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Recognizing radioactive materials
Hazards and control
Measuring Radiation
Controlled areas
Emergency actions
Emergency telephone numbers
Radiation safety training test


Laboratories in the Chemistry, Biology, and Physics departments and the Reactor use radioactive materials. Reed College has developed this radiation safety training for ancillary personnel, such as maintenance and custodial staff, students, community safety officers, telecommunications and networking personnel, and others, who occasionally work in areas posted with the radiation symbol. As one of our ancillary personnel, you may never use or handle radioactive materials. This training will help you recognize radioactive materials, identify the associated hazards, and determine safeguards to use when working around these materials. While these safeguards should protect you from unsafe conditions in most situations, always use your personal knowledge and vigilance when working in areas with radioactive materials. The guiding principle of radiation protection is to avoid all unnecessary exposures. Reed promotes the principles of ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable), and is obligated to minimize radiation exposure to all employees. You must review this module and take the test when you begin your employment and every three years thereafter.


Description: icon-atom-char-teachers

Radiation is probably the most feared and least understood of all the hazards we encounter in our lives. We cannot see, hear, smell, or feel it. However, radiation is actually one of the simpler hazards to measure and control. Unsafe amounts of radiation are also the least frequently encountered; the dangers from common chemicals, fire hazards, and physical accidents are much more common.

Radiation is simply a form of energy. The energy may be in the form of particles or electromagnetic waves, similar to light, microwaves, lasers, radio and television waves. It is all around us every day. No matter what we do or where we live, we have exposure to "background radiation." Background radiation comes from the sun, stars, rocks, soil, wood and concrete building materials, and food we eat. These doses found in nature are quite small.

In addition to background radiation, you may have exposure to radioactive materials in certain laboratories on the Reed Campus. The following information will help you:

  • Recognize where these materials are stored and used.
  • Know what to do when you work in a room that contains radioactive materials.
  • Understand general restrictions for working in these rooms.
  • Control your exposure to radioactive materials should problems occur.

Recognizing Radioactive Materials

The Reed College Radioactive Materials program strives to assure the safety of all employees. Both State and Federal regulations and guidelines provide a framework for this program. The college depends on you to recognize the posted signs, identify hazards and safeguards, and to report any problems to your supervisor, and subsequently to the Radiation Safety Officer (RSO, Kathleen Fisher at 503-777-7788, extension 7788).

File written by Adobe Photoshop® 5.0 File written by Adobe Photoshop® 5.0Warning signs indicate the presence of radioactive materials. These signs have a magenta, red or black symbol, called a trefoil, on a yellow background. You will see this sign posted on or near the door to every laboratory that uses radioactive material. It is also posted on pieces of equipment that contain radioactive materials. Do not attempt to move, remove or service any piece of equipment with this sign.

Packages used to transport radioactive materials also have special labels that are required by the Department of Transportation. These will have the number 7 at the bottom of the diamond. Only trained laboratory personnel may remove these labels from clean, empty containers after removing the radioactive material. You should never remove these labels, nor should you dispose of, recycle, move, or remove boxes or other containers containing these labels.

Reed College uses a third type of label or sign for equipment that produces x-rays. Do not service any machine with this label without prior approval from the Environmental Health and Safety Office.

Hazards and Control

We can think of radiation like a sun lamp or tanning bed. Skin will burn if exposed to it, but not if we spend less time tanning, or are further away, or protect our skin with sunblock. Radiation exposure is affected by these same three conditions, so we can use three basic radiation safety techniques to control exposures. They are Time, Distance, and Shielding.

Time: Limit your time around an area with radioactive materials.

Distance: Maximize your distance from the area. Stay at least 6 feet away.

Shielding: Keep a wall or door between you and the radiation area.

Measuring Radiation

Radiation is measured using several units. One of the most common of these, the rem, measures the biological damage caused by radiation. As mentioned previously, doses encountered in every day life are typically very small. In fact, we use millirem (mrem) or thousandths of a rem to measure it. The average person in the United States receives about 200 to 400 millirem every year. This dose is mostly from natural sources of radiation.

Some Typical Annual Exposures


mrem per year

(unless otherwise indicated)

Natural Sources (=82%)

Radon Gas


Cosmic Radiation


Food, Water, Air that we ingest or inhale


Human-made Sources (=18%)

Medical x-rays


20 /x-ray

GI series

210 /x-ray


1 /x-ray

Road surfaces

1 / 2500 miles of driving

Home Construction

Stone or concrete




Consumer Products [1]


Nuclear Power


Sleeping next to someone


[1] Regularly smoking cigarettes adds about 1300 mrem/year to one's exposure.

Those who actually use and handle radioactive materials, called authorized users, wear personal monitoring devices to track their exposure while working. Because ancillary personnel will not have this type of exposure, no personal monitoring is required. Safety during pregnancy should not be a serious concern, however, any employee may request to consult with the Radiation Safety Officer for additional information.

Work areas containing radioactive materials or machines have added safety measures. The primary user or health physicist takes a sample of these areas by rubbing the area with filter paper and analyzing it for radioactivity. The measurement used in these surveys is microcuries, which indicates the activity of radioactive material – how much radiation it emits per second.

For example, they take wipes:

  • Biweekly in areas where they use radioactive materials
  • Monthly in storage areas (facilities)
  • Every six months for sources with a high amount of radioactivity (>3.7 microcuries)
  • Every three months for alpha emitters (>10 microcuries)

Rules to follow in Controlled Areas:

Radioactive materials pose minimal risks for ancillary personnel. In comparison, the risk of personal harm from other common activities such as using power tools, climbing a ladder, or using electricity is greater. By following these basic rules, you can ensure your safety while working in areas posted with the radiation symbol.

  • Be aware of radiation symbols on lab doors and lab equipment.
  • Ask laboratory personnel to identify areas to avoid.
  • Do not handle anything labeled with the radiation symbol unless directed by Radiation Safety personnel.
  • Call the Radiation Safety Officer at 503-777-7788, if you have any questions or concerns.

Caution Radiation Area:

Routine cleaning, maintenance work, and other activities occur in rooms where there are radiation-producing machines or radioactive materials. The users of radioactive materials make sure that safeguards are in place so that machines are not turned on and that the materials are stored safely. You are permitted to dispose of trash, if not labeled radioactive.

Never eat, drink, or smoke in rooms where radioactive materials are used.

Caution Radioactive Materials:

Do not handle, move, or remove bags or containers labeled "Radioactive Material"

Do not handle or dispose of radioactive trash in this area unless requested or authorized by the Radiation Safety Officer or her/his designee.

Do not clean floors or counter tops unless requested by the Radiation Safety Officer. Never clean up spills.

You should never attempt to repair equipment labeled with a radiation symbol unless it has first been surveyed by Radiation Safety and declared free of radioactive contamination.

All structures potentially contaminated with radioactive material are labeled with the radiation symbol. Notify Radiation Safety before repairing drains, air ducts, or other structures labeled with the radiation symbol.

X-ray Producing Equipment:

Reed College also has several rooms with instruments that produce x-rays. A label or plate will identify such rooms. If you are asked to work in a room with this equipment, contact the authorized user for safety instructions prior to entry. Some experiments run unattended.

Emergency Actions

If there is a life-threatening injury, call 911, then community safety at 503-788-6666 so they know how to direct the emergency responders. Let the emergency responders know if radioactive materials were involved. For other types of personal injury, get appropriate first aid for the type of injury. Be sure to inform your supervisor of the injury as soon as possible.

If there is a major emergency (such as a fire):

  • Sound the alarm by pulling the closest fire alarm pull station.
  • Assist others as you evacuate the building.
  • Call 911, followed by a call to community safety at 503-788-6666.
  • Let the emergency responders know if radioactive materials were involved.

If you encounter a liquid or solid spill in an area posted as "Radioactive Materials," do not attempt to clean up the spill yourself. Close the door and notify your supervisor and/or the Radiation Safety Officer.

Emergency telephone numbers:

Radiation Safety Officer (RSO) Kathleen Fisher 503-777-7788
Reactor Director / Assistant RSO Melinda Krahenbuhl 503-777-7222
Community Safety   503-788-6666

Radiation Safety Training Test

Click here to go to the test.