The only ones of their kind

The only healthcare assistants in Denmark are at Danish Decommissioning, a unique role in a unique workplace.

The sun has slowly set over the characteristic silver poplars that shoot up several metres along the path leading down to Danish Decommissioning on the scenic Risø.

The setting sun in Roskilde Fjord means the end of the working day for most employees at Risø this February. But today the sunset means the opposite for Christian, who parks his car outside building 214, the Danish Decommissioning headquarters, in the last rays of the day.

Christian is a Health Assistant in Danish Decommissioning, a function that only exists there, and that must always be present in nuclear facilities in Denmark.

The health assistants of Danish Decommissioning are approved as Radiation Protection Coordinators by SIS, Radiation Protection in The Danish Health Authority.

Health assistant in DD
Christian puts on his 'uniform', which consists of a smock and safety shoes. The suit is fitted with both a so-called MGP - an electronic dosimeter and a TL (thermo-luminance) dosimeter, for recording and measuring external radiation. One pocket holds two watch phones and the breast pocket is filled with small round cotton-wool-like items used to take smear tests.

Christian has been a healthcare assistant at Danish Decommissioning for the past 3 years, and his path to this unique job led him first through the military and then an environmental engineering degree.

"I saw the job ad one day and thought it sounded exciting to be allowed to work on the Risø site, it has a bit of a mystery about it. At least it did for me. At the same time, my mother used to work there, so it couldn't be more mysterious, but I thought it sounded exciting."

One job interview later, Christian was ready to embark on a 6-month training course at Danish Decommissioning. Because regardless of their background, all Health Assistants at Danish Decommissioning have to undergo 6 months of training focusing on radiation protection before they can be put on 'duty'.

"At first I was a bit nervous about the prospect of the 6 months back at school, but once the teaching started and you could relate it to the reality out here, I really learned a lot from it."

Alone from the start
As fate would have it, when Christian finished his training as a healthcare assistant, the world looked somewhat different.
The Corona pandemic was in full swing, Danish Decommissioning had been repatriated like the rest of the government workplace, and that made for a somewhat odd start in a job that was already unique in many ways.

"It's no secret that working evenings/nights takes some getting used to, at first. Combined with Corona, it was of course quite special.
However, I'm also working during a time when there are others, so you have a relationship with your colleagues in the team, although for me, in my role, it's probably a bit different to most 8-16 positions."

In addition to her colleagues at Danish Decommissioning, the on-call health assistant also works with Risø's gatekeeper, who is also present on site at all times of the day, every day of the year.

Safety in routines
At its core, the role of the on-call healthcare assistant is about safety. Ensuring that someone is present at the site where Denmark's radioactive waste is stored, should an accident occur. And that radiation levels and radioactivity in and around the waste are constantly monitored so that a leak cannot occur without being detected.

In many ways, the role can be compared to that of a firefighter who, most of the time, hopefully won't be in action.

In addition to being able to act in an emergency situation, the more routine tasks take up a lot of a healthcare assistant's portfolio.

Every week, the same tests and samples must be taken and the same areas checked. Alarms and meters must be checked, and equipment must be refilled with fluids and maintained. For example, the health assistants carry out analyses at the Danish Decommissioning Isotope Laboratory.

"We have a sheet with tasks that we have to achieve during a shift, where you acknowledge and make sure it gets done. In addition, there are day-specific tasks that vary throughout the week. This ensures that we don't miss anything and that we are always sharp about getting the things done that need to be done in a shift." Christian explains.

In addition to the routine tests, the health assistant also contributes to a continuous surveillance of the area, and to help him, the health assistant on duty has his aforementioned devices, which are constantly around the area, also various computers and other alarm systems.

Always in the field
At Danish Decommissioning , as mentioned above, health assistants are always present on site, and several during normal working hours 8-16.

This is because the health assistants at Danish Decommissioning are tasked with monitoring and advising on radiation protection conditions when working in classified areas, as well as measuring both internal and external waste. So, in other words, they are a central part of the whole task of decommissioning the nuclear facilities, and receiving external radioactive waste.

Particularly in relation to the waste arising as a consequence of the decommissioning of the nuclear facilities at Risø, it is important that the health workers can categorise the waste and measure the levels of radioactivity the waste contains. However, even before a decommissioning task, the health care assistants are involved in measuring dose rates (external radiation) and contamination levels (contamination) of items or premises, thus contributing to how the specific task can be solved.

As well as measuring waste and areas, the health assistants also help to measure people leaving the special 'classified areas' to ensure that they do not bring unwanted contamination out of the area.

Therefore, in Christian's case, it is a question of being an 'on-call health assistant', a role that is different from the daytime role of a health assistant, but which basically has the same purpose, to contribute to the optimisation of radiation protection.

Free next morning
The next morning, Christian can hand over the two phones to the 'technical guard' and a healthcare assistant colleague respectively, and if all goes to plan, go home and take the day off.

Just until he has to go back in and, together with his other health assistant colleagues, make sure that there is always someone with the right knowledge and competence in the field at Danish Decommissioning.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Facts about the health assistant function

"The task of the health care assistant can be summarised as helping to ensure that personnel working with radioactive substances and ionising radiation do not receive higher doses than necessary, taking into account that all exposures should be as low as reasonably achievable." - Health Physics, Per Hedeman Jensen et al.

A health care assistant is a statutory function that must always be present at a nuclear facility, both in Denmark and internationally.

The role of the health assistant is to ensure and optimise radiation protection around the clock.

The health assistant has, as one of the only functions in Denmark, decision-making authority that takes priority over that of the fire brigade.

A health care assistant carries out continuous monitoring and measurements in and around a nuclear installation, in order to prevent possible incidents as soon as possible.

The paramedic is part of a larger emergency response team.