Trade union action needed on air pollution

20 Feb 2020

In conjunction with Kings College London, the British Safety Council has published its findings into air pollution exposure levels amongst outdoor workers in London.

Obtained over a six month period via the Canairy app, with 92 participants with over 1,800 readings taken from over 100 air pollution monitoring stations in the capital, the report records average Nitrogen Dioxide exposure exceeding World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines by over 64% and particulate matter exposure levels exceeding nearly 40%.

Nitrogen dioxide exposure can increase symptoms of bronchitis and asthma, as well as lead to respiratory infections and reduced lung function and growth. Particulate matter exposure can penetrate deep into lung passageways and enter the bloodstream, causing cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and respiratory impacts. In 2015, it was classified as a cause of lung cancer by WHO.

Action for safety reps and branches:

Although the Canairy app is currently only available in London (the British Safety council is looking into developing the app in Manchester), this report provides valuable information on air pollution exposure and should be used to highlight the issue with management and local authorities to seek action to minimise risks amongst workers. Over 40,000 workers a year in the UK die from air pollution related illnesses.

The British Safety Council is seeking action from Government to build air monitoring stations across all UK streets and to promote the wider use of the Canairy app and for employers and organisations to engage in developing guidance and action on how to minimise exposure.

Under the Health and Safety at Work act 1974, section 2, there is a general duty on employers to ensure ‘so far as reasonably practical, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees’. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 states that employers have a duty to assess all risks for all workers, whether they work on the premises, at home or the premises of clients. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 covers exposure to substances that includes dusts and vapours, as with the Management Regulations, a risk assessment is required.

Therefore we are asking group, branch and workplace Safety reps and committees to take the following steps:

  1. Check employer and local authority policies on air quality.
  2. Raise the issue of air pollution with your employer and request a risk assessment is carried out as a matter of urgency – and to act to minimise the effect on employees.
  3. Discuss with branch/group green reps possible joint action to help raise awareness of the links between air quality and climate change.
  4. Agree a procedure for regular monitoring of exposure levels.
  5. Agree a procedure for liaising with local authorities and other employers to exchange information and best practice on improving air quality and minimising risks to air pollution.
  6. Contact other trade unions in your area to discuss a joint, local response to air pollution.
  7. Ensure that the issue of air pollution is a standing agenda item at health and safety meetings.

 The Trade Union Clean Air Network (TUCAN) has produced further guidance for trade union reps.

 Please also keep the AGS office updated on progress, issues or if further assistance is required at


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