A warning over 30 years ago that workplace diesel fume exposures were deadly went ignored, a ‘criminal’ move that condemned thousands of workers each year to an early grave, a report in Hazards magazine has revealed.
The report says if the authorities had listened when the workers’ health magazine first raised the alarm in 1986, “today’s diesel exhaust driven public health catastrophe could have been averted.” It notes that diesel exhaust fumes cause, in the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) estimation, 652 deaths a year from lung and bladder cancer. Exposure is also linked to respiratory disease, heart problems and other chronic and acute health effects.
But the Hazards report says “the UK’s prevention strategy – or absence of one – is based on a fatal mixture of a lack of the right intelligence and lack of give-a-damn. All topped up with a dose of industry foul play.”
The report identifies industry-financed groups commissioned to produce reports to cast doubt in the minds of regulators discussing tighter controls and warnings about diesel fume health risks, a process it says is ongoing. Citing international studies, the Hazards also notes 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.
“If you under-estimate the size of the problem, you don’t respond appropriately. Diesel exhaust fume is not treated like a cancer-causing exposure in UK safety law, despite the official recognition it is one of the top occupational cancer killers. There’s not even an official occupational exposure limit,” the report notes.
A forthcoming EU-wide limit is 2.5 times higher than standard recommended two years ago by its own experts, it says. “The evidence didn’t change in the intervening period. But the industry lobbyists took their chance and governments listened.”
An October 2018 TUC guide highlighted successful union initiatives to reduce risks in the workplace from the ‘workplace killer’ diesel exhaust fumes.
- 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.