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Radon gas is a natural hazard that we can’t see, feel or smell. Consequently, most people are unaware of it and the risks don’t get the attention they deserve. Simon Talbot, Managing Director of GGS, advises on how to treat Radon in the workplace.

Radon is created by the radioactive decay of uranium that ocurs naturally in all rocks and soils. It is present in the ground and normally will harmlessly escape to the atmosphere. The problem arises when it is trapped in buildings where it can be breathed in. This wasn’t a problem in older, draughty buildings but is potentially a problem in modern, air-tight offices and homes.

The real risk is not from radon gas itself but the radioactive matter produced in its decay. These are solid radioactive elements that can lodge in the lungs where they continue to decay and emit damaging alpha particles, potentially leading to lung cancer. A report published by Public Health England estimated that radon is a cause in over 1,100 lung cancer deaths each year in the UK; the second largest cause after smoking.

As radon is linked to the underlying geology, indicative maps have been produced by the British Geological Survey of higher risk areas. However, it’s the building design and construction details that most affect whether radon can enter a building, with the greatest risk associated with buildings with basements or cellars.

In private homes, the responsibility for ensuring a property is safe rests with the home owner. Although for new development in higher risk areas, local authorities have a role in requiring developers to include appropriate radon protection in their buildings.

However, the strongest regulation applies to employers who, through Health & Safety regulations carry a legal duty to ensure that their employees work in a safe environment.

Luckily, testing for radon is relatively simple and if radon is found to be present above threshold or action concentrations, effective measures can be retro-fitted to buildings to reduce levels. In the first instance, occupied areas of buildings can be tested for radon by installing detectors. These are then analysed in a laboratory, the results are then seasonally adjusted and presented in a simple report.

If elevated radon levels are present then a more detailed walk-through survey can identify radon entry points and the most effective measures to reduce the hazard. These can include sealing service entries, installing radon sumps and improving ventilation.

As safely venting radon to the atmosphere reduces the risks, conversely measures to reduce draughts in older buildings by installing better fitting doors and windows can unwittingly increase the radon risk. Properties that have been previously identified as having a low risk can subsequently be found to have a problem following renovation works.




In the US, radon is taken seriously and unless properties have an up-to-date radon test results showing the risk is low, they will not be bought. Ironically in the UK the opposite is often the case - property owners often believe that if they test for radon, they are highlighting a potential risk that will make their property more difficult to sell.

The truth is that radon occurs throughout the UK and all properties are potentially at risk. If radon is found within buildings then arguably there has been a design or construction failure and someone will be responsible for this.

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