The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) uses X-ray technology on people and baggage daily in an effort to find items that could cause catastrophic damage to an aircraft. Some are asking how safe this technology is how and how we maintain it to ensure there is no excessive radiation exposure for workers or the traveling public. So, I’d like to use this post to address those questions with facts provided by TSA’s director of occupational safety, health and environment, Jill Segraves.
- Before TSA decides to use a new technology, procurement specifications are developed that include requirements to meet the national radiation safety standard. The requirements are validated by manufacturers through third party testing or through testing arranged by TSA, to ensure it meets national safety standards.
- After deciding to use new technology that has proven to be safe and meets applicable standards, the manufacturer then will conduct validation tests on each individual unit in the factory during their quality assurance process before the unit is shipped to TSA.
- For the carry-on and checked baggage x-ray systems and the general-use backscatter advanced imaging technology equipment, the factory tests, post-installation tests and regular preventive maintenance mentioned above all include radiation safety surveys. These surveys verify that each unit operates within specifications, is installed correctly and continues operating according to specifications for the life of the unit. When the technology operates as designed, the dose to any member of the general public, system operators, or other employees falls well below the national standard for safety.
- The regular preventive maintenance checks, including radiation safety surveys, are performed at least once every 12 months; after any maintenance that affects the radiation shielding, shutter mechanism, or x-ray production components; after any incident that may have damaged the system; after a system is moved or at the request of any employee.
- In addition, TSA partnered with the U.S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional) to conduct independent radiation surveys and inspections to confirm the regular testing performed by TSA. Health Physicists from the the U.S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional) perform the surveys and inspections.
- The Public Health Command’s Health Physicists also check the indicators, controls, labeling, and observe system operators to ensure proper operating procedures are followed. The Health Physicists are also gathering area radiation dose data by mounting dosimeters within the inspection zone (that area only occupied by the individual undergoing the screening and delineated by the yellow bordered floor mat) on certain equipment.
- Over the past two years, Health Physicists performed radiation surveys and inspections of 437 carry-on luggage and checked baggage systems at 34 airports during screening operations, and observed system operation and work practices. The Health Physicists work has thus far confirmed TSA testing that shows all of these systems operating well within safety standards.
- On top of all these steps, more than 1,100 TSOs at six airports have participated in a mandatory personal radiation dosimetry study over the past year. The results of both the dosimetry study and other surveys to date reveal that TSA systems are in compliance with safety standards.
On a related note, a study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) at the Centers for Disease Control just a year after TSA was stood up in the aftermath of 9/11 (between August 2003 and August 2004) has been getting some attention recently. The study came about after TSA requested it when management and other employees expressed concerns about their safety on the job. NIOSH looked at the levels of radiation emissions from Explosives Detection Systems (EDS) and evaluated employee exposure to radiation at airports during baggage screening.
Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) from 12 airports were highly engaged in this study. They chose the airports to include in the study, provided valuable input, and assisted the NIOSH researchers during the on-site surveys. The report was released on October 1, 2008.You can read the report here. NIOSH made several recommendations that TSA has since implemented.
Some of the information below duplicates some of the information I mentioned previously but I am including it here to show steps taken since the completion of the study in 2004:
- TSA has implemented key recommendations from NIOSH, including formalizing a comprehensive radiation safety program to meet OSHA and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requirements and evaluating TSO radiation exposure levels at selected airports through an additional year-long dosimetry study that commenced in April 2009.
- TSA took additional steps to ensure safe working conditions for our workforce, including:
- Adding EDS safety training to baggage screening courses;
- Increasing the number of service technicians equipped with radiation survey meters;
- Improving maintenance through more stringent maintenance contracts;
- Working with EDS manufacturers to improve machine design;
- Providing annual radiation safety awareness training for all TSOs; and
- Using Safety Action Teams, Collateral Duty Safety Officers (CDSOs), and Employee Councils to improve health and safety communications between employees and management.
- Consistent with the recommendations of NIOSH, each piece of TSA equipment that uses ionizing radiation undergoes an initial radiation survey upon installation and an annual radiation survey to ensure it stays in top working condition. In addition, radiation surveys are performed after maintenance on components that affect radiation safety and at the request of employees. This provides a continuous level of safety.
- Over the past two years, Health Physicists from the U.S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional) performed radiation surveys and inspections of 437 (carry-on luggage and checked baggage systems) at 34 airports during screening operations while items were entering and exiting systems with the leaded curtains constantly in motion. The Health Physicists also observed system operation and safe work practices. Over the past year, more than 1,100 TSOs at six airports have participated in a mandatory personal radiation dosimetry study. The results of both the dosimetry study and surveys to date reveal that TSA systems are in compliance with the Food and Drug Administration’s standard for cabinet x-ray systems emission limits.
This is a lot of information to read through, but after reading, I’m sure you’ll find that TSA is doing its part to ensure the safety of its employees and the traveling public.
TSA Blog Team