Workplace exposure to diesel fumes

18 April 2017

With recent pressure applied to the UK Government to reduce diesel fuel emissions it is important to recognise how companies can reduce their reliability on diesel and protect employees from the potential risks of exposure.

Legislation such as The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH), as well as other regulations, requires companies to have suitable and sufficient risk assessments for risks to health which arise from exposure to hazardous substances, such as diesel engine exhaust emissions (DEEE). Once the assessment is completed, there is a further duty to take necessary steps to prevent or adequately control exposure to the hazard. 

A major source of workplace exposure to DEEE comes from heavy duty vehicles. Workers such as bus, lorry and taxi drivers are occupationally exposed to DEEE. Several health warnings have been associated with fumes from diesel powered vehicles such as irritation to eyes and the respiratory tract. 

DEEE exposure can be prevented by adopting one or more of the measures below: 

  • changing the method of work
  • modifying the layout of the workplace
  • modifying the operations to eliminate exhaust emissions inside the workplace
  • substituting diesel fuel with a safer fuel or alternative technology where practicable, i.e compressed natural gas. 

If any of these practices are adopted the risk assessment should take into account hazards posed by alternative fuels or technologies. 

There will be situations where it is not reasonably practicable to prevent exposure to DEEE. In situations like this companies should consider circumstances individually and take the necessary control measures to reduce exposure such as engineering or practice and administrative controls.

Engineering control examples: 

  • use of lower emission or more fuel-efficient engines
  • use of cleaner fuels such as low sulphur diesel fuels
  • enclosing the exhaust tailpipe from which DEEEs are emitted into an extraction system. 

Practice and administrative controls examples: 

  • using processes to help reduce the generation of DEEE, for example switching-off engines when not required
  • providing and enforcing the use of respiratory protective equipment. 

The content of this article is for general information only. Birketts has a dedicated Health and Safety Team, with two Health and Safety Consultants on hand to provide practical, straightforward advice in relation to such matters. If you feel your business could benefit from our services please contact a member of our team, who will be more than happy to assist. Law covered as at April 2017.