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Research: the case for action

With compelling research showing 36,000 early deaths in the UK every year from ambient air pollution, we need better research on the vulnerabilities of outdoor workers if employers, policy-makers and regulators are going to do more to protect them.

The impact of air pollution on the health of outdoor workers: the case for action presents evidence that links personal exposure to cancer, lung, heart and other diseases. Yet most businesses are unaware of the risks of ambient pollution to outdoor workers and the Health and Safety Executive is not offering any guidance or oversight on the topic.

This needs to change and the evidence in this paper tells us why.

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Based on the paper, Time to Breathe is calling for:

  • Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to recognise exposure to ambient air pollution as an occupational health issue and adopt a Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) for Diesel Engine Exhaust Emissions (DEEE)
  • Improvements to pollution monitoring across the UK so that all regions have the same accuracy as London for emissions data
  • The UK to adopt World Health Organisation (WHO) exposure limits for the main pollutants of nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and ozone
  • Everyone to reduce their pollution footprint. Let’s use clean energy, cycle and walk more to reduce emissions.

Become a Supporter

Air pollution is an issue across the UK and British Safety Council is planning a series of public events to promote Time to Breathe.

Employers and stakeholders can support the campaign by:

  • Sharing the findings of our research within your business and call upon HSE to investigate the risks associated with ambient air pollution to your workers – whether they are outdoor workers or drivers
  • Discuss air pollution with your staff, share ideas on reducing exposure here and use free communication resources from the Time to Breathe website  
  • If you are London-based, use our free mobile app Canairy, built with experts at King’s College London, and gain vital information to manage the risks associated with invisible air pollution. Get in touch to access the app and work with us on developing intervention case studies
  • Tell your MP about the need for HSE to research the links between worker health and ambient air pollution, the need for better pollution monitoring around the UK and the importance of public health messages aimed at outdoor workers during pollution episodes. Use the attached letter to send to your MP


Risks to outdoor workers: summary of the evidence

Each year in the UK, around 36,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution, according to a government report. It is associated with lung cancer, heart disease, strokes, reductions in cognition and can endanger unborn babies. In 2013, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that outdoor air pollution is carcinogenic to humans.

In the Royal College of Physicians report Every Breath We Take: the lifelong impact of air pollution (2016), one of the most vulnerable groups are people who “work near busy roads.” This is backed up by IARC who say that people who are more exposed to pollution because of their jobs (e.g. traffic police, drivers, street sellers) are also at increased risk.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), in its 2013 review of evidence, point to many studies that have shown excess health risks in proximity to roads for such outcomes as cardiovascular and respiratory mortality.

Further, studies on female traffic police observed significantly higher plasma free testosterone and follicle-stimulating hormone levels during the proliferative phase of the menstrual cycle. This review also tells us that air pollution is linked to abnormal sperm count, mobility and morphology and a significantly higher percentage of spermatozoa with damaged DNA.


Time to Breathe - Professor Frank Kelly

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Next steps

The team is gathering pollution data to improve our understanding of how many outdoor workers are exposed to above WHO guidelines. Time to Breathe will be communicating its findings over the next few months as part of our research and policy development.

We would love to hear about what you are doing to tackle air pollution or if you would like to get involved in Time to Breathe.

Please send a message to [email protected] and one of our team will be in touch.

Please follow us on social media @britsafe and use the hashtags:


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