Radon in the workplace – Are your employees at risk?

radon,

Radon in the workplace, such as basements, mines and utility industry service ducts, can have significant levels of radon.

However, all workplaces such as schools, offices and care homes can be affected by high levels of radon. Legislation has been put in place to ensure that the risk from radon to employees is reduced1.

Radon in the workplace

The Health and Safety at Work Act 19742 and the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 19993 state that radon should be identified as a hazard in the United Kingdom, if one or more of the following apply:

  • it is a building in a radon affected area
  • it has a basement area that is occupied for more than about 50 hours each year
  • it is a mine, cave, or other underground environment
  • it has a suspected radon source such as groundwater (e.g treatment works) or internal geological samples9

The Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999 (IRR99)4 and Ionising Radiations Regulations (Northern Ireland) 20005 go further and state that if a workplace in any location in the UK has a radon level which exceed 400Bq/m-3,6 then employers need to act to reduce this level. This regulation is enforced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)7.

What does this mean for employers?

All workplaces in the UK (including schools) which are situated within radon affected areas should be tested, unless a more detailed assessment has shown the levels to be low. If the results of the radon testing comes back as above 400Bq/m-3, employers are responsible for enforcing the aforementioned regulations in particular types of workplaces.8

Radon is more likely to be found at higher concentrations on the ground floor of a building. This is because the ground floor is at a lower pressure than the surrounding atmosphere, and means that radon can enter a building from the ground through cracks and gaps in the floor. Workplaces that use cellars, basements and poorly ventilated ground floor rooms are more likely to have problems with radon levels than those which occupy a building from the first level and above1. Advice from UK Radon states that frequently occupied basements should be tested for radon whether they are in a radon affect area or not8.

Additionally, changes in construction of the building, and alterations to heating and ventilation can cause changes in radon levels over time8.

If radon levels are found to be below 400Bq/m-3 then the employer should keep a record of the result. This will need to be reviewed after around ten years, or before if there are significant changes to the workplace structure or use9.

To carry out a test, a radon in the workplace measurement can be ordered from the UK Radon website: http://www.ukradon.org/services/orderworkplace

If action is required then there are several mitigation methods that can be installed such as:

  • Radon sump
  • Positive ventilation
  • Natural-underfloor ventilation
  • Active underfloor ventilation10

The Highland Council

An example of where an employer has carried out radon testing is in the Highlands, Scotland. The Highland Council is one of 16 local authorities in Scotland which has areas where the presence of radon exceeds the level which requires action to remedy the problem11. As an employer, the council was required to test its premises for radon and act accordingly, which included schools12. In early 2014, it was found that five schools within the area were found to exceed the 400Bq/m-3 action level13. The schools remained open whilst the Highland Council carried out work to reduce the level of radon in the short term, and long term measures were investigated14. Earlier this year, the remediation measures were carried out, and the results showed that the mitigation works had a significant positive effect. The council is currently working with a specialist radon advisor to determine what further steps may be required e.g. reviewing ventilation, installing additional extract sumps, etc12.


References

  1. Health and Safety Executive, Radon in the workplace. Available at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/radiation/ionising/radon.htm (Accessed 12th September 2015)
  2. Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.  Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1974/37/contents (Accessed 12th September 2015)
  3. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1999/3242/contents/made (Accessed 12th September 2015)
  4. The Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999. Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1999/3232/contents/made (Accessed 12th September 2015)
  5. Ionising Radiations Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000. Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/nisr/2000/375/contents/made
  6. The becquerel is the derived unit of radioactivity in the International System of Units ( SI ), symbolized Bq and equal to one disintegration or nuclear transformation per second. Reduced to base SI units, 1 Bq = 1 s -1 . Available at: http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/becquerel 
  7. Health and Safety Executive, Legal base. Available at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/radiation/ionising/legalbase.htm (Accessed 12th September 2015)
  8. UK Radon, Radon in the Workplace. Available at: http://www.ukradon.org/information/workplace (Accessed 12th September 2015)
  9. UK Radon, What is our responsibility under H&S to our employees? Available at:  http://www.ukradon.org/information/hands (Accessed 12th September 2015)
  10. UK Radon, How to reduce radon level. Available at: http://www.ukradon.org/information/reducelevels (Accessed 12th September 2015)
  11. The Highland Council (2014) Radon testing at Highland Council properties. Available at: http://www.highland.gov.uk/news/article/8174/radon_testing_at_highland_c…
  12. The Highland Council (2015), Radon works to Highland Council properties – Briefing. Available at: http://www.highland.gov.uk/news/article/8296/radon_works_to_highland_cou… (Accessed 12th September 2015)
  13. Brownfield Briefing (2015), Council Orders Radon Action
  14. The Highland Council (2014), Radon found in five Highland Schools. Available at: http://www.highland.gov.uk/news/article/7434/radon_found_in_five_highlan… (Accessed 12th September 2015)

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