Thursday, 4 March 2004

Questions (12)

Jack Wall

Question:

10 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps he intends to take to address concerns expressed by the trade union movement regarding the possible threat to workers posed by exposure to radon gas in the workplace; if he will consider the introduction of regulations requiring mandatory testing of workplaces for radon gas in areas of high risk; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7162/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Regulations relating to the exposure of workers in Ireland to radon gas in the workplace are set out in the Radiological Protection Act 1991 (Ionising Radiation) Order 2000. This requires employers to measure workplace radon levels if so directed by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland. It implements in Ireland the 1996 EU Council directive laying down basic safety standards for the protection of workers and the general public against the dangers arising from exposure to ionising radiation. The RPII is responsible for the enforcement of the order in Ireland.

In addition, the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989 requires employers to identify the hazards at their workplace, assess the risk to health and safety from these hazards, and put in place measures to eliminate or reduce the risk. Where radon gas is identified as a hazard in the workplace the employer has a duty, as with any other hazard, to assess the risk and eliminate or reduce that risk. There is a general duty on employers in high radon areas to include radon in their risk assessment. This means that in order to comply with health and safety legislation, radon measurements should be carried out in indoor workplaces in these areas.

These regulations and obligations are considered sufficient at this time and the focus is currently on information provision and direction, and encouraging key players towards fulfilling their obligations.

In recent months the RPII has undertaken several initiatives to heighten awareness of the radon issue in Ireland. In October 2003, the RPII held the second in a series of three national radon fora in Galway to raise awareness of radon as a health risk. In November 2003 a media campaign on radon in the workplace was launched in ten high radon counties. Advertisements were placed in 13 local newspapers in counties Carlow, Clare, Galway, Kerry, Kilkenny, Mayo, Sligo, Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow.

More recently, the RPII has been in discussion with SIPTU regarding radon in the workplace and have written an article about radon, including radon legislation, in the January SIPTU publication of "Report". In addition, in the coming months, it is the RPII's intention to continue this approach with other trade unions as well as with employers' groups. The RPII has also contributed to, and will be attending, a national forum on health and safety at work scheduled for 22 and 23 March.

I want to reassure the House that both the RPII and my Department will continue to use appropriate opportunities to raise public awareness of radon.