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Union warns of workers' exposure to diesel fumes

29 October 2018

EMPLOYERS MUST do more to protect their workers from exposure to dangerous diesel exhaust emissions, warns a TUC guide published

The new advice for union health and safety reps – Diesel exhaust in the workplace – finds that exposure to diesel exhaust causes at least 800 cases of bladder and lung cancer every year, leading to 650 deaths. 

It can also increase the risk of other lung diseases and heart failure, cause or worsen respiratory diseases like emphysema or bronchitis, and lead to decreased cognitive function in older men. 

And even short-term exposure to high concentrations of diesel exhaust can lead to dizziness, headaches, breathing problems and eye, nose and throat irritation. Anyone working with or around diesel-powered equipment or vehicles can be affected by exposure to diesel exhaust, warns the TUC. 

This includes professional drivers (buses, trains, lorries, fork lifts, tractors and cars), warehouse workers, mechanics, construction workers, seafarers, underground workers and maintenance workers. 

The Health and Safety Executive estimates that more than 100,000 workers could be exposed to high levels of diesel engine exhaust fumes, but there is currently no legally binding limit for diesel exhaust in the UK. 

The TUC guide calls on employers to prevent exposure to diesel exhaust emissions completely, by using safe alternatives like battery-powered vehicles or compressed natural gas. Where this is not possible, then the following practical steps can make a big difference:  

  • Replacing older engines with more efficient ones; 
  • Keeping doors or windows open;
  • Stopping engines being left running unnecessarily; and
  • Designating strict off-limit areas for diesel engine activity

Where the exposure to the diesel exhaust happens outside the workplace, for example on the road, employers can make simple adjustments like changing routes for their drivers so they are not travelling on the most polluted roads. And bosses can ensure that anyone working in a busy street only does it for a limited time on a rota basis. 

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Diesel exhaust is now one of the biggest workplace killers after asbestos. It’s a ticking time bomb for tens of thousands of workers around the UK. 

“Employers must take action to keep their staff safe and remove diesel emissions in their workplaces. Unionised workplaces are safer workplaces. Anyone concerned about diesel levels at work should join their union, to get their concerns raised and their voices heard.”