Radon in workplaces – new legislation requires employers in high radon areas to test for this cancer-causing gas

Date released: May 08 2019

New radiation protection legislation requires all employers in high radon areas to test their workplace for the radioactive gas radon.  Where levels are above the national reference level of 300 Becquerel per metre cubed, employers are then required to carry out work to reduce these levels.

At today’s National Radon Forum, attendees heard from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) about the requirements of this new legislation. 

Speaking at today’s National Radon Forum Laura Burke, EPA Director General, said:

“In Ireland, up to 300 cases of lung cancer each year are linked to Radon, which is a serious public health hazard.  Employers now have responsibility to ensure that their employees are protected from exposure to this radioactive gas.  Radon testing in workplaces is simple and inexpensive and, where necessary, reducing high radon levels in a building is also straightforward. The EPA and the HSA are working in partnership to support employers in implementing this legislation.” 

Yvonne Mullooly, Assistant Chief Executive, from the Health & Safety Authority welcomed the new legislation:

“In addition to the existing general duties on employers to address radioactive hazards, this new legislation provides employers with clear testing requirements for radon gas in their workplaces. The Authority looks forward to continued collaboration with the EPA in highlighting radon gas exposure in workplaces and supporting the ongoing work of the National Radon Control Strategy Co-ordination Group. Our inspectors will continue to raise awareness during their inspections of the potential for radon gas exposures and the need for appropriate risk assessments. We will continue to support employers by providing information and through our on-line risk assessment tool BeSMART, which includes radon as a hazard.”

Phase Two of the National Radon Control Strategy is also being launched today at the 15th National Radon Forum in Dublin.  Attendees will hear about the Government’s Strategy to tackle radon over the next 5 years and the research that is needed to support this work.

Notes to Editor:

Radon: Radon is a radioactive gas that originates from the decay of uranium in rocks and soils. Exposure to radon is linked in up to 300 cases of lung cancer in Ireland each year.  It has no smell, colour or taste and can only be detected using special detectors. Outdoors, radon quickly dilutes to harmless concentrations but when it enters an enclosed space, such as a house, workplace or other building, it can accumulate to unacceptably high concentrations. 

New radiation protection legislation places requirements on all employers in high radon areas.

Fulfilling employer responsibilities: There are a series of simple steps that employers can take to fulfil their responsibilities to protect their employees. Visit the EPA’s interactive radon risk map and find out whether your workplace is in a high radon area.  If it is, arrange for your building to be tested. The EPA measurement protocol sets out how to do this and the EPA provides a list of registered measurement services that provide testing. Where the results of this test are above the national reference level for workplaces of 300 Bq/m3, employers must carry out remedial work to reduce radon. Reducing radon in buildings is straightforward and advice and information is available on the website.  The EPA also provides a list of registered contractors that will provide this service. The EPA radon team are also available to answer your queries at radon@epa.ie or 1800 300 600. 

Ionising Radiation Regulations 2019 (S.I. No. 30 of 2019): Regulation 66 of these Regulations places a specific duty on employers in high radon areas to test for radon. A high radon area is one in which it is predicted that more than 10% of homes will be above the reference level – see the radon map for identified high risk areas.

The requirements of Regulation 66 can be summarised as follows:

  • The national reference level for indoor radon concentrations in workplaces is 300 Bq/m3.  This is a reduction from the reference level of 400 Bq/m3 which had previously applied. 
  • An employer or self-employed person who is responsible for a workplace must measure the indoor radon concentrations where the workplace is underground (for example, a mine or a show cave) or on the ground floor or basement level in high radon areas.
  • Measurements must be carried out according to the EPA’s measurement protocol
  • Where the results are greater than the national reference level of 300 Bq/m3, remedial measures must be taken to reduce the radon concentrations to below this national reference level.  This remedial work should start as soon as possible and should be followed up with further testing to ensure that radon has been reduced to below 300 Bq/m3.  Where it is not possible to reduce radon to below this level, the EPA should be notified and will provide advice as to what the next steps are.

In addition, under Section 8 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act (2005) employers have a general duty to ensure employees’ safety, health and welfare at work. Section 8 (2) d of 2005 Act states that the employer’s general duty extends to:

(d) ensuring, 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 use of any article or substance or the exposure to noise, vibration or ionising or other radiations or any other physical agent;

As an ionising radiation, radon must be identified and risk assessed and addressed in the employer’s Safety Statement in high radon areas.

National Radon Control Strategy (NRCS): the National Radon Control Strategy is a cross-Government strategy led by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and comprising representatives from key Departments and Agencies.  The main goal of the NRCS is to reduce the number of radon related lung cancers in Ireland.

National Radon Forum: The National Radon Forum is the 15th in a series of annual forums that provide an opportunity for those with a role to play in reducing the risk from radon in Ireland to review progress and to consider new strategies based on best international practice. The National Radon Forum brings together a broad range of stakeholders focused on addressing the radon problem in Ireland.