GMB calls for action over diesel emissions threat

Trade unions calls for Health and Safety Executive to protect workers potentially at risk of cancer due to exposure of diesel engine exhaust emissions, writes Amy North.

Trade union GMB is calling for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to take “urgent action” to prevent deaths in workplaces due to exposure of diesel engine exhaust emissions which have been cited as a cause of lung and bladder cancer.

The call came at the GMB Congress on Wednesday (June 13) following an announcement by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which reported that it had concluded that diesel engine exhaust emissions (DEEEs) are now classified as carcinogenic to humans (see airqualitynews story ).

The GMB has raised concerns about workers in confined spaces who could be affected by the impact of diesel emissions

In May 2012 the HSE published a report called Occupational Cancer — priorities for future intervention which identified that there were a high number of deaths in the work place from lung and bladder cancer as a result of exposure to DEEEs with the latest figures from 2005 showing 652 deaths.

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

Commenting on the research a HSE spokesman sad: “DEEEs are included in recently published research led by Dr Lesley Rushton of Imperial College London.  The research, commissioned by HSE, provides an updated and detailed estimate of the burden of occupational cancer in Great Britain.  It supports HSE’s targeted approach and is helping to develop prioritised practical measures to reduce the cancer burden in future years.”


The GMB said that it has thousands of members working as professional drivers and is particularly concerned about the crews of security vehicles which are loaded in security vaults and the many other workers who work with continually in and around diesel fumes.

Commenting on the GMB’s concerns 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.”

Mr 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.


Speaking to 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 spokesman added that the HSE had published an advice book which offered practical advice for employers on the control of diesel engine exhaust emissions in the workplace.

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