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Dose limits for occupational exposure to ionising radiation and genotoxic carcinogens: a German perspective

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This paper summarises the view of the German Commission on Radiological Protection (“Strahlenschutzkommission”, SSK) on the rationale behind the currently valid dose limits and dose constraints for workers recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP). The paper includes a discussion of the reasoning behind current dose limits followed by a discussion of the detriment used by ICRP as a measure for stochastic health effects. Studies on radiation-induced cancer are reviewed because this endpoint represents the most important contribution to detriment. Recent findings on radiation-induced circulatory disease that are currently not included in detriment calculation are also reviewed. It appeared that for detriment calculations the contribution of circulatory diseases plays only a secondary role, although the uncertainties involved in their risk estimates are considerable. These discussions are complemented by a review of the procedures currently in use in Germany, or in discussion elsewhere, to define limits for genotoxic carcinogens. To put these concepts in perspective, actual occupational radiation exposures are exemplified with data from Germany, for the year 2012, and regulations in Germany are compared to the recommendations issued by ICRP. Conclusions include, among others, considerations on radiation protection concepts currently in use and recommendations of the SSK on the limitation of annual effective dose and effective dose cumulated over a whole working life.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Figure adapted from SSK 2018. For details see text

Fig. 3


  1. 1.

    UNSCEAR uses the term “solid tumours”or (meanwhile predominantly) “solid cancers” instead of “malignant tumours”.

  2. 2.

    One röntgen in tissue corresponds roughly to a dose of 10 mGy or (for low-LET radiation) 10 mSv.

  3. 3.

    Because for genotoxic substances risk is defined as life-long probability of cancer incidence, the detriment-adjusted nominal risk given by ICRP for workers (i.e., 4.2% per Sv), which is dominated by cancer mortality (see lethality factor kT in Eq. 1), was multiplied roughly by a factor of 2, to estimate corresponding incidence risk at 400 mSv.


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We are grateful to Dr. Sabine Reinöhl-Kompa for assistance in preparing this paper and for valuable discussions.

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Rühm, W., Breckow, J., Dietze, G. et al. Dose limits for occupational exposure to ionising radiation and genotoxic carcinogens: a German perspective. Radiat Environ Biophys 59, 9–27 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00411-019-00817-x

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  • Dose limits
  • Ionising radiation
  • Radiation protection
  • Genotoxic carcinogens