The Government has ignored calls by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee to change its Environment Bill to protect outdoor workers from the dangers of air pollution. The shocking reality for many outdoor workers in the UK is that they are breathing toxic air during their working day.
In its response to the EFRA Committee's February Air Quality report, the Government failed to agree to set more stringent targets for one of the most harmful pollutants known as particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) in line with the World Health Organisation's (WHO) standards. The British Safety Council supports this call by the EFRA committee, which has also been supported by the recent report by an independent coroner into the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, where air pollution was found to have been a material contribution.
The Government response also fails to tackle setting targets for levels of other harmful pollutants including PM10, nitrogen dioxide and ozone, which the British Safety Council has been calling for as part of its Time to Breathe campaign. Poor air quality is now the biggest environmental health issue facing the UK and is linked to an estimated 64,000 deaths a year. It causes more harm than tobacco or a lack of exercise and costs the economy a staggering £20 billion each year.
The British Safety Council is therefore urging the Government to take the immediate opportunity to really show its ambition and commitment to clean air and stop shying away from what needs to be done through the Environment Bill currently progressing through Parliament. This needs to be amended to set more stringent targets for tackling the most harmful pollutants, by adopting the WHO guideline limits. Legally binding targets based on WHO guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK. The evidence at the inquest into the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah was that there is no safe level for particulate matter and that the WHO guidelines should be the minimum requirement. The issue will only get worse if the Government fails to take action to tackle the scale and urgency of this public health crisis.
Damian Testa, Head of Policy and Communications at the British Safety Council, commented:
“For many outdoor workers ambient air pollution has turned the simple, human act of breathing into a deadly occupational hazard. Action is long overdue, as confirmed by EFRA. Now is the time to take concrete action to ensure clean air for outdoor workers and stop tinkering around the edges.”
“The Government must show greater urgency and accountability for this forgotten army of outdoor workers, the people who deliver our letters and food, help our children to cross the road, empty our bins, and keep us safe from crime. They deserve better protection. No one should be made ill by the job that they do.”