UK union takes action against diesel exhaust fumes ‘time bomb’

A major new initiative to protect workers from the ‘ticking time bomb’ caused by exposure to diesel exhaust fumes has been launched by the UK Unite.

The union’s new diesel emissions register allows Unite members to record when they have been exposed to excessive diesel exhaust fumes. The union says the information will be used “to report accidents, force employers to clean up their workplaces and could be the basis of future legal claims.”

Diesel exhaust fumes exposure has been linked to cancer, respiratory disease and other chronic and acute health effects. The union initiative comes in the wake of a court case this year where the UK government was told it must publish its overdue revised plan to tackle illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere by a 9 May deadline.

Diesel engines are a major source of the gas. Unite’s register has already been trialled across the transport sectors where the union says the issue is a priority. It says the trial “has already produced disturbing results”.

The trial found affected workers reported short-term health concerns including wheezing (55 per cent), other respiratory problems (55 per cent), eye irritation (45 per cent), lightheadness (36 per cent), chest tightness (36 per cent), headache (36 per cent), nausea (27 per cent) and heartburn (18 per cent).

Long term problems recorded by Unite members included effects on lung capacity, breathlessness, asthma, being more prone to colds and flu and sinusitis.

Unite assistant general secretary for transport Diana Holland said: “Unite is acting to protect our members from the ticking time bomb of being needlessly exposed to poisonous diesel fumes.”

She added “where it is clear that employers are ignoring their legal duties, information from the register will be used to force employers who are making our members sick and ill to clean up their acts. If it can be proved that the health of workers has been damaged due to exposure to diesel fumes, Unite will consider taking legal action on behalf of our members.”


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