‘Time to Breathe’ Report Advises Regulatory Bodies to Treat Air Pollution as an Occupational Health Issue

In August 2018, the Government published King’s College London research, which estimated that between 28,000 and 36,000 people die every year in the UK, as a result of air pollution.[i]

King’s College London is currently investigating the effects of urban pollution on professional drivers in the Diesel Exhaust Mitigation Study (DEMiSt), which we discussed at length in edition 250 of BC Disease News (here).

Despite the perceptible increase in publicity among scientists, Sarah Newton MP, the former Minister of State at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), revealed at the start of this year, that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was not undertaking any research into the effects of air pollution on outdoor worker health.

The British Safety Council (BSC) ultimately considers that the Government and HSE are demonstrating ‘a lack of interest’ in protecting workers against the risk of air pollution-induced respiratory diseases, such as lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, type-2 diabetes and infertility.[ii] Lawrence Waterman, Chairman of the British Safety Council, maintains that:

‘The social and economic implications of ambient air pollution are clear. It must be recognised as an occupational health hazard, much like some toxic substances such as asbestos’.[iii]

This month BSC published a White Paper: Impact of air pollution on the health of outdoor workers – The case for action, as part of their January-launched Time to Breathe campaign, which is focused on the protection of outdoor workers from air pollution. The impact report emphasises the importance of regulatory bodies obtaining as much information as possible on air pollution as an emerging occupational (and public) health risk, if employers are to fulfil their duty of care:

‘If the employer, as the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) requires, is to provide “such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees”, then it is imperative that the employer is furnished with this information from the outset’.

To facilitate the gathering of useful information, BSC has teamed up with King’s College London to develop Canairy, a mobile app that uses the London Air Quality Network (LAQN) pollution map and GPS to calculate London workers’ exposure to pollution [nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3), and particulate matter (PM 2.5 and PM 100)] on an hourly basis.

Individual exposure levels are then compared against the relevant World Health Organisation (WHO) limits, which BSC urges the UK to adopt, and Canairy notifies the user if and when his or her exposure exceeds those limits.

Currently, the UK follows the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive for threshold limit values on ambient air, but these are less stringent than WHO limits.

In summary, the BSC White Paper is calling for:

  • ‘Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to recognise exposure to ambient air pollution as an occupational health issue and adopt a Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) for Diesel Engine Exhaust Emissions (DEEE)
  • Improvements to pollution monitoring across the UK so that all regions have the same accuracy as London for emissions data
  • The UK to adopt World Health Organisation (WHO) exposure limits for the main pollutants of nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and ozone
  • Everyone to reduce their pollution footprint. Let’s use clean energy, cycle and walk more to reduce emissions’.[iv]

It also request that workers tell their MP’s about the need for further research, using this template letter.


[i] ‘UK air pollution could cause 36,000 deaths a year’ (28 August 2019 King’s College London) <https://www.kcl.ac.uk/news/uk-air-pollution-could-cause-36000-deaths-a-year> accessed 24 May 2019.

[ii] ‘Air pollution is an occupational health hazard’ (22 May 2019 Health & Safety Matters) <https://www.hsmsearch.com/Air-pollution-occupational-health-hazard> accessed 24 May 2019.

[iii] Ashleigh Webber, ‘Treat air pollution as an occupational health issue, HSE told’ (20 May 2019 Personnel Today) <https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/air-pollution-occupational-health-issue/> accessed 21 May 2019.

[iv] ‘Research: the case for action’ (British Safety Council) <https://www.britsafe.org/campaigns-policy/time-to-breathe-air-pollution-campaign/research-the-case-for-action/> accessed 21 May 2019.