What is radiation?

Radiation is energy that travels through space in the form of waves or particles. There are 2 types of radiation: ionizing and non-ionizing.
Ionizing radiation

Ionizing radiation is strong enough to damage cells in our bodies and increase the chance of developing cancer.

Sources of ionizing radiation include:

  • natural background radiation (includes cosmic rays from the solar system and radioactive materials in the soil and rocks)
  • background radiation from human activities (includes testing and using nuclear weapons as well as generating nuclear power)
  • radon
  • medical radiation
Non-ionizing radiation

Non-ionizing radiation isn’t as strong as ionizing radiation. But being exposed to some types of non-ionizing radiation can still harm you.

Sources of non-ionizing radiation include:

A dosimeter measuring radiation exposure

On the job: how to reduce your exposure to medical radiation

Some imaging tests and some types of cancer treatment use ionizing radiation. If you work with medical radiation as part of your job, follow your employer’s health and safety instructions. This should include wearing a dosimeter, which measures the amount of radiation you are exposed to over time. These measurements are analyzed regularly by the National Dose Registry. The amount of acceptable radiation in the workplace is strictly regulated.
A dosimeter measuring radiation exposure

Radon in the workplace

Radon is a radioactive gas found naturally in the environment. It has no colour, no odour and no taste. It is released into the air during the natural breakdown of uranium in rocks and soil. Once released, radon breaks down into radioactive elements that can attach to dust and other substances in the air.

Breathing air that is contaminated with radon increases your risk of lung cancer.

Workers drilling in a mine

Indoor air can have high levels of radon when radon from the soil and rocks around any building seeps in and builds up in enclosed spaces that are poorly ventilated.

If you work underground, such as in a subway or tunnel, you may be at high risk of radon exposure.

If you work in a mine (uranium or any other type that is underground), you may breathe in high levels of radon if there is not proper ventilation.

Workers drilling in a mine

Canadian regulations exist that protect workers who work in mines and other underground industries. Uranium miners are protected by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. And mining and other underground industries are covered by the Canadian Guidelines for the Management of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials.

Some provinces also have programs to test for radon in schools.

Learn more about radon, how you might be exposed to it and how you can reduce your exposure.