Private school fined £50k over radon gas exposure
An independent school has been fined £50,000 after employees and pupils were exposed to high levels of radon gas.
Radon is a gas which comes from the rocks and soil found everywhere in the UK. It is radioactive. It can’s been seen, smelt or tasted. Special equipment is needed to detect the gas. The radon level in the air we breathe outside is very low, although it can be higher inside buildings.
Risks to health from radon
Radon produces tiny radioactive particles, which can easily be inhaled. The radiation from the particles damages lung tissue and over time may cause lung cancer, particularly amongst smokers and ex-smokers.
The higher the level and the longer the period of exposure, the greater the risk will be.
- Radon increases your risk of lung cancer
- The higher the radon, the longer the exposure, the greater the risk
- Radon causes over 1,100 deaths from lung cancer each year in the UK
- The risk from radon is higher if the person is an ex-smoker and significantly greater for current smokers.
Pupils exposed to radon gas
Five pupils at Kingswood School in Bath, Somerset, were exposed to levels of radon gas almost 8 times the legal limit. Two other children, who were not pupils at the school, were also exposed to levels of radon gas almost 14 times the legal limit. Two employees were also exposed to the gas.
The legal limits for radiation exposure in the workplace are defined in The Ionising Radiations Regulations 2017 (IRR17). The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has free guides for employers about how to identify, mitigate or manage radiation risks.
The two employees and their two children were exposed to the gas as a result of working and living on-site at the school. The five pupils studied and lived at the school during the same time.
An HSE investigation found that the school knew they had a radon problem as far back as 2007, when they carried out monitoring and installed some remediation to reduce radon levels. However, from 2010 to 2018 the school did not carry out radon monitoring and had no systems in place to ensure radon control measures were adequate.
It was only after the HSE intervened in 2018 that the school discovered their previous radon problems. Further monitoring ensued and steps were taken to reduce the radon levels.
The fine and costs
Kingswood School Trustees Limited pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company was fined £50,000 and was ordered to pay £19,222 costs at a hearing at Taunton Magistrates’ Court on 19 July 2023.
The UK Health Security Agency provides free interactive maps to help employers identify areas of the country where radon gas may be a problem. The issue is particularly relevant in the South West, Wales, parts of the Midlands, the Pennines, the Lake District, the Highlands of Scotland and some parts of the South East (from Portsmouth to Brighton and between Folkestone, Canterbury and Dover). There are even pockets of radon gas near our Head Office in Guildford and around Godalming.
Considering the risks of HSE enforcement and the subsequent potential fines and costs (reputational, legal, personal injury claims), it is infinitely easier for employers to check whether radon gas may be an issue near their premises.