What are the risks of being exposed to radiation at work?

Last updated: 04 Mar 2020

Health effects caused by exposure to radiation are extremely rare and will not occur in most day-to-day work situations. The risks posed by low levels of exposure to both ionising and non-ionising radiation are small. However, exposure to high levels of either type can cause acute effects such as tissue and organ damage.

Ionising radiation can cause dermatitis, burns, cell damage, cataracts and changes to blood. It can also damage DNA and can cause health effects, such as cancer, later in life.

The health effects of exposure to non-ionising radiation depend on the frequency of the radiation. Extremely low-frequency radiation (at the low end of radiowaves) mainly causes sensory effects, such as nausea and vertigo, and nerve stimulation such as tingling and muscle contractions. 

Microwaves and higher-frequency radiowaves can cause exposed parts of the body to heat up, which can lead to tissue damage. Infrared radiation (a higher frequency) can cause skin burns and cataracts. And UV light (a higher frequency still) can cause burns, skin cancer, conjunctivitis and photokeratitis, a painful inflammation of the cornea also known as arc eye.

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