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Diesel fumes classed as cancer threat

London, UK: Pressure is mounting to protect staff and the public from diesel fumes following the World Health Organisation’s declaration that diesel exhaust fumes cause cancer.

The HSE estimated that more than 100,000 workers are exposed to diesel fumes with professional drivers thought to be the largest worker group at risk.

The Health and Safety Executive produced a document in May that ranked diesel as the 6th most important workplace carcinogen. It estimated 652 lung cancer and bladder deaths each year from work exposure to diesel fumes, with over 100,000 people exposed to diesel fumes at work.

Trade union GMB is calling for the Health and Safety Executive to take “urgent action”. The GMB has raised concerns about workers in confined spaces who could be affected by the impact of diesel emissions.

Brian Terry, GMB senior safety representative, said: “In the past the HSE has said that diesel fumes might cause cancer. Now they are saying that it does. GMB members across the UK working in many sectors, now know the dangers of diesel fumes in the workplaces where vehicles are used in confined spaces and the workforce are exposed. GMB calls on the HSE to take immediate, decisive action to safe guard the many workers who will be worried by this report.”

Terry said that high risk groups, including railway workers and lorry drivers, must be prioritised by the HSE inspections and that lung cancer should be immediately added to the list of prescribed diseases in the UK.

A spokesman for the HSE said: “In order for a disease that is relatively common in the population to be recommended for inclusion within the scheme, IIAC generally need to see research evidence of at least a doubling of risk in specific circumstances – for example, in those working in a particular occupation, or for those exposed to a substance for a certain length of time. This then allows individual cases of disease to be attributed to an occupational cause on the balance of probabilities if those conditions are met.”

The spokesman added: “HSE takes an evidence based approach to its work on occupational cancer, focusing in particular on identifying those activities and industry sectors that present the greatest risks, and working with stakeholders to identify sustainable solutions.”

The HSE had published an advice book which offered practical advice for employers on the control of diesel engine exhaust emissions in the workplace.