Diesel fumes and cancer – Need for Risk Assessment

Diesel fumes and cancer – in the UK, about 800 people a year are diagnosed with cancer caused by exposure to diesel fumes. Further to this, around 500,000 UK workers are exposed to dangerous levels of diesel fumes, while Europe that figure could be more than 3.6 million people. Anyone working with or around diesel-powered equipment or vehicles can be affected – there is a link between diesel fumes and cancer. Emissions from diesel vehicles, such as: forklift trucks, lorries, buses, trains and tractors can be a source of harm, particularly if they are used in enclosed spaces like garages or workshops. People who work with (or near) fixed power sources. such as: compressors, generators or power plants  could also be at risk.

In the UK, the employer has a legal duty to assess whether you’re at risk from diesel fume exposure and to protect employees from diesel fume exposure if it could cause harm (make them ill).

This assessment will involve consider factors such as:

  • the type of diesel being used
  • the workplace levels of diesel fumes (are they at toxic levels?)
  • is there the opportunity for the build up  of fumes in certain areas, such as closed-in areas?
  • is there any evidence of sooty deposits being left by diesel fume
  • does the use of diesel engines lead to a smoky haze in work areas?

If there is the potential for diesel fumes to create a health problem in the workplace, then the  employer should do a proper risk assessment of the hazard. This may include taking measurements and
monitoring exposure levels. Different types of action are available, depending on the workplace. Examples of actions include:

  • change to another type of fuel
  • maintain old engines properly or replace them
  • use ventilation systems or filters
  •  make sure engines are turned off when they’re not being used
  • swap jobs around
  • require workers wear protective kit, such as a respirator

The employer should also:

  • ensure that ventilation equipment, filters and other kit are checked regularly
  • provide workers with information about the risks and also about how the risks can be reduced/managed
  • train or instruct workers how to use equipment properly and how to use any safety controls (such as extraction or ventilation) properly

It may be necessary for the employer  to introduce appropriate Health Surveillance, such as health checks (for example lung function tests).

Diesel fumes and cancer – Some control measures (to control exposure to diesel fume):

There are a range of control measures that employers (companies) can introduce, including:

  • change over to other forms of fuel where possible, eg gas or electric
  • replace old engines with newer ones that have lower emission levels
  • ensure that all engines are maintained properly – especially the fuel delivery systems
  • ensure that diesel engine exhausts have filters
  • make appropriate use of suitable LEV (or local exhaust ventilation) and good general ventilation in fixed or enclosed workplaces
  • use forced ventilation to draw fresh air into the workplace
  • provide (and ensure the use of) extraction pipes for vehicle exhausts in workshops
  • filter the air in vehicle cabs
  • ensure that engines are turned off when they’re not needed
  • in instances where engines have to be left running, making sure the vehicle or the equipment is moved outside (checking that no-one else is then exposed)
  • arrange for cold engines to be warmed up in spaces with good ventilation
  • keep building doors and windows open if it’s practical
  • consider rotating jobs between different employees to minimise exposure

Understanding the link between diesel fumes and cancer is essential in helping to prevent ill health.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.