Radon in the Workplace – Are You Protected?
With national awareness campaigns and a dedicated Radon Action Month each November, it’s safe to say that an increasing number of people in Canada are aware of radon gas. Yet, how often does that knowledge translate into action?
Last year, in a two-part series (“Annual Dose Contributions of Typical Indoor Radon Levels,” Part 1 and Part 2), we explored the contribution of various indoor radon levels to one’s annual effective dose. We discovered that, in many cases, these contributions were far higher than have generally been assumed. Indeed, according to the Canadian Guidelines for the Management of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM), many homes in Canada would require NORM management were they to be classified as workplaces.
In this article (and the one to follow), we shift our focus to the workplace.
Radon in the workplace
Every day, radiation protection professionals apply their knowledge and training to protect workers from radiation exposure in the workplace. But what about radon?
While radiation in various forms has important applications in health science, we know general exposure to elevated levels of radon radiation is linked to increased risk of lung cancer. For radiation protection professionals, exposure to radon gas in the workplace may well be a case of the shoemaker’s children going barefoot. 
Invisible, with no taste or smell, it’s easy to forget about radon or write it off as background radiation. However, with inexpensive testing options and a range of radon mitigation solutions available, there’s no reason not to address radon head on. In fact, in our communication with provincial labour ministries, the Canadian Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists (CARST) have determined that radon clearly falls under the health and safety section of legislation to minimize hazards. In fact, the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development have adopted the Canadian Guidelines for the Management of NORM into their Occupational Health and Safety Act.  Employers therefore have a duty to test for radon to protect their workers’ health.
What else does radon in workplaces look like in Canada? In 2007, Health Canada offered free tests to all Federal government workspaces to help federal employers and building managers test their workspaces and address the need for remediation, should it be necessary. By August 2020, 21,665 buildings had been tested—3.6% tested above 200 Bq/m3 and 92 of those buildings tested over 600 Bq/m3.
Table 1: Canadian Guidelines for the Management of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM)
|Average annual concentration (Bq/m3)||NORM program classification|
|800 to 3,000||Radiation protection management|
|200 to 800||NORM management program|
|Background to 200||Unrestricted|
Source: Canadian Guidelines for the Management of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM), Table 4.1: Radon and NORM Program Classifications, page 21.
The Government of Alberta and the Government of Yukon have also taken the initiative to test their workplaces. In 2017, Alberta’s Ministry of Infrastructure undertook an initiative to test all their workplaces, with a priority on testing schools. Alberta Infrastructure also introduced requirements for new construction to include prevention measures in all their new buildings.
The BC Lung Association (BCLung) published a report, Radon in BC: Employers’ Duties, Worker Strategies, and WorkSafeBC Policies, which includes a table of radon surveys completed in BC workplaces.
Although there isn’t accessible information about widespread testing in workplaces in other provinces, we know initiatives such as testing schools and social housing have been completed in various provinces.
For private employers, it’s generally impossible to know what actions have been taken. CARST has developed a one-page resource aimed at employers, directing them to other helpful resources to help raise radon awareness or communicate with their employees throughout the radon testing process.
Has your workplace been tested for radon?
We invite you to complete a short survey and enter to win a digital radon monitor (for homeowners). The results of the survey will be presented in a follow-up article.