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Prioritising Workplace Safety: The Crucial Role of Radon Testing in Your Risk Assessment

Every year on 28th April, employers, employees and campaigners come together to observe the World Day for Safety and Health At Work. It’s a day dedicated to raising awareness about workplace safety and ensuring that every worker around the globe has a safe and healthy work environment. As we mark the World Day for Safety and Health At Work in 2024, amidst the backdrop of evolving environmental challenges, it’s crucial to spotlight an often underestimated hazard: radon exposure in the workplace.

Radon, a colourless, odourless, and tasteless radioactive gas, is naturally present in the soils and rocks beneath us. It can seep into buildings, including offices, factories, schools and other workplaces, and accumulate to dangerous levels. Prolonged exposure to high levels of radon can significantly increase the risk of lung cancer, making it a serious occupational health concern.

All employers are required to consider radon in their health and safety risk assessments. If the workplace lies in an area where it is estimated that more than 1% of properties will be affected by radon, known as a ‘radon affected area’, there is a legal requirement for the employer to carry out radon testing. This is also the case if the workplace has a basement that is occupied for at least an hour per week.

The focus of this year’s World Day for Safety and Health At Work campaign is around the impact climate change is having on our working environments. According to a report by the International Labor Organization (ILO), “Climate change creates a ‘cocktail’ of serious health hazards for 70 per cent of the world’s workers”, including excessive heat, extreme weather events, air pollution and ultraviolet radiation.

“It’s clear that climate change is already creating significant additional health hazards for workers,” said Manal Azzi, OSH Team Lead at the ILO. “It is essential that we heed these warnings. Occupational safety and health considerations must be become part of our climate change responses – both policies and actions.”

As we strive to mitigate the effects of climate change, energy-saving measures and adaptations in building designs have become increasingly prevalent. While these adaptations are crucial for reducing carbon emissions and energy consumption, they often inadvertently contribute to higher indoor radon concentrations. Sealed buildings with improved insulation and reduced ventilation can lead to higher levels of radon being drawn in from the ground, and being trapped inside.

Researchers at University College London found that the radon concentration in homes with retrofitted double glazing is 67% higher than those without, and that loft insulation and wall insulation also increased concentrations. The researchers cautioned that “Energy efficiency interventions in radon-affected areas should be coupled with radon risk assessment strategies and monitoring to check that radon levels are not negatively impacted.”

The importance of radon testing in the workplace cannot be overstated. By identifying areas with elevated radon levels, employers can take proactive steps to mitigate the risk, such as installing radon mitigation systems to reduce radon concentrations and carrying out regular re-monitoring.

Raising awareness among employers and employees about the dangers of radon exposure is paramount. propertECO have a range of information available to download to better understand the risks and responsibilities, including our free “Radon Gas in the Workplace: Guidance for Employers” pack. Our popular CPD seminar, “Radon Gas: Risks, Regulations and Remediation” is also available to book as a live webinar and provides attendees with the knowledge and understanding needed to ensure their workplaces, and/or their clients’ are compliant with the latest radon legislation.

The risk of non-compliance is not just the potential health impacts, but could result in prosecution and reputational damage. A school in Bath was found to have breached regulations and their failure to protect staff and students at the school resulted in a £50,000 fine and significant negative press. After the case was heard in court, a representative from the Health and Safety Executive said: “The fine imposed on [the school] should underline to everyone in the education sector that the courts, and HSE, take a failure to follow the regulations extremely seriously. We will not hesitate to take action against companies, including schools, who do not do all that they should to keep people safe.  Every workplace needs to consider radon as a risk to its employees and others.”

As we commemorate the World Day for Safety and Health At Work in 2024, propertECO encourages all employers to check whether their workplace may be affected by radon so together, we can build safer, healthier, and more resilient work environments for all.

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