Food firms urged to act on radon exposure levels

By Noli Dinkovski

- Last updated on GMT

Testing for radon levels in factories is said to be relatively straightforward
Testing for radon levels in factories is said to be relatively straightforward
Food manufacturers are being urged to act ahead of new legislation that will reduce the maximum allowed level of a deadly radioactive gas in the workplace.

From February 2018, changes to the Ionising Radiation Regulations 1999 mean employers will have to adhere to a new lower exposure limit of radon – a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas that comes from tiny amounts of radioactive uranium present in all rocks and soils.

In line with World Health Organisation recommendations, a new limit of 300 becquerels per cubic metre of air (Bq/metres cubed) in the workplace will replace the current 400Bq/metres cubed threshold.

Ahead of UK Radon Awareness Week (November 6–12), certification agency Bureau Veritas has advised organisations to have an “adequate and appropriate strategy in place”​ to protect employees and meet new safety standards.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, all organisations were required to carry out a radon risk assessment, it claimed.

Radon risk assessment

UK workplaces that are located on or below ground floors or in an area of high radon activity, and are occupied more than an average of an hour a week or 52 hours a year – must also carry out testing as part of the radon risk assessment, Bureau Veritas added.

Exposure to radon is the second-largest cause of lung cancer in the UK, contributing to 3% of cases every year, according to Cancer Research UK.

Levels of radon gas varied across the UK, dependent on location and building type. The highest levels are found in Wales and Cornwall, but higher than average levels can be found in many other typically hilly parts of the UK.

Office space located in basements and lower ground floors is also more at risk due to poor ventilation.

For levels below 100Bq/metres cubed, individual risk remained relatively low and not a cause for concern, according to Public Health England. However, it added that the risk increased as the radon level increased.

Unsafe levels of exposure

Under the reforms, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) was also planning to overhaul how businesses notified the watchdog of unsafe levels of exposure.

As a result, organisations would need to pursue testing and remediation in the first instance and would only be required to notify HSE once remediation showed that levels could not be reduced below the new 300Bq/metres cubed limit.

Ian Mitchell, a principal consultant at Bureaus Veritas, said: “To comply with new regulations, employers need to act now to ensure they have a robust and effective strategy in place to protect employees from radon exposure and to meet the imminent new safety standards.

“The good news is that it’s simple and cost-effective to measure radon levels and relatively straightforward, depending on the potential level of risk, to manage and mitigate the risks.”

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