We are unknowingly exposed to radiation over the course of our daily lives. In general, radiation includes natural radiation from all materials on Earth and artificial radiation that humans generate for a particular purpose. Generally, artificial radiation is regulated by the Nuclear Safety Act and regulations enacted under the guidelines of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) [1
]. Furthermore, natural radiation is widespread in our everyday lives and is typically present in our proximity, meaning people are excessively exposed to unnecessary radiation in their daily lives, which poses significant risks to their health.
The management and regulation of natural radiation can be considered meaningless, but much of the radiation the general public is exposed to is natural. Notable examples include household goods, such as the stone plates of some thermal beds, health bracelets or necklaces, wallpapers, pillows [2
], or long-term stays in subway stations with high radon concentrations. The Radiation Safety Law was thus enacted on 25 July 2011 to protect the people and environment from everyday radiation exposure [3
]. Nevertheless, safety management of natural radioactive materials and of everyday radiation exposure is insufficient. Accordingly, this led to studies such as that of Yoon [4
], who recognized the danger of harmful chemicals, including the radioactive material contained in everyday items, and highlighted the need for prevention.
However, there seems to be no significant change regarding the safety management of radiation emissions in everyday life. Originally, safety referred to a “comfortable state where humans are at ease with no anxiety over the possibility of bad results on their welfare without any intimidation of their existence” [5
]. However, since the Sewol Ferry disaster, South Korea has increased its awareness for safety, and in 2016, it proposed a pan-governmental life cycle safety education plan customized to all ages, which presents the education requirements necessary for personal safety. The proposal included a plan to promote life cycle safety education and seven major standards for school safety education, comprised of medium classifications and 56 minor classifications [6
]. Nevertheless, although safety-related risks have increased in everyday life along with the overall quality of life, a surge in safety insensitivity within society and the need for safety is relatively widespread [7
]. However, there is no information on radiation safety in everyday life for the above-mentioned safety education standard.
Meanwhile, to ensure the safety of the general public, 300 pictograms for public facilities such as toilets, restaurants, and subways have already been established and used as the industrial standard in Korea (KS). According to Huh [8
], a public information pictogram is defined as a “picture signal composed to deliver a message to public.” These pictograms are designated and used as international standards in many countries for providing guidance in public places or public facilities. However, pictograms should be interpreted without visual misunderstanding of their purpose to be able to provide warnings, guidance, and protection. They should also be independent of cultural norms and based on international standards. Accordingly, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has standardized the different pictograms, establishing ISO 7001 (public information symbols) for information pictograms in public facilities and ISO 7010 (standard for safety symbols) for safety information pictures.
Based on this, the Korea Standards Service Network proposed six categories of pictograms related to facilities and five categories related to safety (forced action, warning, prohibition, emergency or evacuation, and firefighting equipment). Pictograms are thus used as effective complementary and alternative communication methods not only for non-disabled people, but also for people with communication disabilities [9
]; they are, therefore, highly valuable. There are studies on safety-related pictograms being used as a communication method, including that of Caffaro and Cavallo [10
] in the field of agricultural machinery and those of Clayton and Perlotto [11
] and Jentsch [12
] in the field of aviation, but there is little research on radiation safety-related pictograms.
If the general public does not fully understand and recognize the meanings of pictograms related to safety, serious problems may sometimes arise, potentially posing risks to the health of the general public. This is especially true for warning pictograms concerning medical and natural radiation safety. At a time during which radiation safety is required in everyday life, the nature and use of radiation safety-related pictograms differ from those used for public facilities and events. Therefore, regulatory management is required, and more emphasis should be placed on accurate semantic transfer than on originality [13
It is important to investigate the level of awareness, how accurately the general public understands safety-related pictograms, and find solutions. In this study, we examine the awareness of six pictograms related to radiation safety from among the warning pictograms presented in ISO 7010, derive areas for improvement through statistical analysis, and propose the need for radiation safety education. To this end, we try to answer the following research questions: (1) What is the level of understanding and rate of correct answers for the six presented pictograms? (2) Are there statistically significant differences among genders and ages regarding the rate of correct answers? (3) Is there a statistically significant correlation between the scores, levels of understanding, and adequacy of the six presented pictograms. Lastly, (4) what is the statistical model that can predict the adequacy using the level of understanding? Finally, we present measures that can increase awareness for pictograms related to radiation safety.
Radiation has been present in nature and has coexisted with humanity long before humans started using it in a peaceful manner. In addition to being exposed to medical radiation during the course of treatment, individuals are also exposed to natural radiation from soil, air, food, and the cosmos in their daily lives. As such, radiation is one of the energy sources we always encounter in our living environment. Exposure to such radiation can have biological effects, such as changes, damage, and even harm, depending on the extent of the exposure. As a result, in Korea, the Nuclear Safety Law or Radiation Safety Control Law on everyday radiation have been enacted to help ensure our health and safety from radiation. As the general public is not familiar with radiation, warning signs and pictures have been developed and utilized to help ensure their safety. To find out how easily these pictograms are recognized by the general public, this study conducted an empirical analysis on the understanding level of pictograms related to everyday radiation safety, as established and used in Korean industry standards. The results were as follows.
First, 63.3% of the respondents responded negatively regarding their level of understanding of the six pictograms related to everyday radiation, and only 6.0% responded positively. Furthermore, in terms of pictogram adequacy, the negative responses (55.8%) were almost five times higher than the positive ones (11.6%). Regarding their knowledge related to radiation safety in everyday life, only 42.2% chose radon (Rn) as the answer. We therefore concluded that the level of knowledge regarding the risks of radon gas is low.
Second, only 42.2% of the respondents chose radon as the correct answer when inquired about their knowledge of radiation safety in their lives. As such, respondents’ knowledge about the risk of radon gas was thus deemed to be low.
Third, for the question of what the pictograms related to everyday radiation safety meant, the mean response score was relatively low at 2.79 (standard deviation of 1.447). Furthermore, the rate of correctly matching the pictograms with their descriptions was relatively high for the pictograms that were relatively easy to guess or were widely used. However, for the pictograms on laser beams, biological hazards, and non-ionizing radiation, the correct response rates were lower. These results were due to the lack of formal education (schooling) and guidance related to radiation safety. This is also demonstrated by the fact that the seven standards for safety education in South Korean schools, implemented in 2016, do not contain any information on radiation safety.
Fourth, for the mean comparisons among genders regarding the rate of correct answers, male respondents’ scores were statistically significantly higher than those of female respondents at a significance level of 5%. The correlation coefficient between the level of understanding and the adequacy of the presented pictogram was relatively high, being 0.577. The higher the level of understanding was, the higher the adequacy.
Based on the above results, awareness of the pictograms used for radiation safety in everyday life is not high. As such, we would like to suggest ways to improve this in the future.
First, education related to everyday radiation safety should be reinforced at the school level. To do so, safety training standards must include areas related to radiation safety. Second, the current warning pictograms enacted by ISO 7010 concerning the safety of daily radiation should be modified to deliver the message more clearly. Furthermore, in the case of South Korea, warnings are depicted only as pictograms. However, if these are presented along with text, the level of understanding could be further enhanced.
This study is significant in that it identified the actual conditions related to radiation safety in everyday life and used pictograms to improve radiation safety awareness.