Radon in Workplaces
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas and is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen. It is the 2nd biggest cause of lung cancer in Ireland causing up to 150 - 200 deaths per year (10-15% of all lung cancer deaths). It is colourless, odourless and tasteless and can only be measured using specialised equipment. Being a gas it can move through the soil and enter buildings through small cracks, holes or imperfections that may exist in the floor area or gaps around pipes or cables and build up to harmful concentrations. Once in a building radon quickly decays to produce radioactive particles some of which remain suspended in the air. When inhaled these particles can be deposited in the airways and attach themselves to lung tissue. This gives rise to a radiation dose which may cause lung cancer.
Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, employers must identify hazards in their workplace which includes radon, assess the risk and eliminate or reduce and control the risk. In addition, Section 8(2)(d) of the Act requires that the employer ensures, so far as it is reasonably practicable, the safety and the prevention of risk to health at work of his or her employees relating to the exposure to ionising or other radiations.
All indoor workplaces in high radon areas (check the EPA radon map) located at ground floor or basement level must measure for radon. For workplaces in other areas, employers are urged to take a proactive approach and consider having radon measurements carried out. Mines, show caves and other underground workplaces should be measured for radon regardless of whether or not in a high risk radon area.
Under legislation enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the national reference level for above ground and below ground workplaces is currently 400 Becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3) but this is due to decrease to 300 Bq/m3 under forthcoming new legislation. For schools a lower level of 200 Bg/m3 has already been adopted. If the reference level is exceeded, the employer must take measures to protect the health of workers and carry out an evaluation to determine whether remedial work is justified.
The Health and Safety Authority is a member of the cross Government group that oversees the implementation of the National Radon Control Strategy.
For further information see:
www.radon.ie and the section for employers.