There are many different types of safety concerns in any given workplace. Some of them are quite obvious and can be addressed without too much effort. Others, however, are more hidden and will require some very specific steps in order to identify them and reduce or eliminate the issue completely.
One of the hidden issues that many facilities never even think about until it is too late is the threat of Radon gas. Radon gas is a naturally occurring gas that can find its way into your facility and cause some severe health problems. It is important to take radon safety seriously and do all you can to test for this gas and eliminate it if it is present.
What is Radon Gas?
To start any type of Radon safety effort, the first thing you’ll need to do is understand what this type of gas actually is. Radon is a gas that has no color, smell or taste, which makes it very difficult to detect without special equipment. The gas is commonly found in ground water and bedrock, and can seep up through water supplies, drains, or just the soil until it gets to the surface.
When the gas gets to the surface outside, it is quickly and harmlessly dissipated into the air. When it comes up into a building, however, it is a significant concern.
Risks of Radon Gas
The biggest risk of Radon Gas is that it can cause lung cancer. According to the US Surgeon General, an estimated 20,000 people die each year from lung cancer caused by this gas. The fact that it can take months or years before anyone actually develops cancer can actually make this gas more dangerous.
With other gasses, like carbon monoxide, people will quickly experience symptoms and in the work place, they can typically evacuate before anyone is seriously in danger. With this type of gas, however, it can effect hundreds or even thousands of people before it is discovered, if the facility does not take a proactive approach to Radon safety.
For this reason, it is absolutely essential for any workplace that operates in an enclosed area to do everything they can to determine whether or not there is Radon coming into their facility. If the gas is present, they need to immediately take action to determine the source and eliminate it.
Performing Radon Tests
Fortunately, radon tests are easy and inexpensive to perform. You can purchase Radon test kits from any hardware store, or online. The most common tests were designed for home use, so you may need to purchase multiple tests in order to complete them throughout the facility.
Running the tests will allow you to identify exactly how much Radon is in your facility. If it is above the safe limit, you will need to take action to fix the problem. If it is not, then you can be confident that your facility is currently safe.
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One important thing to keep in mind is that Radon safety is not just a onetime thing. You will want to perform tests at least once per year in most facilities, and more often if you are expanding or making any changes on or near the foundation of your building. If you are working in a naturally confined area, such as a mine, testing needs to be done much more often.
High Risk Areas
In addition to just running the tests, it is important to identify the areas of the workplace that are at an elevated risk for Radon gas. The following are some key areas to watch out for. If you have any of these types of locations in the workplace, make sure to complete regular Radon testing:
Well Water Entry – If your facility uses well water, there is a higher than normal chance that Radon can come in with the water. Testing areas near faucets or other water entry points is important.
Exposed Ground – Anywhere that the facility has exposed natural ground is at a more significant risk. Whether this is a cellar area, a crawl space or somewhere in a basement, these places should be monitored closely.
Caves & Mines – These naturally enclosed areas are at a much higher risk than most other places. This is especially true when digging or drilling is being done as this can facilitate the release of this gas.
While these locations are going to have a higher than normal risk, it is important to test the entire facility to make sure everyone is safe.
How to Respond to Elevated Test Results
If you perform a Radon test and find that the dangerous gas is present in your facility, it is important not to panic. Radon does not present an immediate life threatening risk. Unless the levels are extremely high, there is typically no need to evacuate the facility or shut down. The following are some simple steps you can take to improve the Radon safety of your facility:
Perform Another Test – The first thing you will want to do is perform another test to make sure the results are accurate and stable. There are some times where this gas can fluctuate over time.
Contact State Radon Office – Each state has an office dedicated to Radon safety. They can help you determine what the next step will be. They can also provide guidance on whether or not it is necessary to shut down the facility until the problem is solved.
Increase Ventilation – In some cases simply increasing fresh air ventilation into the facility can be enough to reduce the Radon to safe levels. Of course, this is not a long term fix, but it can be enough to keep people safe.
Limit Access to the Area – If you can isolate the source of the Radon to a specific room or area, consider sealing the area off so people aren’t exposed to it. Using floor marking tapeand safety signs outside the door to let people know that access is not permitted can be sufficient to keep everyone safe until the source of the Radon can be properly sealed.
Evaluate a Solution – If you can determine where the Radon is getting into your facility, it may be something that can be fixed by your normal maintenance team. If not, you can call in an expert to help isolate the source and seal it off. The state Radon office can help you to find a Radon professional in your area.
Implement the Solution – Once you’ve chosen the right solution for your facility, you need to put it in place as quickly as possible. If you delay in this area, you are not only exposing your employees to danger, but also to potential lawsuits in the future. Taking decisive action is very important to keep the facility up and running smoothly and employees as safe as possible.
Ongoing Radon Safety
Whether you find that your facility has Radon gas or not, it is critical that you continue to perform tests on a regular basis. Just because you fixed it once, or had a negative test in the past, does not mean you are safe forever. Radon can be released from rocks or water supplies at any time, which is why it is so important to keep up on tests.
Adding Radon safety and testing to your overall facility workplace safety activities will help to ensure you are always aware of the risks. Taking this risk seriously and doing everything you can to minimize or eliminate this problem will help to keep everyone safe today and long into the future.