Radiation protection practitioners give advice and guidance about the possible hazards of ionising radiation, such as x-rays, as well as radioactive materials and waste. Some practitioners also advise on non-ionising radiation, e.g. radar, mobile phone masts, lasers and ultraviolet light.

Practitioners use scientific techniques and equipment to measure and monitor radiation, assess risks and ensure the safety of the workplace, the general public and the environment.

Radiation protection covers both the nuclear and non-nuclear industries. Non-nuclear industries include areas such as:

  • industry (radiography);
  • medicine (diagnosis and treatment);
  • research;
  • and teaching.

Practitioners may advise employers on any legal requirements and regulations relating to radiation protection, as well as making recommendations on the design of facilities and projects and safety training.

Job titles can vary depending on the industry and nature of the role. Look out for alternatives such as health physicist. Many practitioners work towards becoming radiation protection advisers (RPAs) or radioactive waste advisers (RWAs) or both.

Responsibilities

The tasks carried out differ depending on the employer, the actual role held and the industry. In general though, they may include:

  • ensuring that radiation safety regulations are observed;
  • visiting companies to provide radiation protection consultancy and writing reports based on these visits;
  • drawing up and implementing radiation protection policies and procedures;
  • monitoring and maintaining records of radiological and environmental conditions;
  • developing and reviewing radiation protection systems and inspecting their operation;
  • applying basic principles of health and safety to comply with relevant regulations;
  • liaising with management and the workforce (including plant managers, designers, engineers, laboratory staff, academics, accountants and other health and safety professionals) on matters of radiation safety and legislation;
  • providing a dosimetry service and measuring radiation, using both basic and complex scientific equipment;
  • assessing radiation risks in the workplace and advising on the design of plant, equipment and waste disposal to ensure safety;
  • assessing the impact of releasing radioactive material on the environment;
  • advising on the safe transport of radioactive materials;
  • preparing emergency plans for responding to radiation incidents;
  • leading and coordinating enquiries into accidents or incidents;
  • liaising with inspectorate and other bodies;
  • identifying training needs and lecturing and/or training other staff.

Salary

  • Salaries for radiation protection practitioners range from £24,000 to £50,000 depending on qualifications and experience.
  • Radiation protection advisers (RPAs) can expect to earn between £35,000 and £65,000.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Office hours of 9am to 5pm are common but extra hours, including weekends or shifts, may be required for many posts. There may be some on-call work to provide cover for emergency arrangements and to attend in the event of an incident.

Part-time work and career breaks may be available.

What to expect

  • Self-employment or freelance work is often possible after significant experience and qualification as an RPA.
  • Jobs are quite widely available. Opportunities exist in most large towns and cities, at hospitals and universities, and in rural areas where major sites in the nuclear industry are located.
  • Ionising protection regulations may require you to undergo personal monitoring of exposure to radiation and medical surveillance.
  • Having to travel locally is unlikely if you work in the nuclear industry or hospital trusts, but may be common if you are working as a contractor or inspector.
  • Some posts, for example with research organisations or national advisory bodies, may require you to travel abroad. You may also need to meet and advise overseas customers.

Qualifications

You will usually require a degree to become a radiation protection practitioner. Relevant subjects include physical/mathematical/applied science, life and medical science, and engineering.

In particular the following are useful:

  • biology/biomedical science/biochemistry;
  • chemistry;
  • environmental health;
  • environmental science (biological);
  • medical laboratory science;
  • nuclear engineering;
  • physics/applied physics;
  • physiology;
  • radiography.

Direct entry without a degree or with an HND only is unlikely, although entry into a technician-level position is possible. You would then need to complete further study and gain experience to progress to the practitioner role.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification in a related area may improve your prospects. Masters in radiation protection are available.

To enter into radiation safety physics in the NHS you will need to follow the healthcare scientist/clinical scientist route. After completing a relevant degree, you can apply for the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP), which will provide a fixed-term, salaried training post. You will also study towards a Masters in the specialist area of radiation safety within medical physics.

Skills

You will need:

  • the ability to apply scientific theory to day-to-day problem solving;
  • good numeracy skills;
  • excellent communication skills, with the ability to communicate complex innovation to a range of stakeholders;
  • the capacity to think clearly in an emergency;
  • good teamworking skills;
  • a practical and innovative approach to work;
  • good attention to detail;
  • the ability to negotiate with tact and diplomacy;
  • management skills, as you rise to more senior positions, particularly in industry.

Work experience

Although not essential, part-time or vacation work in a related field can help with contacts and may improve your chances.

It is useful to gain student membership of a relevant professional body to help you keep up to date with news and developments. For example, you can get access to publications, conferences, career development advice, bursaries and networking opportunities with the Society for Radiological Protection (SRP).

Employers

Radiation protection practitioners are employed in both the nuclear and non-nuclear sectors. Typical employers include:

  • nuclear and electricity generating industries;
  • general industry, including radiography, source manufacture, transport and instrumentation (e.g. those manufacturing radioisotopes for industry, hospitals and research establishments);
  • NHS, which employs radiation protection practitioners to ensure the safe and effective use of radiation in the diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of patients in hospitals;
  • veterinary practices;
  • the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and its contractors, who operate nuclear dockyards and nuclear weapons establishments;
  • private sector radiation protection consultancies;
  • research establishments run by the science research councils (for a list see Research Councils UK), and those run by charities such as Cancer Research UK;
  • universities and colleges where the role may be combined with other responsibilities;
  • government regulators such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Environment Agency (EA), and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

Look for job vacancies at:

Recruitment agencies rarely handle vacancies.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Structured-training programmes exist for graduate trainees in the medical and nuclear fields.

Most employers provide extensive on-the-job training to supplement formal education/qualifications and may also send staff on external short courses on specific aspects of radiation protection.

For example, Public Health England (PHE) provides a range of suitable courses with modules covering:

  • UK legislation and international recommendations;
  • principles of protection against external and internal radiation;
  • selection, use and testing of radiological protection instrumentation;
  • management of radioactive waste.

Find out more at PHE: Training for Radiological Protection Professionals.

It is essential to keep up to date with professional developments and update your expertise by attending training courses and taking appropriate qualifications. A continuing professional development (CPD) scheme is operated by the Society for Radiological Protection (SRP).

Postgraduate courses including Masters and diplomas in radiation protection or related subjects are available at a number of universities. Some employers may provide support for obtaining these qualifications.

If you wish to progress to the role of a radiation protection adviser (RPA) or radioactive waste adviser (RWA) you may consider taking the Certificate in Radiation Protection offered jointly by the University of Strathclyde and Association of University Radiation Protection Officers (AURPO).

This assesses and demonstrates core competencies that will assist with accreditation as an RPA or RWA. Find out more at AURPO: Certificate in Radiation Protection.

Career prospects

Most major employers have a good career structure and there are opportunities, particularly on the operational side, for early responsibility and promotion.

If you are working in operational radiation protection, it is likely that you will want to gain a position as a radiation protection adviser (RPA). To receive RPA accreditation, you will need to gain a Certificate of Core Competence from an assessing body recognised by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), for example RPA 2000. The Certificate is valid for five years and must then be renewed.

Career development will usually come in the form of either technical or managerial progression. You may choose to specialise in a particular area, for example non-ionising radiation or medical X-ray equipment. Promotion to a management position or to take on some general management responsibilities is more common in an industrial setting.

To advance your career it may be necessary to move from one employer to another. Many radiation protection practitioners start their career in one sector, for example the nuclear industry, and then move to another sector.

There are a number of professional bodies offering membership to radiation protection practitioners, including:

Chartered membership of the SRP is possible for those with the required knowledge and experience as a radiation protection professional.