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Workers still exposed to 'dangerous' levels of air pollution

Geraint Davies MP, the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution (APPG), has been warned that workers in manufacturing environments are still being exposed to dangerous levels of air pollutants.

At an online event, the findings of a new whitepaper on the current state of air quality in the manufacturing and logistics industries were discussed. The report suggests that 440,000 UK workers with health conditions that are worsened by air pollution are still being exposed to unhealthy levels of airborne hazards and pollution; regulation limits are too weak and are not being enforced.

The MP for Swansea West was told that current regulations allow levels of airborne hazards and pollution that are dangerous to manufacturing workers’ health and that regulation enforcement is not meeting the necessary standards.

UK manufacturers at the meeting, hosted by Global Action Plan and Zehnder Clean Air Solutions, also told the MP that the presence of airborne hazards causes production issues and impairs product quality, which can impact profit margins.

Leicester-based Aerofab Fabrications from Wigston – which designs, manufactures and installs bespoke metalwork (such as air filtration systems and assembly lines) for food producers – was part of the delegation and joined the online event.

Kate Burgess from Aerofab Fabrications said that the delegation called for urgent action to protect workers who are unable to work remotely, given the increasing evidence showing that poor air quality worsens underlying health conditions that make a person more vulnerable to complications if they contract COVID-19. Workers in the manufacturing sector are at greater risk of being exposed to dust, toxic particles and pollution.

The most urgent action from the whitepaper (titled ‘With Every Breath We Make: Ensuring Healthy Air for Manufacturing Workers’), which is supported by the Trade Union Clean Air Network (TUCAN) and the Hazards Campaign, is to call on the Government to update regulation to lower the acceptable limits for air pollutants in industrial workplaces. This echoes the call from the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM) and Trades Union Congress (TUC) that limits be changed to 1 mg/m3 for respirable dust from the current 4 mg/m3 COSHH trigger.

In addition to the Government call, the whitepaper further advises that regulators review the exposure limits for all air pollutants, beyond current regulation and in line with recent research that has found that airborne hazards can cause health conditions including heart attacks, cancer, diabetes, impaired cognitive function and depression. The whitepaper states that this review should include launching long-term research programmes that combine air quality monitoring at manufacturing sites with the tracking of workforce health issues.

Manufacturers are also urged to review the business case for action on air pollution, with help from the authorities, and to adopt measures to eliminate airborne pollution.

Ms Burgess said: “The findings of the whitepaper are compelling, and it was important that businesses like ours were given a voice, not just to highlight the problems but also to start exploring pathways to solutions.

“We’re delighted that a Leicester business is playing a key role in setting the national agenda for improvements to air quality in UK manufacturing.”

Chris Large, Co-CEO of Global Action Plan, said: “Manufacturers are increasingly paying attention to employee wellbeing, especially as workplaces look to become COVID-secure, but the quality of the air and the working environment continues to be underplayed as a foundation of good employee wellbeing. Regulators must enforce lower limits to protect the hidden heroes who have continued to work throughout the pandemic, especially given that ongoing research is increasingly linking poor air quality to the worsening of COVID-19 symptoms. Current regulations continue to allow unacceptable levels of airborne hazards and pollution that are dangerous to manufacturing workers’ health.”

Ben Simons, head of West Europe for Zehnder Clean Air Solutions, said: “We’ve been working with our clients in the manufacturing sector for a decade now, so we’ve come to understand the importance of clean air to their businesses. What this report highlights are both the serious health issues that need to be addressed to protect workers and the opportunities for businesses to take positive steps that, in many cases, will be more than paid back by increased efficiency.

“Given the challenges facing the sector at the moment, along with Global Action Plan, we felt the urgency to share this with as wide an audience as possible to help manufacturers understand the changes they can make now to put their businesses and people in a healthier, more sustainable position for the long term.

“We also want to appeal to lawmakers to ensure that these long-term health effects are not ignored in the current health crisis and that we take the time now to set a course for UK manufacturing that supports its success in the next decade and beyond.”

10 November 2020


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