UK Warned of Pollution Time Bomb

The British Safety Council has warned the UK is sitting on a health time bomb over the level of air pollution and its effect on those who work outdoors.

Twelve months after it launched its Time to Breathe campaign the BSC has issued research that found outdoor workers are exposed to 15% more pollution than the average Londoner.

An app, Canairy, developed by Kings College London as part of the Time to Breathe campaign is building on a growing evidence base that proves outdoor workers are exposed to air pollution well above the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended limits. However, the BSC said there remains a huge variance in quality and coverage of air quality measurement across the UK which suggests the problem could be greater than previously thought.

BSC Head of Campaigns Matthew Holder said: “The first data release confirms that outdoor workers are being exposed to high levels of air pollution with all the health risks that carries. Canairy confirms what we also thought – if you work outside in a city or near a busy road you are putting your health at risk. What is new is that we now have the technology for individual workers to record their exposure. With Canairy and other forms of measurement we are building the evidence base that makes the case for change. As a first step we must urgently adopt the WHO guidelines on PM2.5. But we also need investment in measurement so we can understand who is at risk and how people can limit their exposure to harmful air pollution.”

The app gathers data based on London’s air quality monitoring stations and gives individual users a read-out of the air pollution they are exposed to at work. The first data release from British Safety Council confirms that outdoor workers are put at more risk than average Londoners. The WHO says that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk and that reducing air pollution could save millions of lives. As well as campaigning to improve ambient air quality the British Safety Council is working on practical solutions to reduce the risks for outdoor workers.

Over six months the Canairy app gathered data from a sample of Londoners. Outdoor workers were exposed to air pollution averages higher than guidelines for NO2, particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) and Ozone. Some maximum exposures were nearly two thirds higher than recommended WHO limits. The workers were in two groups, some mostly working in offices and others mostly working outside. Although both groups were exposed to high levels of air pollution, those working outside are exposed to worse pollution than the average Londoner.

“I am really pleased that since we launched this campaign in 2019, we have seen employers ready to take responsibility for protecting their workers from pollution,” explained Mr Holder. “A new steering group has been established of leading construction and infrastructure companies to look at how we can mitigate the impact of air pollution on outdoor workers. But as well as employers doing their bit, we need national and local government to invest in measurement across the country so that apps like Canairy can give an accurate picture of the pollution workers are breathing in.”

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