Radon is the second largest cause of lung cancer in the UK. It is a colourless and odourless gas formed by radioactive decay of naturally occurring uranium in rocks and soils. About
half of our average annual radiation dose comes from exposure to radon. The largest radon dose generally occurs in homes (due to longer time being spent there). However, significant
exposure can also occur in the workplace.
The likelihood of a building being affected by high levels of radon is partially determined by the underlying geology in the region. It can also be affected by the way in which the property
is designed and built and by heating and ventilation.
UK Radon Awareness Week is an initiative being run by the UK Radon Association. The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness
of radon; to give members of the public, employers and employees a better understanding of radon and the need to check for levels at home and in the workplace. This will lead to a reduction in
the number of avoidable lung cancer cases claiming lives each year.
Radon Affected Areas
Radon levels in the UK have been extensively surveyed. Areas with the highest levels have been defined by the government as "radon affected areas". Most of Devon and Cornwall lie
within an affected area. Employers and householders can check to see if their workplace or home is in an affected area by looking at the interactive map.
Regulations and risk assessments
UK regulations state that employers must assess the risk from radon in their premises.
In accordance with the Health and Safety at Work Act, 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 require the assessment of health and safety risks and this should include radon.
Risk assessments for radon should be carried out in relation to:
- all below ground workplaces in the UK; and
- all workplaces located in radon affected areas.
The Ionising Radiations Regulations come into effect where radon is present above a defined level. Employers are then required to take action to reduce exposure to radon.
The Health and Safety Executive and Local Authorities are responsible for enforcing these regulations in the workplace.
Testing for radon
Radon testing kits for homes typically cost around £50 and can be purchased from organisations such as Public Health
For workplaces, testing kits can also be provided. Public Health England provide detectors for £20.75 (excl. vat) each. The number of detectors required is dependent on the floor area
and nature of the building.
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About the author
Dr Paul Jarvis is the Director of a Plymouth based consultancy providing specialist advice on radiological
protection and nuclear safety. Paul is a certified Radiation Protection Adviser and a Fellow of the Society for Radiological Protection. Paul has over 25 years’ experience providing
advice to companies and organisations around the UK and overseas.
If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Paul Jarvis at 07587 167711 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.