Apart from the amount of radiation a worker may receive while performing work, they will also be exposed to radiation because of the very nature of our environment. All individuals are subject to some natural irradiation even though they may not work with radioactive substances. This natural source of exposure is often referred to as background radiation.
Studies of the nature and origin of this source of exposure to humans have revealed three main components: terrestrial radiation (which includes the radioactivities of the earth's surface, air and water), cosmic radiation, and the naturally occurring radionuclides deposited in the human body. One might add that man-made sources influence the contribution from some of these sources. The amount that each of these factors contributes varies with the locale.
The study of these factors throughout the world is of value for a number of reasons. Foremost among these is that the use of such data provides a basis or standard from which allowable exposure limits for radiation workers may be developed. In areas where the levels are much higher because of larger concentrations of natural radioactive materials, knowledge may be gained about human hereditary effects at these increased levels. Such data are also needed in assessing the impact on, or contribution of a nuclear facility to the existing concentrations in a given area. In the design of buildings and shielding for low-level work, it is of value to know the radioactive contents of the substances used. Often the levels inside a building are higher than those outside of the building because this factor has been neglected.