Epidemiologists have been studying the effects of low doses of radiation on exposed workers for decades.
For many years scientists studying the health effects of radiation used epidemiological data gathered from survivors of the atomic bomb attacks on Japan. But in the mid 1970s the National Radiological Protection Board began a project to monitor the effect of ionising radiation on the health of workers occupationally exposed to low doses.
There have been three separate analyses of the data, with the most recent analysis report being published in 2009.
Important findings from the analyses to date are both the 'Healthy Worker Effect' and also that cancer risk estimates used by national and international bodies in the setting of radiation protection standards do seem to be consistent with those obtained from a population of UK employed radiation workers. This indicates that the measures currently in place in the UK workplace should provide adequate protection for the health of workers.
The most recent report of the NRRW concluded that the analysis had provided the most precise estimates to date of the patterns of mortality and cancer incidence following occupational radiation exposure and that it strengthened the evidence for raised risks due to these exposures. They also noted that the cancer risk estimates obtained were consistent with values used by national and international bodies in setting radiation protection standards.
The authors also recommended the continued follow-up of the workers to see whether radiation-associated risks vary over time or by age, and also proposed the study of specific cancers and causes of death in more detail. The HPA will continue to develop this research.