In 2009, a campaign started to raise awareness of radon in schools and the requirement to measure radon levels accordingly. The UK Health Security Agency (HAS) outlined that this campaign was brought about ‘to improve health protection by giving duty holders in schools the knowledge and awareness to ensure that no individual is exposed to high levels of radon gas.’
As schools (as well as other public places) have a duty of care to members of the public who are on their premises, it is clearly important that action be taken to mitigate radon in high-risk areas and where measurements suggested that radon levels were over a prescribed limit.
This article outlines the key parts of this campaign and what can be done to mitigate harmful levels of radon in schools.
WHAT IS RADON?
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is formed from the decay of uranium in rocks and soil. It can be found all over the world, and at varying levels in different places. Although it is present in outdoor air, it is usually only at very low levels. However, when radon seeps into buildings through cracks or other openings in the foundation, it can build up to higher levels and become a health hazard.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY SCHOOL IS IN AN AREA OF HIGH-RISK FOR RADON?
There are areas of the UK which are more at risk from radon than others. Known areas at risk from radon include parts of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire and Hampshire as well as Banbury, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and towards Nottingham and Lincoln. You can check known areas of radon HERE which is the government UK Radon Map. It is worth noting that, regardless of any map, the only sure way to known what level of radon is present in a school is to test for it using radon monitors.
WHAT ARE THE DANGERS ASSOCIATED WITH EXPOSURE TO RADON?
Exposure to high levels of radon gas can increase your risk of lung cancer. In the UK, it is estimated that around 1,100 lung cancer deaths each year are linked to radon exposure. Radon is likely to be the biggest cause of lung cancer in the UK after smoking.
HOW DOES RADON ENTER A BUILDING?
Radon can enter buildings through cracks and holes in the foundation and get trapped inside. Radon can also be released from building materials, such as concrete, that contain uranium. People can be exposed to radon when they breathe air that contains the gas.
Air pressure indifferences can promote external air and gases entering a building through walls, ventilation shafts, cables and other breaks in integrity.
DUTY OF CARE BY THOSE IN CHARGE OF PUBLIC BUILDINGS
Those in charge of public buildings in the United Kingdom have a duty of care to those who enter them. This means that they must take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of visitors and staff. Commonly considered examples includes ensuring that the building is safe from fire, that there are adequate exits in case of an emergency, and that any hazards are clearly signposted. failure to take these measures could result in serious injury or even death, so it is crucial that those in charge of public buildings take their responsibilities seriously.
However, this duty of care also extends to air quality and less employers and responsible adults are aware of the requirement to test for radon to ensure optimum air quality. Failure to do so would pass a risk onto students, teachers and employees within a school that could have otherwise been avoided.
RISK ASSESSMENTS IN SCHOOLS
In the United Kingdom, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (the "Regulations") require employers to assess the risks to employees' health and safety arising from their work. The purpose of a risk assessment is to identify hazards and put in place control measures to eliminate or reduce the risks posed by those hazards.
Risk assessments are an important part of health and safety management in schools. They help ensure that appropriate control measures are in place to protect employees from harm. Therefore, If a school is located in a known high-risk area for radon then testing for radon should be included as part of the risk assessment.
There is no definitive list of hazard types that must be considered in a risk assessment, but common examples include slips, trips and falls; manual handling; exposure to hazardous substances; noise; and electrical hazards. The extent and complexity of the risk assessment will depend on factors such as the size of the school, the number of employees, the type of work carried out, and the presence of any special risks; radon exposure would fall within this area
The Regulations require employers to appoint one or more competent persons to assist with health and safety matters. The competent person(s) should have the knowledge, training and experience necessary to carry out the risk assessment effectively.
When conducting a risk assessment, employers should:
- Identify hazards and assess the risks posed by those hazards;
- Decide whether existing control measures are adequate to control the risks;
- If necessary, put in place additional or improved control measures; and
- Review and update the risk assessment on a regular basis.
The output of the risk assessment process will be a written record of the hazards identified and the control measures in place to address those hazards. The written record should be made available to all employees. In the event that radon is discovered at an unacceptable level, processes for mitigation would be documented as a measure of control.
IONISING RADIATIONS LEGISLATION 2017
As of 2017, the UK has strict regulations in place regarding radon exposure. The Ionising Radiations Regulations 2017 state that the maximum allowable amount of radon exposure per year is 300 becquerels per square metre.
This means that if a school is in an area with high levels of radon, they may need to take steps to reduce your exposure. There are a number of ways to do this, including installing a radon mitigation system and minor building works. The HSE would also be informed to ensure that any mitigation is sufficient to reduce radon levels back down to an acceptable level.
TESTING FOR RADON IN SCHOOLS
Once a school has been identified as being in a high-risk area, the school is obliged to carry out 3 monthly tests using approved radon testing monitors. www.ukradon.org outlines the approved method of how many monitors to use and where to place them.
All buildings that are present on the premises should be tested. This includes the main school buildings, caretaker’s homes, leisure facilities and dormitories.
PURCHASING RADON MONITORS
Radon Protection UK sell approved radon testing kits and radon monitors that are appropriate for 3 monthly testing schools. If you work in a school and require radon testing monitors, you can speak with us directly for advice on 0800 9788435 or visit our shop at www.radonprotectionuk.com/shop.
Once the monitors have been obtained and correctly placed for a period of 3 months, they should be returned to us for laboratory analysis and a subsequent action plan of mitigation if required. Our documentation can then form part of the risk assessment for the school accordingly.
MITIGATING RADON IN SCHOOLS
The most common way to mitigate radon in schools is by installing a radon sump and pump). This would need to be installed if the radon is above the action level of 300 becquerels per cubic metre and will service an area of up to 250m2. For larger areas, other mitigation methods would be considered like positive input ventilation (PIV) or ventilation under suspended floors.
Further radon measurements would be taken after installation in order to confirm that radon levels have been reduced to the target level of 100 becquerels per cubic metre and every 10 years thereafter.