Alpha, beta and gamma radiation can all damage living cells. Alpha particles, due to their strong ability to ionise other particles, are particularly dangerous to human tissue. Gamma radiation is dangerous because of its high penetrating power. However, cells have repair mechanisms that make ordinary levels of radiation relatively harmless.
Nevertheless, radiation can be very useful – it just needs to be used safely.
Safety precautions for handling radioactive materials include:
- Use forceps to hold radioactive sources – don’t hold them directly.
- Do not point radioactive sources at living tissue.
- Store radioactive materials in lead-lined containers – and lock the containers away securely.
- Check the surrounding area for radiation levels above normal background levels.
High levels of radiation are extremely hazardous, and people handling highly radioactive materials must wear special film badges (containing photographic film) that monitor the dose that they are receiving. They may need to wear protective clothing, perhaps containing sheets of lead, and they will need to shower and check for radioactivity on their bodies at the end of each shift.
Safety precautions in using radioactive substance:
always use the radioactive symbol where there is a radioactive substance stored;
always be stored in a lead-lined container;
be handled only with tongs;
never be pointed at anyone;
never be put in pockets;
only checked by looking at them in a mirror.