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Sat December 09 2023

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Air pollution is killing construction workers

21 May 19 The British Safety Council has launched a campaign for air pollution to be officially recognised as an occupational health hazard for construction workers and others who worked outdoors.

Among the measures it is calling for is the adoption of a workplace exposure limit for diesel engine exhaust emissions.

Air pollution is linked with up to 36,000 early deaths a year in the UK. It is considered the biggest environmental risk to public health. Research from King’s College London suggests that more than 9,400 people die prematurely due to poor air quality in London alone. Ambient air pollution is linked to cancer, lung and heart disease, type-2 diabetes, infertility and early dementia.

The British Safety Council has launched a report ‘Impact of air pollution on the health of outdoor workers’ which provides evidence to recognise ambient air pollution as an occupational health hazard in Britain. In the report, the charity presents the demands that spearhead its campaign to limit the dangers of air pollution to the health of outdoor workers.

Several pilot schemes are beginning to monitor and measure the levels of air pollution experienced by people working and living in London. Their findings will be instrumental in developing recommendations for reducing people’s exposure to air pollution in the capital. 

However, the government and regulatory bodies such as the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) continue to show a lack of interest in regulation and guidance on air pollution, the British Safety Council says. 

In March 2019, the council launched its Time to Breathe campaign, which is focused on the protection of outdoor workers from air pollution. The cornerstone of the campaign is Canairy, a mobile app that gives outdoor workers and their employers insights into pollution and how to reduce staff exposure to it. It has been created in co-operation with King’s College London. Canairy draws on the London Air Quality Network (LAQN) pollution map at King’s and the user’s GPS to calculate an individual’s exposure to pollution on an hourly basis. 

The new report ‘Impact of air pollution on the health of outdoor workers’ is the next step in the campaign. It gathers available evidence about the causes and consequences of air pollution in Britain. It also reviews international examples of initiatives set up to measure air pollution in different locations and their recommendations for risk reduction.

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In the report the British Safety Council is calling for:

1. The UK to adopt the World Health Organisation’s exposure limits for the main pollutants

2. Government action to ensure ambient air pollution is treated as an occupational health issue and adopt a workplace exposure limit for diesel engine exhaust emissions (DEEE)

3. Improvements to pollution monitoring across the UK, so that all regions can have the same accuracy in emissions data as London

4. Recognition that protection from the dangers of air pollution should be enshrined in law as a human right.

Chairman of the British Safety Council is Lawrence Waterman, former head of health and safety for the London Olympic Delivery Authority and for Battersea Power Station. He said: “The impact of air pollution on people working in large cities is starting to be recognised as a major public health risk. However, we are yet to see any true commitment to addressing this issue by the government and the regulators.

“The Time to Breathe campaign, together with our recent report, is a call to action for policymakers, regulators and industry leaders. The social and economic implications of ambient air pollution are clear. It must be recognised as an occupational health hazard, much like some toxic substances such as asbestos. Breathing clean air is not a privilege but a basic human right for the thousands of people who are undertaking vital work outdoors.”

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