WHO SHOULD ACT?
Under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 the employer bears the principal duty to ensure the health and safety of employees and others who have access to that work environment. Furthermore, specific regulations made under that Act (Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999) require employers to take action where radon is present above a defined level.
WHAT SHOULD BE DONE?
If the location, construction and ventilation of a workplace make elevated radon levels seem likely, or it is in an affected area as defined by N.R.P.B., the employer should have the premises tested. The tests are simple and inexpensive. The most common testing method uses passive detectors placed for three months, in appropriate locations. The testing organisation should advise the employer where to place the detectors.
WHAT WILL THE TEST RESULTS MEAN?
Radon gas concentrations are measured in units called becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3). Where the workplace is occupied for a normal working day and extended measurements show radon levels below 400 Bq/m3, no further action is likely to be required. This figure of 400 Bq/m3 is comparable with the Action Level of 200 Bq/m3 in homes, taking into account the fact that most people spend much more time in the home than at work. For levels above 400 Bq/m3 the employer should undertake a risk assessment and may well need to take action to bring these levels down.
WHAT ACTION IS NEEDED?
Successful and relatively inexpensive remedial building techniques exist which are designed to reduce radon concentrations to below 400 Bq/m3. The free booklet A guide to reducing levels in your home offers advice on remedial techniques which may be relevant to small workplaces as well.
WHAT IS RADON?
Radon is a naturally occurring, colourless, odourless radioactive gas present in the air we all breathe. We have always received doses of radiation from it and always will.
WHY IS RADON CONSIDERED DANGEROUS?
Radon decays to form tiny radioactive particles which may be breathed into the lungs. Radiation from these particles can cause lung cancer which may take many years to develop. In addition, smoking and exposure to radon are known to work together in greatly increasing the risk of developing lung cancer.
WHERE DOES RADON COME FROM?
Radon comes from uranium which is present to a small extent in all soils and rocks. It seeps out of the ground and can collect in enclosed spaces such as workplaces and homes.Because the amount of uranium in the ground varies from place to place and because some ground types allow air to move more freely, radon levels are higher in some parts of the country than in others.
WHAT AREAS ARE AFFECTED?
Most workplaces do not have significant radon levels but surveys have shown that premises in Cornwall, Devon, Northamptonshire, and parts of Derbyshire and Somerset in England and parts of the Grampian and Highlands regions of Scotland, are more likely to have high indoor radon levels. However other areas are affected by radon and survey work continues to improve our knowledge and extent of these.
WHAT WORKPLACES ARE AFFECTED?
In addition to geographic location, the level of ventilation in the workplace is an important indicator. Radon levels are generally low in workshops and other well ventilated workplaces. However, problems have been found in more confined workplaces such as shops, offices and public buildings where rates of ventilation are relatively low. Finally, high radon levels are rarely found above the ground floor of buildings but can be most severe in cellars and basements.