Ionizing Radiation


Ionizing radiation is addressed in specific OSHA standards for general industry, maritime, and construction. This section highlights OSHA standards and documents related to occupational exposures to ionizing radiation.

This section also provides an overview of the responsibilities of other federal agencies and states regarding occupational radiation protection. Briefly:

  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulates exposure to radioactive materials. This includes source material (uranium and thorium), special nuclear material (enriched uranium and plutonium), by-product material (e.g., material made radioactive in a reactor and residue from the millings of uranium and thorium), accelerator produced radioactive materials, and discrete sources of radium.1
  • OSHA requires employers to protect workers from exposure to ionizing radiation sources that are not regulated by the NRC or other federal agencies, such as X-ray equipment, some accelerators, incidental accelerator-produced radioactive materials, ion implanters, and some naturally-occurring radioactive material (NORM).
  • States also regulate occupational exposure to ionizing radiation. NRC Agreement States regulate occupational exposure to radioactive materials within their borders. These states may also regulate occupational exposure to radiation sources that NRC does not, including radiation-producing machines (e.g., X-ray machines, particle accelerators) and NORM. OSHA State Plans have OSHA-approved standards and enforcement programs that are at least as effective as federal OSHA's. The State Plans may have more stringent requirements for occupational exposures to ionizing radiation when compared to federal requirements.
OSHA Standards

OSHA's Ionizing Radiation standards protect workers in:

The construction standard for ionizing radiation (29 CFR 1926.53) incorporates by reference the provisions of the general industry standard (29 CFR 1910.1096), in addition to requiring a competent person to perform activities involving the use of radioactive materials or X-rays (see 29 CFR 1926.53(b)).

While some shipyard employment operations are covered by OSHA's Uses of Fissionable Material in Ship Repairing and Shipbuilding standard (29 CFR 1915.57), the general industry standard for ionizing radiation (29 CFR 1910.1096) also applies across the maritime sector to activities on vessels and on shore, including in shipyard employment, marine terminals (see 29 CFR 1917.1(a)(2)(vii)), and longshoring (see 29 CFR 1918.1(b)(5)).

The tables below outline OSHA's standards for ionizing radiation and related hazards.

OSHA standards cover all workers in the private sector, as well as civilian employees of most federal entities. State and local government employees are covered if they are in one of the 28 states and two territories that operate their own OSHA-approved state plans.

Most Common Citations, OSHA Ionizing Radiation Standard

  • Surveys of radiation levels 29 CFR 1910.1096(d)(1)
  • Personal monitoring 29 CFR 1910.1096(d)(2)
  • Posting of radiation areas 29 CFR 1910.1096(e)(2)
  • Instruction of personnel 29 CFR 1910.1096(i)(2)
  • Posting of operating procedures 29 CFR 1910.1096(i)(3)
  • No employer shall possess, use, or transfer sources of ionizing radiation in such a manner as to cause any individual in a restricted area to receive, in any period of one calendar quarter from sources in the employer's possession and control, a dose in excess of the following limits:
    • Whole body: head and trunk; active blood-forming organs; lens of eyes; or gonads: 1.25 rem per quarter
    • Hands and forearms; feet and ankles: 18.75 rem per quarter
    • Skin of whole body: 7.5 rem per quarter
  • An employer may permit an individual in a restricted area to receive doses to the whole body greater than those permitted above, so long as: during any calendar quarter, the dose to the whole body shall not exceed 3 rem; and the dose to the whole body, when added to the accumulated occupational dose to the whole body, shall not exceed 5(N-18) rem, where “N” equals the individual's age in years at the individual's last birthday; and the employer maintains adequate past and current exposure records which show that the addition of such a dose will not cause the individual to exceed the amount authorized in the standard.
  • No employer shall permit any employee under 18 years of age to receive in any period of one calendar quarter a dose in excess of 10 percent of the limits specified in the first bullet point above.
  • Every employer shall supply appropriate personal monitoring equipment, such as film badges, pocket chambers, pocket dosimeters, or film rings, and shall require the use of such equipment by each employee who enters a restricted area under such circumstances that he receives, or is likely to receive, a dose in any calendar quarter in excess of 25 percent of the applicable occupational limit.

Under OSHA's Ionizing Radiation standard (29 CFR 1910.1096), employers must:

  • Ensure that occupational dose limits are not exceeded (1910.1096(b) and (c)).
  • Survey radiation hazards in order to comply with the standard (1910.1096(d)(1)).
  • Supply appropriate personal monitoring (e.g., dosimeters) (1910.1096(d)(2)).
  • Post caution signs, labels, and signals (1910.1096(e)).
  • Provide instruction to personnel and post-operating procedures (1910.1096(i)).

See the full Ionizing Radiation Standard for all requirements.

Recordkeeping and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness (29 CFR 1904)
Recordkeeping and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness (29 CFR 1904)
Related Information


Related Information
General Industry (29 CFR 1910)
General Industry (29 CFR 1910)
Related Information

1910 Subpart I - Personal Protective Equipment

1910.132, General requirements.

Related Information

1910.134, Respiratory protection.

Related Information

1910 Subpart Z - Toxic and Hazardous Substances

1910.1020, Access to employee exposure and medical records.

Related Information

1910.1096, Ionizing radiation.

Related Information
Maritime (29 CFR 1915, 1917, 1918)
Maritime (29 CFR 1915, 1917, 1918)
Related Information

1915 Subpart D

1915.57, Uses of fissionable material in ship repairing and shipbuilding. To the extent it applies, shipyard employers must also comply with OSHA's Ionizing Radiation standard for general industry (29 CFR 1910.1096)

Related Information

1915 Subpart I - Personal Protective Equipment

1915.152, General requirements.

Related Information

1915.154, Respiratory protection.

Related Information

1917 Subpart A - Scope and Definitions

1917.1, Scope and applicability. Applies OSHA's Ionizing Radiation standard (29 CFR 1910.1096) to workers handling marine cargo at terminals, including use of shore-based material handling devices

Related Information

1917 Subpart E

1917.92, Respiratory protection.

Related Information

1918 Subpart A

1918.1, Scope and application. Applies OSHA's Ionizing Radiation standard (29 CFR 1910.1096) to longshoring workers and related workers aboard vessels

Related Information

1918 Subpart J - Personal Protective Equipment

1918.102, Respiratory protection.

Related Information
Construction (29 CFR 1926)
Construction (29 CFR 1926)
Related Information

1926 Subpart C - General Safety and Health Provisions

1926.33, Access to employee exposure and medical records. Incorporates, by reference, provisions identical to paragraphs (a) through (p) of OSHA's Ionizing Radiation standard (29 CFR 1910.1096)

Related Information

1926 Subpart D - Occupational Health and Environmental Controls

1926.53, Ionizing radiation. Incorporates, by reference, provisions identical to paragraphs (a) through (p) of OSHA's Ionizing Radiation standard (29 CFR 1910.1096)

Related Information

1926 Subpart E - Personal Protective and Life Saving Equipment

1926.95, Criteria for personal protective equipment.

Related Information

1926.103, Respiratory protection.

Related Information
Federal Agencies (29 CFR 1960)
Federal Agencies (29 CFR 1960)
Related Information


Related Information
State Plan Standards

There are 29 OSHA-approved State Plans operating state-wide occupational safety and health programs. State Plans are required to have standards and enforcement programs that are at least as effective as OSHA's and may have different or more stringent requirements.

Most OSHA State Plan states have chosen not to extend their coverage to maritime employment, and those State Plans cover only state and local government maritime workers. Federal OSHA retains responsibility for all other maritime coverage. A few State Plans include some coverage for private sector, onshore maritime workers.

State Radiation Control Agencies

Most states have a radiation control agency responsible for regulating radiation-producing machines and, if also an NRC Agreement State, radioactive materials. Some states regulate occupational exposure to ionizing radiation in part through licensing and certification of medical imaging and radiation therapy professionals.

Some states may also limit worker exposure to radiation differently than OSHA. For example, many states, DOE, and NRC have cumulative annual dose limits. State Plans are required to have standards that are at least as effective as those of federal OSHA.

Additional Information

Several of OSHA's Ionizing Radiation standards (for general industry and, to the extent it applies, shipyard employment, marine terminals, and longshoring, 29 CFR 1910.1096; for construction, 29 CFR 1926.53; and for certain shipyard operations, 29 CFR 1915.57) reference the NRC regulations and their appendices (10 CFR 20, Appendices B-C, 1971 version). The 1971 versions are enforceable by OSHA; not the most current version.

OSHA's Ionizing Radiation standard for general industry (29 CFR 1910.1096) has not been substantially revised from its original 1971 version. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the NRC both have updated standards based on more recent radiation protection guidance, such as that of the International Commission on Radiological Protection. Employers may follow the updated dose limits in the NRC regulations at 10 CFR Part 20 when they are more protective than the older limits in the OSHA standards.

Other Related Documents

Workers' Rights and Employers' Responsibilities

Section 11(c) of the OSH Act, 29 USC 660(c), prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for raising concerns about safety and health conditions. Additionally, OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program enforces the provisions of more than 20 industry specific federal laws protecting employees from retaliation for raising or reporting concerns about hazards or violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health insurance reform, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, and securities laws. OSHA encourages workers who suffer such retaliation to submit a complaint to OSHA and should contact OSHA as soon as possible in order to file their complaint within the legal time limits, some of which may be as short as 30 days from the date they learned of or experienced retaliation. An employee can file a complaint with OSHA by visiting or calling his or her local OSHA office; sending a written complaint via fax, mail, or email to the closest OSHA office; or filing a complaint online. No particular form is required and complaints may be submitted in any language.

OSHA has developed a set of recommendations intended to assist employers in creating workplaces that are free of retaliation and provide guidance to employers on how to properly respond to workers who may complain about workplace hazards or potential violations of federal laws. OSHA urges employers to review its publication: Recommended Practices for Anti-Retaliation Programs (OSHA 3905 - 2017).

Other Federal Agencies

As mentioned above, other federal agencies, such as the NRC and DOE, have regulations to protect the public and workers from occupational exposure to ionizing radiation. Table 5 provides an overview of other federal agencies with regulations for occupational radiation protection.

OSHA is precluded, under Section 4(b)(1) of the OSH Act, from enforcing requirements pertaining to working conditions regulated by another federal agency. OSHA collaboration with NRC and DOE is outlined in Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) summarized in the table below.

Other Federal Agencies with Regulations for Occupational Radiation Protection

Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
NRC Regulations MOU between OSHA and NRC

The NRC regulates worker exposure to ionizing radiation for specific radioactive materials for which NRC issues licenses (Standards for Protection Against Radiation, 10 CFR 20).

The NRC issues licenses and regulates civilian uses of these categories of radioactive materials:

See the NRC Standards for Protection Against Radiation (10 CFR 20).

In 2013, OSHA and the NRC entered into a revised MOU that generally identifies four kinds of hazards associated with NRC-licensed facilities and designates which agency will be responsible for each kind of hazard.

At NRC-licensed facilities, the NRC is generally responsible for the following hazards:

  • Radiation hazards produced by radioactive materials.
  • Chemical hazards produced by radioactive materials.
  • Facility conditions that affect the safety of radioactive materials, such as fire and explosion hazards.

At these facilities, OSHA has authority over facility conditions that do not involve the use of radioactive materials, such as toxic nonradioactive material, electrical, fall, confined space, and equipment energization hazards. OSHA also has authority to regulate employee exposures from radiation sources not regulated by the NRC. Examples are provided in the revised MOU.

Under the NRC regulations, some of the regulatory requirements are the responsibility of states with plans approved by the NRC, known as NRC Agreement States.

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)
DOE Regulations DOE Regulations MOUs between DOL/OSHA and DOE

The Atomic Energy Act (AEA) of 1954, as amended, authorizes DOE to regulate the occupational safety and health of private sector employees at facilities subject to the Act.

DOE rules (10 CFR 835 Occupational Radiation Protection) establish radiation protection standards, limits, and program requirements for protecting individuals from ionizing radiation resulting from the conduct of DOE activities.

OSHA has two MOUs with DOE outlining occupational safety and health regulatory responsibilities at different types of DOE facilities and operations.

DOE owns and operates numerous nuclear facilities across the country, including research laboratories, reactors, accelerators, production facilities for nuclear materials and weapons, and storage facilities for nuclear materials and radioactive wastes. DOE is also engaged in environmental cleanup operations at some of these sites.

Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)
MSHA regulates miners’ exposure to ionizing radiation from short-lived decay products of radon and gamma radiation from radioactive ores in underground metal and nonmetal mines (30 CFR 57.5037-57.5047).

1 U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Regulation of Radioactive Materials.