Diesel Fumes are Carcinogenic – what’s being done to reduce the risk?

March 27, 2013

The health implications of the long term inhalation of diesel exhaust fumes have been raised as a cause for carcinogenic concern for some time.

Last summer we highlighted a BBC article reporting on the UN’s World Health Organisation declaration that diesel exhaust fumes caused cancer and was comparable in its effects to secondary cigarette smoking.

Yet again this subject has been in the news with a recent article in the Guardian highlighting the diesel/carcinogenic concern. It’s a report by the UK Department for Energy and Climate Change that has stated unequivocally that diesel fumes are significantly more damaging to health than those of petrol engines, contributing to lung disease, heart attacks, asthma and other respiratory problems.

Given the fact that diesel car sales overtook those of petrol cars for the first time in 2012, something would appear to have gone wrong. Perhaps easy fuel efficiency isn’t quite as attractive after all. It’s certainly not a cheap option for everyone, with research showing that diesel-related health problems cost the NHS an estimated 10 times as much as comparable problems caused by petrol fumes.

It is obviously therefore a problem.Whilst we’ve been busy using CO2 emissions as the leading benchmark for environmental responsibility, our major cities are regularly failing to meet the EU’s air pollution targets, with emission regulations being ineffective for diesel cars. A government test in 2011 measured road side emissions and concluded that whilst petrol emissions had improved by 96% over the past 15 to 20 years, emissions of NOx (Nitrogen Oxide from diesels) had not decreased at all.

What’s the answer? Several cities around the world are now considering banning diesels from “low emission zones” and there are now regulations to reduce particle emissions from newer diesel cars entering the fleet, with future regulations are intended to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions.

Minimising Diesel Exhaust Fumes in the Workplace

Whilst all of this attention focuses very much on the impact of diesel emissions on the environment as a whole there are many workplaces that regularly come into contact with high concentrations of diesel exhaust fumes including garages and car dealerships, MOT bays and servicing workshops, airports and fire stations.

What can be done to protect those who regularly come into contact with diesel exhaust fumes as part of their working life?  Similarly as an employer, what are your obligations under Health and Safety legislation to protect the health of your employees from these risks?

The HSE Guidelines on Diesel Exhaust Fumes for protecting employees include a number of key recommendations you need to address:

  • Keep the workplace well ventilated using a proper exhaust fume ventilation system– don’t simply rely on vehicle access doors being left open
  • Connect an exhaust gas extraction system to the vehicle tailpipe when running and make sure any system ventilates to a safe place in the open air
  • Don’t rely on catalytic converters as they do not remove toxic oxides of nitrogen
  • Have controls in place to reduce periods of exposure of staff to diesel fumes

For more information contact our team of experts on 0117 9712163. 

As experts in this field, we can provide advice on vehicle exhaust fume removal and ventilation systems and help give you the peace of mind that you are meeting your health and safety obligations.