Last week, the Health & Safety Executive ran a free event for contractors, project managers and designers called ‘Building Basements Safely’. The event was arranged after it was revealed that in November 2011 HSE inspectors took enforcement action on more than a third of sites visited during an initiative to improve safety standards on basement construction sites.
Of 109 sites visited in Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea, Westminster and Wandsworth, a total of 78 notices were served and enforcement action taken at 40 sites.
The issues were largely related to risks of falling from height and were observed at sites where new basements were being dug out.
Where an existing cellar is being converted into a useable basement, the risks of falling from height are not so apparent however there is another potentially fatal hazard present to those working in basements for long periods of time – radon gas.
The naturally occurring radioactive gas is often found in high concentrations in basements, and long term exposure can lead to lung cancer. Over 2000 people in the UK die each year from radon-induced lung cancer, and it is estimated that some 270 received the most significant exposure whilst at their place of work.
Contractors such as waterproofers will spend many hours per week in basements. HSE requires all below-ground workplaces that are occupied for at least an hour per week to carry out a radon risk assessment. Whilst this would ordinarily be applied to a permanent place of work, such as an office with a basement store room, construction workers whose place of work changes from week to week should be afforded the same protection, meaning risk assessments for radon should be carried out at each basement to be worked in. As part of the Management of Health & Safety At Work regulations 1999, HSE have enforcement powers to ensure that radon risk assessments are carried out.
propertECO are pleased to be able to assist employers & contractors to comply with the legislation through the use of the unique Victoria radon alarms. Exclusively available from propertECO in the UK & Ireland, these are the only devices on the market that measure ‘real-time’ radon levels and can alert occupants to high levels of radon after just 50 minutes exposure in the property.
Other electronic continuous monitoring devices are available however they must be left in place for 48 hours before the first reading is displayed and there is a significant time lag between the radon levels being present and the reading being displayed.
The Victoria alarm is a portable battery-operated device that requires just 50 minutes to detect whether radon levels are in excess of the workplace action level of 400 Bq/m3. If radon levels exceed this concentration, a short beeping alarm and flashing LED on the device will be activated. The device enables contractors to take rapid steps to disperse radon (for example by increasing ventilation) in order to create a safe environment for work to continue.
The Victoria alarm should be a vital tool in construction risk assessments and the safe management in below ground workplaces – to order yours or request further information, call us on 0800 046 6193 or email firstname.lastname@example.org