This is Part 2 of our RSO Series. Part 1 covered Radiation Safety Officer 101.
HABIT 1: Develop a Team Approach to Radiation Safety
To use a sports analogy, the RSO is the quarterback of a radiation safety team. But just like a quarterback, they need teammates to execute the plays, or in the case of an RSO, the radiation protection program. Senior management, administrators, physicians, nurses, technologists and other support personnel are all involved in maintaining a high quality radiation protection program.
In many cases, the RSO has another full-time job (physician, physicist, nuclear medicine technologist), so they require the help of other team members to keep the program in compliance, and keep patients and staff safe. Highly effective RSOs that regularly engage team members and hold them accountable for their roles in the radiation protection program will have better results and fewer incidents.
HABIT 2: Focus on Physical Presence
The NRC regulations governing RSOs do not specify a minimum time requirement to fulfill the role, but the NUREG 1556 guidance documents do state that the RSO “be on site periodically to conduct meaningful, person-to-person interactions” with medical facility personnel.
In short, the more visible and widely known the RSO is as the expert on radiation safety in a medical facility, the more the RSO will see, hear and be asked about radiation safety. Whether it is how dosimetry badges are being worn, how radioactive materials are being stored or how procedures are being followed are best tested by active presence on site. Given the part-time nature of many RSO positions, this habit has arguably the biggest bang for the time investment. You must have a regular presence on site, which can vary based on the medical facility’s complexity, to ultimately be a highly effective RSO.
HABIT 3: Invest in Radiation Safety Expertise
Radiation safety is a complex field with ever-changing regulations and new procedures being developed constantly. As mentioned in Part 1, the competency required to be the RSO for a small physician group is very different from the competency required for a large, research hospital.
Even within a medical facility, an RSO may not have the requisite expertise for all ionizing radiation uses under the license. In the end, a highly effective RSO knows what they don’t know and will invest in engaging relevant experts to supplement their knowledge and maintain high standards in their radiation protection program.
HABIT 4: Foster Senior Management Buy-In
While the RSO has the authority and responsibility for the day-to-day management of the radiation protection program, senior management retains the ultimate responsibility. More importantly, their engagement and support of the RSO and the radiation protection program can help bolster participation and compliance with various policies and procedures. Where trouble can arise is when senior management completely abdicates responsibility for radiation safety and an event occurs.
Highly effective RSOs seek appropriate and ongoing engagement with senior management on policies, procedures and initiatives designed to increase safety and compliance in the radiation protection program. They are able to show how fewer issues in the radiation protection program contribute to higher overall quality and lower numbers of incidents.
HABIT 5: Commit to Ongoing Training
Aside from physical presence, training is the most important tool that RSOs can employ to ensure the quality and compliance of their radiation protection programs. Given constant changes in regulations and procedures, medical facility personnel cannot always be trusted to remember all of the various policies and procedures related to radiation safety. They may forget what to do or who to notify in case of a spill or misadministration of ionizing radiation.
Regular and continuous training, in various formats, combats these lapses and reinforces a culture of compliance within a medical facility. Highly effective RSOs train, train and then train some more! They find training opportunities at all times and their programs benefit from that commitment to training.
HABIT 6: Establish a Succession Plan for RSO
Highly effective RSOs begin with the end in mind. Recognizing the significant educational and competency requirements, including a preceptor RSO (i.e. co-signer) for a new RSOs’ competency and training, highly effective RSOs work with their senior management to identify future staff members, or third party consultants, who can serve as RSO in case of a job transition, incapacity or other extenuating circumstances.
The panic that we have witnessed firsthand when an RSO is suddenly unable to serve is palpable and is completely unavoidable. Radiation protection programs suffer when the entire program is dependent only on the RSO and has no plans for succession.
In closing, the RSO role is a vital role in our medical facilities today and needs to be understood by those working closely with them. By understanding the RSO 101 basics and using the Six Habits, your facility can be well on its way to radiation safety success!