Background: There are concerns that emergency health care workers are exposed to ionizing radiation as the result of frequent portable radiographs obtained in the emergency department (ED) during active patient care.
Objective: Our aim was to investigate whether ED staff are exposed to significant radiation due to scatter from portable radiography at a busy trauma center and whether exposure was related to factors such as location or distance.
Methods: This was a prospective cohort study performed during 3 consecutive months in the ED at a large, academic trauma center. Volunteer attendings, nurses, and resident physicians were asked to wear dosimeter badges during their shifts throughout the study period. Twelve stationary dosimeters were placed in selected locations in the ED, particularly in the resuscitation rooms, where most of the portable radiographs were obtained.
Results: During the 3-month study period, 1464 portable radiographs were obtained in the resuscitation rooms in the ED, mostly chest and pelvic radiographs. Analysis from stationary dosimeters placed in the ED showed a median of 0.18 mSv (95% CI 0.16-0.22 mSv) for the main resuscitation room and 0 mSv for other critical care patient rooms. Analysis of dosimeters worn by staff showed no measurable radiation exposure (0.00 mSv).
Conclusions: The level of radiation exposure to ED staff found in this study was well below the recommended allowable occupational exposure of 50 mSv/y. Radiation exposure is not a significant occupational hazard in a busy ED level I trauma center. Existing precautions should adequately protect staff from occupational exposure, and use of further protective gear, or the need for individual monitoring using dosimeters, appears unwarranted.
Keywords: emergency radiology; occupational hazards; occupational health; radiation.
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