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British Safety Council is calling on the UK Government to approach the issue of air pollution with the same level and degree of urgency as it does climate change, and in doing so improve how it monitors and measures air pollution levels across the country.

In a letter to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs today (9 December), Mike Robinson, Chief Executive of British Safety Council, said:

“British Safety Council has been campaigning since 2019 to raise awareness of the impact that air pollution can have on the health of outdoor workers. More recently, the risk to everyone’s health from poor air quality was highlighted by the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s decision to significantly reduce the limits in its air quality guidelines (AQGs) for smaller particulates and nitrogen dioxide. We support this decision and have been consistent in continuing to call for the UK Government to match the WHO’s limits.

“The UK has an opportunity to lead the world on this issue, particularly now we have left the European Union, and should approach improving the air we breathe with the same energy and zeal as it does in tackling climate change.”

On the issue of monitoring and data, Mike Robinson said:

“While we know that the Government recently announced a new round of Air Quality Grants for local authorities, which is welcome, much of this money is intended for them to raise awareness on the issue.

“British Safety Council is calling for improvements in the monitoring of air pollution levels throughout the UK. Indeed, we want every town and city to have the same standard of information and data as the London Air Quality Network (LAQN) which is now even being supplemented by other additional sensors as part of the ‘Breathe London’ initiative.”

On the fact that risks of outdoor air pollution are not currently overseen by the Government’s health and safety regulator, Mike Robinson said:

“We also would like to see the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recognise exposure to ambient air pollution as an occupational health issue. Only by accepting the health implications of noxious outdoor air, can the necessary actions be taken to protect workers who are exposed to its harmful effects on a regular basis.

“The HSE must recognise outdoor workers as a vulnerable group and undertake the research needed to assess the scale of the problem, but we know it will not do so unless directed to by Ministers.”

Ahead of a Private Members’ Bill being tabled in the House of Commons tomorrow (10 Dec) by Christine Jardine MP calling on the Government to match the WHO’s clean air targets Mike Robinson added:

“The Government will be consulting next year to determine new limits for the UK, as part of targets being set under the new Environment Act. We are urging it to be as bold and ambitious as possible with these, given we know there are no safe limits to human health from breathing fine particles (PM2.5).

“We would encourage MPs to support this Private Members’ Bill and urge the Government to show global leadership and match the WHO’s new lower air pollution limits.”

About the Time to Breathe campaign

British Safety Council has been campaigning since 2019 to raise awareness of the impact that air pollution can have on the health of outdoor workers.

One of the drivers of our campaign, Time to Breathe, has been the call for more and better data to help us understand better how air pollution affects people such as outdoor workers. The fact is, little or no research exists on the impact air pollution has on people who don’t get to choose the air they breathe because of their work. These workers include street cleaners, refuse workers, traffic police, cycle couriers, construction or maintenance workers, newspaper sellers, gardeners, teachers or security guards working on busy roads.

For more on Time to Breathe, please click here.