IOSH has been trying to raise awareness of the dangers of diesel fumes. The fumes are carcinogenic, and it is estimated that every year 650 people die in the UK (and 4,500 in Europe) from lung or bladder cancers that they cause.
Diesel fumes contain 10 times more soot particles than petrol fumes, and regular exposure to them means that you have a 40% higher chance of developing lung cancer.
800 people are diagnosed with cancer caused by diesel fumes in the UK every year.
Around half a million workers in the UK could be exposed to dangerous levels of diesel fumes.
Some of the main risk employment areas for exposure to diesel engine fumes include: construction, shipping, transport/logistics, vehicle repair, and warehousing.
What does this mean for your business?
This is a sizeable problem and, as with all health and wellbeing issues, employers must ensure that they are making sufficient effort to protect their workers.
Things to consider include: the type of diesel being used, the level of fumes, whether they are building up in enclosed areas, and if they are making sooty deposits or a smoky haze which workers are exposed to.
Where diesel fumes are present, a risk assessment should be undertaken. When doing this, you need to think about the following points:
- What diesel engines or equipment are used in the workplace?
- Do engines or machines emit blue or black smoke?
- Are diesel exhaust fumes released into enclosed working areas such as garages?
- Are diesel exhaust fumes drawn into the workplace through ventilation inlets?
- Are diesel exhaust fumes concentrated in confined spaces or areas in buildings where there is limited air movement?
- Are there visible soot deposits on surfaces in the workspace?
- Is there a visible haze?
- do those in the work environment suffer from irritated eyes or lungs?
If you answer ‘yes’ to some or all of these basic questions, there is a risk of people being harmed by diesel exhaust fumes. It’s vital that you arrange a formal assessment of the hazard, which could include measuring elemental carbon concentrations. Depending on the results of the assessment, you may need to either prevent or control the potential exposure. Typical actions to control exposure include:
- switching to other forms of fuel where possible, e.g. gas or electric
- replacing old engines with newer versions with lower emissions
- making sure that engines are maintained properly – especially fuel delivery systems
- making sure diesel engine exhausts have filters using ‘local exhaust ventilation’ and good general ventilation in fixed or enclosed workplaces
- using forced ventilation to draw fresh air into the workplace
- using connecting extraction pipes for vehicle exhausts in workshops
- filtering air in vehicle cabs
- making sure that engines are turned off when they’re not needed
- if engines have to be left running, making sure the vehicle or equipment is moved outside (checking that no one else is then exposed)
- making sure cold engines are warmed up in spaces with good ventilation
- keeping building doors and windows open if it’s practicable
- rotating jobs between different employees to minimise exposure.
Ensuring that Occupational Health (OH) checks are undertaken is also key to maintaining workers’ health. Regular checks can alert you to potential problems that may require further action.
Some useful resources
How can you get help?
Hopefully this information will help you to make a start on establishing if there are steps to be taken to protect your employees. However, if you need any assistance with managing Occupational Health please don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss your requirements. Phone 0141 244 0181 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.