Overexposure to radioactive radon gas incurs fine for boarding school

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A boarding school in Bath has been fined £50,000 following an incident in 2019 involving radioactive radon gas.

Two of the school’s employees, as well as five pupils and another two children were exposed to high levels of radon gas at Kingswood School in Bath, Somerset.

Radon is a radioactive gas, which is a health hazard in many homes and workplaces. Inhalation of radon is the second largest cause of lung cancer in the UK, accounting for 1,000 fatal cancers annually.

A colourless, odourless, radioactive gas, radon occurs in rocks and soils, some building materials and water. Ground reserves are the most common source, as radon can seep out and build up in houses and indoor workplaces like schools.

The Ionising Radiations Regulations 2017 outline legal limits for exposure. In this instance, two children were exposed to 14 times the legal limit. Five pupils were exposed to 8 times the limit, and the two employees were exposed to three-quarters of the limit. The regulations require that exposures to radiation are kept as low as reasonably practicable.

The two employees and their two children lived and worked at Kingswood, as did the five pupils. Throughout this time, all were exposed to elevated levels of radon seeping from the grounds.

Investigating the incident, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found evidence 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, between 2010 and 2018, the school failed to monitor the radon any further, and had no systems in place to ensure radon control measures were adequate. Only after the HSE intervened in 2018 did the school find out about their previous radon problem and carry out further radon monitoring and remediation to reduce radon levels.

At a hearing at Taunton Magistrates’ Court in July 2023, Kingswood School Trustees Limited, of Lansdown, Bath, Somerset pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The school was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £19,222 in costs.

After the hearing, HSE Principal Specialist Inspector (Radiation) Stewart Robertson, said: “The fine imposed on Kingswood School Trustees Limited should underline to everyone in the education sector that the courts, and HSE, take a failure to follow the regulations extremely seriously.”

“We will not hesitate to take action against companies, including schools, who do not do all that they should to keep people safe. Every workplace needs to consider radon as a risk to its employees and others.”

For more information on this, visit BrAInbox today where you can find answers to questions like What is radon and is it dangerous?

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