Radon is a colourless, odourless radioactive gas formed by the radioactive decay of small amounts of uranium that occur naturally in all rocks and soils. Radon is everywhere, outdoors, and indoors. In most areas, levels are low and the risk to health small.

The gas is continuously expelled from the ground and layers of rock, and buildings can create vacuums that draw it in. Generally, radon’s first point of entry into a building is the basement or ground floor and gas coming from the ground permeates through cracks, pipework, and floor voids.

Certain areas of the United Kingdom have a greater chance of having high radon levels in buildings. In these areas, surveys have been carried out in prisons and some have shown readings above the levels that require remedial action. These readings mean that some people may have received a radiation dose above the legal dose limit. In extreme cases, this radiation can damage cells in the body, which can go on to cause cancerous tumours.

However, most radon gas that is inhaled is immediately exhaled and presents very little risk. Short-term exposure will not significantly add to the risk and there is no need for undue concern.

Radon build up can be easily controlled by effective ventilation. In higher radon-affected areas, additional methods may be required, such as forced ventilation. Where surveys have been carried out and high levels have been identified, controls to limit exposure have been introduced on the advice of the radiation protection advisor.

On the advice of the RPA, where required, monitoring of radon levels will be put in place. Real-time monitoring will determine if mitigations are effective and passive monitoring for a period of three months may be needed to determine radon concentrations present.

The Health and Safety Committee of the POA continues to liaise with the employer to ensure that your health and safety is protected. Should you have any concerns, please speak to your health and safety team in your establishment, or your line manager. Further information on radon can be found on the UKHSA website UKradon - FAQ (ukhsa-protectionservices.org.uk) l

Mick Pimblett
Assistant General Secretary
Health and Safety Committee

Representing over 30,000 Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers, the POA is the largest UK Union in this sector, able to trace its roots back more than 100 years.