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In workplaces such as garages, bus depots and warehouses there is a lot of pollution, caused by diesel engines. The engines produce toxic gases and particulates, that can cause serious health risks and legal liability. Although it is well known that fumes are toxic and protective measures should be taken, that isn’t always done.
A recent publication in the English newspaper The Guardian underlines that boldly, heading “UK legal claims grow over exposure at work to toxic diesel fumes”.
The article appeared in response to an accusation of an employee of the Royal Mail. The employee who worked at a major depot where he says he was exposed daily to diesel exhaust pollution for eight hours per shift. He says the exposure led him to develop asthma, and he provides medical evidence to support his claim.
The legal claim is no incident, according to Dan Shears, Health and Safety Director for the GMB union. He says: “We strongly believe it is a major problem. There are potentially lots of people who have unnecessarily suffered premature death, who may have been affected by industrial exposure. We are now with diesel in the same place we were with asbestos in the 1930s.” Also Unite, Britain’s largest trade union, stated that exposure to diesel fumes is a ticking time bomb.
Diesel engine exhaust emissions (commonly known as ‘diesel fumes’) are a mixture of gases, vapours, liquid aerosols and substances made up of particles. They contain the products of combustion including:
The carbon particle or soot content varies from 60% to 80% depending on the fuel used and the type of engine. Most of the contaminants are adsorbed onto the soot. Petrol engines produce more carbon monoxide but much less soot than diesel engines.
The quantity and composition of diesel fumes in your workplace may vary depending on:
Breathing in diesel fumes can affect your health and exposure to the fumes can cause irritation of your eyes or respiratory tract. These effects are generally short term and should disappear when you are away from the source of exposure. However, prolonged exposure to diesel fumes, in particular to any blue or black smoke, could lead to coughing, chestiness and breathlessness. There is some evidence that repeated exposure to diesel fumes over a period of about 20 years may increase the risk of lung cancer. Exposure to petrol engine exhaust emissions does not have the same risk.
To prevent hazards, an employer should take measures. All kind of health and safety authorities all over the world set up guidelines about how to protect people, working in areas full of diesel fumes. For instance, the British HSE (Health and Safety Executive) strongly advises a combination of specific control measures, such as:
In addition to the control measures described, an employer should also ensure that:
Source: The Guardian “UK legal claims grow over exposure at work to toxic diesel fumes” (16 September 2017).
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