UK government called on to support diesel particulates reduction campaign

Exhaust fumes and diesel particulates

Responding to the UK’s newly published Air Quality Plan, IOSH is encouraging the government to support its campaign to reduce worker exposure to cancer-causing diesel particulates.

The Plan, IOSH says, fails to address the cancer-causing elements of diesel exhaust emissions – microscopic soot particulate matter (PM2.5). Diesel exhaust risk to employees is a major focus of IOSH’s No Time to Lose campaign to tackle causes of occupational cancer.

In Britain, it is estimated that more than 650 people die every year of lung or bladder cancer linked to exposure to diesel exhaust fumes at work, while around 800 new cases of cancer caused by diesel-exhaust-fumes exposure are registered each year.[i]

Through No Time to Lose, IOSH makes available a host of free resources and materials to aid businesses in managing the risks around such exposures.

The campaign has attracted the support of over 200 leading businesses, national and international organisations and government bodies. IOSH is now urging the UK government to join them and help to offer solutions to businesses looking to reduce the impact of diesel particulates.

Shelley Frost, Executive Director – Policy at IOSH, said:

“While the Air Quality Plan’s proposals to tackle nitrogen dioxide exposure and encourage transport modernisation mark a step in the right direction, we’d like government and local authorities to help businesses take action now.

“Many employees work in close proximity to sources of diesel exhaust fumes, and IOSH has highlighted risks from particulates. IOSH – through its No Time to Lose campaign – offers free resources that can help. By supporting the campaign, the UK government can help us spread the message.

“Some businesses, such as MTS Cleansing, have already shown leadership in cutting diesel emissions. Government departments and councils could and should follow this lead.”

Waste management company, MTS Cleansing Services Ltd, identified diesel fumes exposure as a health risk in the workplace and signed up to No Time to Lose in 2015.

Since then, the company has put in place a range of initiatives to reduce exposure. Keith Hole, Head of Health and Safety at MTS, said:

“We have reduced the risk to all our staff and customers from exposure to diesel fumes through focused modernisation of our fleet, locating vehicles proactively to reduce emissions, making upgrades to the ventilation in the workshops, and by using the No Time to Lose campaign’s diesel pack to raise awareness among our staff.

“MTS has a large fleet of vehicles that will be affected by the Air Quality Plan announcement, and we are keen to further understand the detail.

“We are always looking at the best available technology to further reduce emissions and aim to be early adopters through integration with our fleet replacement policy.

“We signed up to No Time to Lose because we care about the health, safety and wellbeing of our staff. It’s the right thing to do, and ultimately it makes us more efficient as a business.”

IOSH is continuing to support research into employee exposure to diesel fumes by funding DeMIST, a project run by King’s College London’s Exposure Science Team. It is the only one of its kind in the world to measure the exposure of professional drivers in the UK to diesel fumes.

It will investigate the factors of exposure and collate information on vehicle specification and driving style, to provide insights into potential low cost mitigation strategies.

This will be achieved through objectives delivered in four phases. These include recruiting and assessing the exposure to diesel exhaust of 200 professional drivers in the work and home environments, characterising driver exposure to inhaled diesel emissions under a range of occupational settings, vehicle types and driving conditions, and identifying and trialling potential intervention methods for health improvement. This last part will focus on strategies that can be applied to the existing vehicle fleet or working practices.

IOSH has also been raising awareness of the health risks caused by diesel fumes overseas by working in collaboration with No Time to Lose pledge signatories and supporters. For example, the Institution worked with the Society of Safety Engineers in Ljubljana, Slovenia, to adapt and translate the diesel materials to help highlight the issue there.

In addition, IOSH worked in partnership with pledge signatory and major transport multinational MTR Corporation Ltd, based in Hong Kong, to raise awareness of diesel fumes and other carcinogens at its annual Contractors’ Safety Conference last year.

Around 450 senior leaders of companies within MTR’s supply chain attended. The leaders received a Chinese version of the diesel pack.

[i] The burden of occupational cancer in Great Britain [Health and Safety Executive 2012, (prepared by HSL, IoEH, IOM and Imperial College London)