What do I need to know about Radon?

What is radon?

Radon is a chemical element (atomic number 86). It naturally occurs as a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas and is formed as one of the intermediate products of the radioactive decay of uranium. Radon is one of the noble gases.

Where is it found?

In varying quantities, Radon is present and emitted from all rocks and soil, but it is found in higher concentrations in primary igneous rock (i.e. rock which was initially formed close to the earth’s core, usually as a result of volcanic action), mainly granites. Uranium, and therefore radon, is found throughout the UK, but it is present at its highest levels in areas where the geology is predominately igneous.  The greatest concentrations of radon are therefore found in Devon and Cornwall, parts of the Midlands and North England as well as areas of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

What is its significance?

Radon is present and emitted from all rocks and soil but it is found in higher concentrations in primary igneous rock (i.e. rock which was initially formed close to the earth's core, usually as a result of volcanic action),. The greatest concentrations of radon are therefore found in Devon and Cornwall, parts of the Midlands and North England as well as areas of Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Because Radon is one of the densest substances remaining as a gas (under normal conditions) it has the potential to accumulate in underground spaces and as has no stable isotopes (again under normal conditions), its radioactivity means it poses a risk to health. Usually, when released to the open atmosphere Radon quickly dilutes to low concentrations. However, in environments such as caves, mines and basements as well as other building areas it can accumulate in much higher concentrations.

When inhaled and exhaled immediately, Radon is reported by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to "present little radiological hazard", but when we are exposed to high levels over the long term it has been linked with an increase in lung cancer rates. Radon is increasingly recognised as the second largest cause of lung cancer (after smoking) in the UK.

The HSE also highlight "Radon contributes by far the largest component of background radiation dose received by the UK population and, while the largest radon doses arise in domestic dwellings (due to the longer time spent there), significant exposures are possible in workplaces."

How is it measured? 

Radon concentration is measured in becquerels per cubic metre of air (Bq/m³). The national average for radon levels in homes in the UK is 20 (Bq/m³) (Public Health England (PHE) figures). There is a national average advisory action level of 300 (Bq/m³).  The HSE and Local Authorities are responsible for enforcing these regulations in the workplace. Public Health England through UKRadon provides a reference site of information on Radon for businesses and homeowners together with an interactive map showing levels of radon measured across the UK.

What should you do?

The Ionising Radiation Regulations impose a duty on employers to protect their workers from exposure to radon.  You should contact Public Health England for advice on whether the regulations are likely to affect your business.

The HSE also highlights the need for risk assessment and separate above ground and below ground workplaces for the extent to which Radon should be considered as a hazard. Buildings Research Establishment Ltd (BRE). [10]BRE can provide advice on radon in the workplace, dwellings with cellars and basements, major alterations and conversions and various methods of radon remediation.

This guide is of a general nature; specific advice can be obtained from Assurity Consulting. Assurity Consulting is the UK's leading independent compliance consultancy specialising in workplace health, safety and environmental solutions. We have over 30 years' experience of helping customers of all sizes, from across all sectors, manage their compliance responsibilities, making sure that their organisation is compliant, their employees are safe, their processes are cost effective and their management team is in control.

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