years are also limited to 0.5rem/year.
Non-radiation Workers and the Public
The dose limit to non-radiation workers and members of the public are two percent of the annual occupational dose limit. Therefore, a non-radiation worker can receive a whole body dose of no more that 0.1 rem/year from industrial ionizing radiation. This exposure would be in addition to the 0.3 rem/year from natural background radiation and the 0.05 rem/year from man-made sources such as medical x-rays.