Employers are legally required to carry out risk assessments under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations. A risk assessment should identify all hazards that could be posed to staff, and should therefore consider radon.
In certain situations, this risk assessment must include radon testing:
- If the workplace is located within a designated radon ‘affected area’
- If the workplace contains a basement or below-ground work area (that is occupied for 1 hour per week or more)
Enforcement is the responsibility of the Health & Safety Executive who also delegate these duties to Local Authority Environmental Health departments in various sectors.
In Ireland, prosecutions have been brought against employers who failed to carry out the required radon risk assessments.
The Government has set guideline maximum radon levels that are acceptable inside buildings. These are referred to as Action Levels, as they are the point at which it is advised (or required, in the case of commercial buildings) that action is taken to lower the concentration.
If the test results show that the radon level in any part of the workplace building exceeds a maximum level of 400 Bq/m3 (Bequerels per cubic metre of air) the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999 (IRR99) apply. Under IRR99, an employer is required to take advice from a Radiation Protection Advisor (RPA) as to who may use which parts of the building and for how long, monitor usage times, potentially display warning signs and so forth. Where very high levels are found, a building may have to be closed.
Alternatively, the employer can appoint a specialist contractor to carry out remedial works, such as installing a radon sump or utilising air management techniques to lower the radon concentration in the building. Radon testing must then be repeated to confirm that the levels have fallen below 400 Bq/m3, and IRR99 will no longer apply.
This is the preferred and by far the most sensible approach to adopt if high radon levels are found in a workplace. The cost of remediation will depend upon the size and design of the building and the level of radon inside, however building managers are often pleasantly surprised at how inexpensive the works are.
For reference, IRR99 also applies to places of work which are considered radioactive, including nuclear power stations, chemical plants or hospital x-ray departments. A commercial building with over 400 bq/m3 of radon is also considered to be a radioactive place of work.
Further information on radon in the workplace can be found on the Health & Safety Executive website