What is radon?
Radon is a colourless, odourless and tasteless natural gas found in soil and rocks. Levels vary throughout North Devon from parish to parish and even from house to house in the same street. The problem is not just limited to the south west and radon is present in all parts of the UK.
We all breathe in radon throughout our lives and for most UK residents it accounts for approximately half their total annual radiation dosage. However, certain geological conditions, including those found in the south west, can lead to above average radon levels. Very high levels of radon are linked to an excess risk of lung cancer.
In open spaces, when radon mixes with air, it's quickly diluted into the atmosphere. However air containing radon can find its way into your home or workplace, mainly through cracks in floors and gaps around service pipes from the ground below. Unless you have your property tested, you will not know what level of radon is present. However, you can find out if your property is in a high or low risk area.
The highest radon areas have been defined by government as Radon Affected Areas and employers and householders may consult the definitive radon dataset at UK Radon to see if their premises are located in one of these areas (a small fee is charged). In addition to this dataset, an indicative atlas of Radon Maps for England and Wales has been published by Public Health England.
Radon in the home
The Government has advised that indoor radon above an action level of 200 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3) should be reduced. Guidance on Limitation of Human Exposure to Radon issued by the Health Protection Agency in 2010 (now Public Health England), also recommends that for new dwellings, where radon protection measures are installed or where retrospective control measures are installed in existing dwellings, that the concentration be reduced to 100 becquerels per cubic metre.
Radon in the workplace
Under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, ensure the health and safety of employees and others who have access to their work environment. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require the assessment of health and safety risks and this should include radon in the following circumstances:
Above ground workplaces
For the vast majority of above ground workplaces the risk assessment should include radon measurements in relevant ground floor rooms where the building is located in a Radon Affected Area. Employers should usually take a cautious approach and carry out measurements in all premises located in a 1km grid square that is shaded in the indicative atlas of Radon Maps. Therefore, measurements are not usually required in above ground workplaces located in the white areas of the indicative atlas. If employers wish to be more specific they may choose to consult the definitive HPA dataset at UK Radon online (a small fee is charged) to identify the Affected Areas status of a particular building or buildings.
Below ground workplaces
For occupied below ground workplaces (for example occupied greater than an average of an hour per week/or 52 hours per year), or those containing an open water source, the risk assessment should include radon measurements. This applies to all below ground workplaces in the UK, irrespective of the above ground status of the land.
The Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999 (IRR99) come into effect where radon is present above the defined level of 400 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3) and employers are required to take action to restrict resulting exposures. The Health and Safety Executive and local authorities are responsible for enforcing these regulations in particular types of workplace.
New guidance on Limitation of Human Exposure to Radon issued by the Health Protection Agency in 2010 recommends for that non-domestic premises where there could exposure by a person for 2000 hours or more per year and in all schools that the same action level as for domestic premises be applied ie. 200 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3). In terms of the employers duty in the workplace, this should be noted for guidance only and the current limit of 400 Bq/m3 specified by the Ionising Radiations Regulations is the legal requirement.
Where can I find out more?
To find out more about radon and how to obtain a test in your home or workplace click on the links below:
- Public Health England UK Radon
- Health and Safety Executive guidance on Radon in the workplace