Radiation safety officers: A rare tribe of monitors
A prominent reason why a machine with radioactive isotopes remained in DU as junk was the absence of a certified Radiation Safety Officer or RSO.
RSOs are people trained in the calibration and maintenance of the machines, the safety of the users, and the formalities involved in disposal.
But RSOs are a rare tribe.
The number of radiology facilities cropping up at medical and other research fields outnumber that of new RSOs emerging every year.
“No one is monitoring this demand and supply mismatch. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board has a diploma course for high-level RSOs but that has very few seats,” said sources.
They are so hard to find that several government hospitals, like Lok Nayak, have been without a functional radiology department for years now.
There are three levels of RSOs—Level 1, 2 and 3. The first two levels require either a doctor in nuclear medicine or someone trained and with the practical experience to deal with small-time radiation exercises.
But applications involving Cobalt-60 radioisotopes, like radiology machines dealing in gamma ray etc, require highly-trained Level-3 officers, who are hard to find.
While private corporate-run hospitals offering fat salaries lure RSOs away from government setups, vacancies in developed countries take the rest out of India.
Now, DU has decided to appoint an RSO for the chemistry and physics departments.
DU’s department of Physics and Astrophysics, which, perhaps, is the maximum user of radioactive sources, doesn’t have even one RSO.
“It turns out that a lot of people in Chemistry and Physics are conducting research using radioactive material which is of much stronger intensity than we had presumed. And now we’ve learnt that the AERB requires us to have an RSO,” said Vice-Chancellor Deepak Pental.
“We will appoint an RSO in each department.”
DU, however, doesn’t want its faculty members trained as RSOs.
It will advertise the two posts and appoint “independent officials” who will “dedicatedly look into the safe handling of radioactive material."
DU announces compensation
Delhi University has announced a compensation of Rs 8 lakh for Rajender, who died of multiple organ failure due to exposure to radiation, and a job for his wife.
“DU accepts moral responsibility for the tragic occurrence,” DU Registrar A K Sinha said in a release.
A sum of Rs 2 lakh will be given to the families of the five sill undergoing treatment.
Meanwhile, an AERB officer visited DU’s department of Physics and Astrophysics on Friday and checked the department’s laboratory and inventory to ensure that safety norms were being followed.
“Radiation levels here are within permissible limit. The material used here is weak and students are not at risk. We will submit our feedback in the next few days,” he said.