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4.2.9 Worker health and safety

Contents Health and safety Radioactive waste management and transport Health and safety

Workers involved with site remediation may be exposed to conventional construction and operations hazards as well as to hazards coming from radioactive materials, toxic metals, organic compounds or bio-hazardous agents, respirable fibres, flammable and combustible materials, corrosive and reactive chemicals, and explosives.

Remediating a contaminated site requires a thorough and disciplined approach to evaluating the potential hazards to site workers, and taking the necessary steps to perform work in a safe manner. The results of the safety analysis should be incorporated into the site health and safety plan, along with remediation work plans and procedures. Safety measures resulting from these safety analysis and findings should be made in compliance with the ALARA principle and optimal measures should be put into practice. As new hazards are identified at the site, they should become incorporated into an update of the assessment.

Prior to initiating site remediation field activities, a health and safety plan should be developed for conducting the various types of field or laboratory activities that typically integrates an existing site-wide health and safety program with worker protection requirements specific to the worksite. The possible elements of a health and safety plan involve the following:

  • Establishment of a proper organisation;
  • Training;
  • Hazard characterisation and exposure assessment;
  • Site access and hazard controls;
  • Site and worker monitoring and medical surveillance schedules;
  • Decontamination (personnel and equipment);
  • Emergency action plan;
  • Emergency response.

Detailed guidance on the development of a ‘Health physics, safety, security and environmental protection plan’ was discussed in Section 2.6 of this document. Radioactive waste management and transport

Wastes may arise directly from the remediation activities, for example clean-up of contaminated soils, retrieval of buried wastes, treatment of groundwater and filtration of contaminated ventilation air.

The waste streams resulting from the environmental remediation should be identified as early as possible in the planning process. The quantities and types of waste that will be generated should be considered during the planning phase to ensure that the waste management system will be capable of accommodating the waste materials.

Waste acceptance and criteria are national issues and should be controlled. Many countries have established regulatory frameworks for dealing with radioactive wastes, for example dose limits, clearance limits, acceptable levels of contamination at the different stages of waste management, specific activity limits and criteria regarding hazardous contents. They may also have similar frameworks for chemical and hazardous wastes. Wastes with mixed contaminants, however, are generally considerably more difficult to condition, store and dispose of than radioactive or hazardous wastes alone. Their characteristics frequently do not comply with the waste acceptance criteria of disposal facilities managing radioactive wastes from more traditional origins, for example operational wastes from nuclear power plants, research reactors, fuel fabrication and reprocessing plants, research and development sources and small users of radioactive material. Conversely, many hazardous waste landfills are not normally licensed to accept radioactive materials, and those that are, may have very low limits. As a result, the remediation strategy should take account of the availability of disposal routes, including specific conditioning of mixed or separated wastes, in order to meet the waste acceptance criteria and long term safety of the disposal facilities [IAEA-2006b].

Remediation strategies also need to meet requirements regarding regulations for transportation of radioactive materials and hazardous materials. Attention may need to be given to international shipments, where sites being remediated are close to national borders. There are separate international standards for the safe transport of radioactive materials and hazardous materials by road, rail, air and water. There are also standards and guidance within the European Union for determining hazardous waste categories through assessment of levels at which residues contaminated with selected substances should be treated as hazardous. National transports of radioactive waste can be subjected to special national regulations.