Skip main navigation

Key radiation health hazards

This article explores the key radiation health hazards that can arise from Radon and the effects of an electric shock.

Radon symbol Sign for radon. © Colourbox


Radon is a colourless gas. It is considered a health hazard due to its radioactivity. Radon is formed as one intermediate step in the normal radioactive decay chains through thorium and uranium. Thorium and uranium are the two most common radioactive elements on earth.

Their naturally occurring isotopes have very long half-lives. The decay product of thorium and uranium is radium. The decay product of radium is radon. When radon decays, it produces new radioactive elements called radon daughters or decay products (also called progeny). Unlike the gaseous radon itself, radon progeny are solids and stick to surfaces, such as dust particles in the air.

If such contaminated dust is inhaled, these particles can stick to the airways of the lung and increase the risk of developing lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer due to radon is seen among miners as well as persons living or working in houses with radon exposure.

However, adverse effects from radon in houses can be prevented by correct building techniques and ventilation.

Electric injuries

A worker working close to high-current lines being exposed to several risk A worker working close to high-current lines is exposed to several risks, including non-ionizing radiation, falling down and receiving an electric shock. © G. Tjalvin

One of the main risks when working with electricity is electric injury. There is a risk of working with live electricity when electrical wires are connected to the power grid or a battery. Workers may experience this risk for instance during work on electric power lines outdoors, during mechanical work with engines and during installation or repair of electrical installations indoors.

What is an electric shock?

An electric shock is a physiological reaction or injury caused by electric current passing through the human body. This may happen after direct contact between a body part and a source of electricity. The expression “electric shock” is used to describe an injurious exposure to electricity.

Very small currents can be noticed, but do not make any harm. Larger currents passing through the body can cause serious injuries. Large currents can cause fibrillation of the heart and even death.

Electrical shocks can cause
  • Burns
  • Effects on the nerves
  • Respiratory problems
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Death

Electrical shocks may also lead to long-term effects among some persons surviving exposure to large currents. Emotional and neurological disturbances are not uncommon following electric injuries, and also the cardiovascular system might be influenced.

What happens if someone gets an electric shock?

If an accident happens and a person gets an electric shock, it is important to turn off the source of electricity if the person is still exposed. The power switch must be turned off if this is the situation. The person must be freed from the electricity.

The helper must be careful and use rubber gloves or other isolated material in the process of removing the person from the electricity. If the injured person is unconscious, lifesaving cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) should be given. If there are burns it is important to cool these down with cold water.

It is recommended to admit persons who have experienced an electric injury to a hospital if there has been high voltage involved, unconsciousness and severe burns.

© University of Bergen/Authors: O.J. Møllerløkken, B.E. Moen
This article is from the free online

Occupational Health in Developing Countries

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now