According to IAEA representative Carolyn MacKenzie, “Too many people get injured each year when they find a large source of radiation, don't understand the symbol and take off the lead shielding.”
Ionizing radiation can be very helpful to people around the world, but it can also be very dangerous to human heath.
Ionizing radiation comes in two forms: either particle radiation (radiation of energy often emitted by radioactive decay of chemical elements like uranium) or electromagnetic radiation (waves with electric and magnetic properties such as radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, visible light, ultraviolet radiation, x-rays, and gamma rays).
Ionization occurs when one particle has enough energy to remove (ionize) an electron from its orbit within an atom or molecule. When radiation is ionized it can cause such problems as destruction to human tissues, genetic damage to DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), and mutations.
The original IAEA symbol that appeared on the three-cornered warning signs was the radiating “trefoil” symbol. When school children were recently shown the symbol, many thought it looked like a propeller from a boat or airplane. See picture of the original trefoil shape.
Because of this mixed message, the IAEA decided to redesign their warning sign to make it more obvious that dangerous material was near. Experts in graphic design, human factors, and radiation protection were invited to help design the new message. The newly designed sign was tested in eleven countries (the United States, Brazil, China, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, India, Thailand, Poland, and the Ukraine) over a five-year span of time. Various groups are tested—such as those with different ages, educational backgrounds, and genders.
The new sign, which was officially unveiled on February 15, 2007, appears at the IAEA Web site entitled “New Symbol Launched to Warn Public About Radiation Dangers” Besides the IAEA, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is also helping to introduce the new sign.
The upper portion of the triangular-shaped sign shows the original radiating trefoil. The bottom portion of the sign displays the skull and crossbones on the left and the figure of a person running away on the right.
The improvement to the sign, which is hoped to better warn people of nearby radiation danger, is intended to reduce pointless deaths and serious injuries from accidental contact with radioactive sources.