Radon Risk Assessments: Are You Compliant?
Most employers are aware of the need to cover aspects such as slips & trips, manual handling and fire escape routes in their health and safety risk assessments, but many are unaware of the requirement to carry out a radon risk assessment.
Exposure to radon, a naturally occurring gas that escapes from the ground and can accumulate in buildings, is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the UK (after smoking). Responsible for over 1100 lung cancer deaths every year 1, radon cannot be seen, smelled or tasted but can seep unnoticed into buildings of any type, age, use or location.
Research conducted at Imperial College London into ‘occupational cancers’ (cancers contracted due to a person’s work activities or environment) estimates 180 lung cancer deaths in the UK each year occur due to radon exposure received in the workplace 2. It is likely that these victims had never heard of radon, and neither had their employers.
Radon is a worldwide issue and can be found in properties in any location, however certain parts of the UK are designated as being at greater risk than others, mainly due to the underlying geology. Any area where it is estimated that more than 1% of properties will be affected by radon is termed an ‘Affected Area’. Affected Area maps are available on the Public Health England dedicated radon advice website, www.ukradon.org
Properties with basements are also at increased risk, regardless of geographic location, as the basement has several surface areas in contact with the ground through which the gas can permeate.
Any employer whose workplace is deemed to be at higher risk due to either its location or the fact it has a basement (including home workers) must carry out radon testing before the risk assessment can be completed. Radon testing is an easy and inexpensive process, carried out by placing a number of small plastic detectors around the property. These detectors allow air to move through them during the test period, which is usually three months. The detectors are then posted back to a laboratory for analysis and a results report sent to the employer. With each detector costing from just £16.50 +VAT, including the laboratory analysis, the process is not expensive yet could be lifesaving.
The results report will state whether or not further action is required. The average UK building contains radon levels around 20 Bq/m3 (Bequerels per cubic metre of air). Workplaces with radon levels exceeding 400 Bq/m3 must take action to either reduce the radon concentration or limit employees’ exposure. This is known as the ‘Action Level’ 3.
In most instances, the results will show that the radon concentration is below the Action Level. Your risk assessment is therefore complete and you simply need to keep a record of the test results in your health and safety file. You should review the risk assessment periodically, and for radon levels significantly less than the Action Level it is recommended that testing is repeated at least once every 10 years.
If the result in any part of the building exceeds the Action Level, the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999 apply to the workplace. These are the same regulations that apply to nuclear powerstations and hospital radiology departments; an office block or retail unit will be classified as a ‘radioactive place of work’ if the radon level exceeds the Action Level. The simplest thing to do in these instances is usually to contact a specialist radon mitigation company who will provide Radiation Protection Advice and design a system to reduce the radon level to an acceptable concentration. This is usually achieved by a particular design of mechanical ventilation. The cost of these works will depend upon the size and layout of the building. Once completed, it is vital that the property is re-tested to ascertain whether the radon level has fallen sufficiently.
Step By Step Guide: Conducting Your Radon Risk Assessment
propertECO are experts in radon testing and mitigation and have helped numerous employers with their radon risk assessments, from sole traders to multinational corporations. Radon test kits can be purchased from our online store, www.radonshop.co.uk or please contact us for free advice.