New study exposes UK inaction on diesel controls

A new evaluation of the protective health effect of tight workplace exposure standards for diesel engine exhaust has exposed the potentially high cost of the UK’s continuing failure to introduce any standard and its refusal to regulate diesel exhaust as a workplace cancer risk.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified diesel exhaust as a top rated ‘Group 1’ human carcinogen in 2012 (Risks 560), but the UK still does not treat it as a workplace cancer cause for regulatory purposes.

The Utrecht University study published on 11 February 2022 indicated adherence to a new European Union standard could reduce the toll by a fifth, preventing hundreds of deaths a year in Great Britain, with a tighter still standard offering further dramatic reductions.

In 2018 the TUC warned the UK was failing to take the action necessary to protect workers and criticised its failure to regulate diesel exhaust fumes as a cause of occupational cancer.

Unite warned in 2017 that diesel exhaust exposures were a ‘ticking time bomb’, as it launched a diesel emissions exposure register. A GMB alert said as a result of high diesel exhaust fume pollution levels “street cleaners, refuse workers, parking enforcement staff, utility workers, police community support workers and others are particularly exposed to such pollutants.”

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimated in 2012 that there are 605 deaths a year in Great Britain from diesel engine exhaust related lung cancer.

However, a 2019 report from Hazards magazine noted that the real UK diesel-related occupational lung cancer toll could be over 1,700 deaths per year, more than 1,000 more deaths each year than the official HSE estimate.

The Utrecht study would indicate enforcing the EU standard would save over 300 lives a year in Great Britain from lung cancer alone.

HSE has opted not to introduce a workplace exposure limit for DEE. The Hazards report warned HSE’s failure to impose a workplace limit was the result of pressure from industry-financed groups.

Control of diesel engine exhaust emissions in the workplace, HSE, 2012. IARC Monographs – volume 105, Diesel and gasoline engine exhausts and some nitroarenes,  IARC, 2012.
Roel Vermeulen, Debra T Silverman, Eric Garshick, Jelle Vlaanderen, Lützen Portengen, and Kyle Steenland. Exposure-Response Estimates for Diesel Engine Exhaust and Lung Cancer Mortality Based on Data from Three Occupational Cohorts, Environmental Health Perspectives, volume 122(2), pages 172-7, February 2014 (first published online 22 November 2013).
The burden of occupational cancer in Great Britain: Lung cancer, HSE, 2012.
Fuming feature, Diesel out prevention factsheet and Die diesel die pin-up-at-work poster. Hazards 144, October-December 2018.
Diesel exhaust in the workplace: A TUC guide for trade union activists, October 2018. Unite diesel emissions register.

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Stricter European Union diesel exhaust rules would save many lives

A substantial number of lives would be saved each year by implementing a stringent workplace diesel engine exhaust exposure limit, a study has concluded.

Risk assessment experts from Utrecht University calculated the expected impact of the incoming European Union regulatory limit for occupational diesel engine exhaust (DEE) exposure on the excess burden of lung cancer in Europe.

In their paper in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, they note: “We evaluated the effects of intervention on DEE exposures according to a health based limit (1 µg/m3 of elemental carbon (EC)) and both Dutch (10 µg/m3) and European (50  µg/m3) proposed regulatory limit values. Results were expressed as individual excess lifetime risks (ELR).”

They conclude implementing the proposed health based DEE limit would reduce the ELR by approximately 93 per cent, while the proposed regulatory limits of 10 and 50  µg/m3 would reduce the ELR by 51 per cent and 21 per cent, respectively.

The authors conclude: “Although the proposed regulatory limits are expected to reduce the number of DEE related LC deaths, the residual ELRs are still significantly higher than the targets used for deriving health-based risk limits. The number of additional cases of lung cancer in Europe due to DEE exposure, therefore, remains significant.”

Exposure to diesel exhaust fumes is also associated with other cancers, respiratory disease, heart problems and other chronic and acute health effects, so the total ELR stemming from the new exposure standard would be substantial higher.

Roel Vermeulen and Lützen Portengen. How serious are we about protecting workers health? The case of diesel engine exhaust,  Occupational and Environmental Medicine Published Online First: 11 February 2022. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2021-107752

New UK collaboration to reduce pesticide harm

A broad-based UK network is aiming to challenge the workplace cancers and other diseases and environmental impacts of pesticides and involve more workers and unions.

The Pesticide Collaboration, which already includes the union Unite and the national Hazards Campaign, said pesticide use in the UK has risen significantly in the past three decades, and the area of land treated by pesticides has increased by 63 per cent since 1990.

It added: “The body of evidence revealing the harms caused by pesticides to human health and the natural world is also increasing… The pesticide manufacturing industry, and those standing to profit from current (and increased) rates of pesticide use, are organised and well-funded.”

The campaign said: “It has never been more crucial that those invested in a healthy, just, sustainable vision for the future are able to speak with a unified and coherent voice. There are alternatives and solutions to our current over reliance on pesticides, we just have to rally around them – that’s where The Pesticide Collaboration comes in.”

It noted: “The Pesticide Collaboration brings together health and environmental organisations, academics, trade unions, farming networks and consumer groups, working under a shared vision to urgently reduce pesticide-related harms in the UK, for a healthy future.”

The collaboration said its aims are to influence UK policy, explore solutions, and amplify each other’s pesticide-related work. “Throughout all our work we aim to tackle the root systemic drivers of pesticide reliance and overuse, and advocate for the solutions required to tackle them,” it added.

The Pesticide Collaboration. More information.

Work cancer action could save thousands a year in Australia – ACTU

Over one in ten (14 per cent) cases of lung cancer in Australia could be prevented if asbestos, silica, diesel exhaust and welding fume exposure were reduced in workplaces, according to the country’s national union federation ACTU. It says the figure, based on best available data, corresponds to roughly 1,800 work-related deaths every year from lung cancer that could have been avoided with better safety measures.

The ACTU is calling upon the federal government to take urgent action, including implementing recommendations made by a National Dust Diseases Taskforce. It adds there must be adequate workplace exposure standards introduced for all hazardous substances, including silica, diesel exhaust and welding fumes, to avoid more preventable deaths from lung disease.

ACTU assistant secretary Liam O’Brien commented: “This fight won’t be over until all Australian workers can go to work and know they’re going to be safe from disease.” He added: “There is a plague of silicosis and cancers in workers who’ve come into contact with silica in their workplace. This risks becoming the asbestos of our generation, and we must act to prevent huge numbers of workers becoming sick and dying now.

“Until we have an adequate, fit-for-purpose workplace exposure standard for these dangerous substances, we’re going to continue to see deaths from lung disease caused by work exposure.”

Cancer campaign by UK firefighters’ union FBU takes off

A campaign by firefighters’ union FBU to reduce the risk of occupational cancer linked to exposure to fire contaminants is having an impact “in every corner of the fire and rescue service”, the union has said.

FBU said it is now pushing hard “to build up the Firefighter Cancer and Disease Registry. The registry is based on a health survey for firefighters, and we need all firefighters– to fill it out.” It added: “With more information in the registry we will be able to get more life-saving research done.”

FBU national officer Riccardo la Torre said: “We need every single firefighter to fill out that registry, whether you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, whether you’ve been diagnosed with a disease or if you’ve never been diagnosed with anything – we need you to fill out that registry now. There is so much more we need to understand about the link between cancer and other diseases and the occupation of firefighting.”

He added: “We cannot protect ourselves from this danger if we don’t properly understand it and we simply cannot do that unless firefighters fill out that registry.” FBU officials have been visiting fire stations to promote awareness of and sign-ups to the cancer and disease registry.

Commenting on the growing reach of the union’s related DECON campaign to reduce firefighter exposures to toxins, la Torre said: “We’re so pleased with how this project has taken off since we launched it live from a fire station. We’ve seen engagement in every corner of the fire and rescue service, we’ve seen posters going up, we’re seeing tweets, we’ve seen people with their babies wearing DECON stickers, and the training is being taken. We’re getting requests for more information and more posters all of the time.”

FBU DECON campaign and cancer campaign video.

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Work cancer action could save thousands a year in Australia

Over one in ten (14 per cent) cases of lung cancer in Australia could be prevented if asbestos, silica, diesel exhaust and welding fume exposure were reduced in workplaces, according to the country’s national union federation ACTU. It says the figure, based on best available data, corresponds to roughly 1,800 work-related deaths every year from lung cancer that could have been avoided with better safety measures.

The ACTU is calling upon the federal government to take urgent action, including implementing recommendations made by a National Dust Diseases Taskforce. It adds there must be adequate workplace exposure standards introduced for all hazardous substances, including silica, diesel exhaust and welding fumes, to avoid more preventable deaths from lung disease.

ACTU assistant secretary Liam O’Brien commented: “This fight won’t be over until all Australian workers can go to work and know they’re going to be safe from disease.” He added: “There is a plague of silicosis and cancers in workers who’ve come into contact with silica in their workplace. This risks becoming the asbestos of our generation, and we must act to prevent huge numbers of workers becoming sick and dying now.

“Until we have an adequate, fit-for-purpose workplace exposure standard for these dangerous substances, we’re going to continue to see deaths from lung disease caused by work exposure.”

Time to get tough on asbestos, says IOSH

Stronger measures on asbestos management are needed to save lives, according to the global body for health and safety professionals. A lack of consistency in managing asbestos among duty holders and a lack of awareness and knowledge about the material, particularly among smaller businesses, are among the issues concerning the UK-based Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).

IOSH has highlighted those concerns in a verbal and written submission to the UK Work and Pensions Committee, which is undertaking an inquiry into the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) approach to asbestos management. It said although the regulations have been around in the UK for some time, the “full implementation and application” of them is lacking through the responsibility chain, which is putting lives at risk. “Awareness is not reaching down to those who are fulfilling those roles, coming into contact with the hazard and those who are placed at risk.” IOSH said.

The safety professionals’ body is keen to see stronger measures introduced, with a collective effort by policy makers, government, regulators, employers and worker representatives.

“We know that asbestos is still all around us. This, coupled with a worrying lack of awareness about the danger it poses and how to prevent exposure, means people are being put at risk every day,” IOSH head of health and safety Ruth Wilkinson said. “This is simply not good enough. There are many measures which can be taken to prevent exposure and we would like to see a collective effort to ensure that these are put in place and used across industry. Only by doing this can we begin to stop people being exposed to asbestos and being placed at risk of contracting an awful disease. It’s time to get tough with asbestos.”

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Firefighters urged to protect themselves from toxics

Firefighters in the UK have been urged by their union to protect themselves from toxic fire contaminants. The firefighters’ union FBU said a study found rates of cancer in firefighters were more than four times higher than in the general public.

The research by the University of Central Lancashire involved 10,000 serving firefighters. FBU’s response – a new DECON training and guidance programme – encourages firefighters to take actions before, during and after every fire incident to help reduce their own, their co-workers’ and their families’ exposure to fire contaminants.

Firefighters are also being encouraged to fill in a University of Central Lancashire firefighter cancer and disease registry. FBU national officer Riccardo la Torre said: “In the past, firefighters have been let down by a lack of information and a lax safety culture being allowed to prevail. DECON guidance and training helps firefighters protect themselves through simple actions like better cleaning of gear and making sure to always wear breathing apparatus when it’s needed, never putting it on too late.”

He added: “We would urge every firefighter to have a look at the guidance and contact their local Fire Brigades Union representatives about the training. The University of Central Lancashire Firefighter Cancer and Disease Registry will also help save firefighter lives by pushing forward research in this area, so it’s vital that firefighters play their part here too and fill it in.”

DECON training and guidance. Firefighter Cancer and Disease Registry.

Campaigners inflict major blow on asbestos trade in Asia as investment bank acts

After many years of campaigning, the global ban asbestos campaign has chalked up a major win as a major funder of infrastructure work said no to the fatal fibre.

The Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has amended its Environmental and Social Framework to exclude asbestos containing materials from AIIB-financed projects. The bank has an annual spend of US$3.3 billion on infrastructure across Asia.

The campaign to eliminate asbestos related diseases by global and national trade unions and asbestos ban groups and victims has been targeting multilateral banks for many years, including AIIB, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank Group.

The AIIB has now published the updated exclusion policy which now includes the “production of, trade in, or use of asbestos fibres, whether or not bonded”.

The ‘Not Here Not Anywhere’ asbestos campaign is now seeking the same urgent exclusion by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).  Phillip Hazelton, coordinator of the Australian union backed global justice group APHEDA, commented: “This is an overdue but an important step by the AIIB. We call on all multilateral investment banks and international financial institutions to quickly do the same and exclude asbestos containing materials from any investments they support.”

Apolinar Tolentino Jr, the Asia-Pacific regional representative of the global construction union BWI, added: “We expect the ADB to follow suit to this long awaited policy to ensure that working families and their communities are not exposed to this highly dangerous industrial substance.”

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UK unions press case for school asbestos removal

The Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) has launched a new campaigning website to press the case for the removal of asbestos from UK schools.

Announcing the initiative on 17 June – Clean Air Day 2021 – JUAC said latest UK government Department for Education (DfE) figures estimate 83.5 per cent of schools in England contain asbestos. It noted official ONS figures show that since 2001 at least 305 teaching and education professionals have died from the asbestos related cancer mesothelioma.

JUAC is calling for an independent review of the government’s current policy of managing asbestos in-situ instead of removing it. The campaign is also pressing for funded programme for the phased removal of all asbestos, starting with the most dangerous, with completion no later than 2028. It also wants the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to undertake proactive inspections to ensure that educational establishments are managing asbestos effectively.

John McClean, chair of JUAC, said: “The continuing presence of asbestos in so many of our schools is a disgrace, when the risks to children and adults are so well known. Effective government action to tackle this is long overdue. A phased programme of removal, starting with the most dangerous first, is the only way forward.”

The national trade unions that form JUAC are ASCL, GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, UNISON, Unite, UCU and Voice.

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A continually-updated, annotated bibliography of occupational cancer research produced by Hazards magazine, the Alliance for Cancer Prevention and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).