The British Safety Council has joined forces with Kings College London to harness the power of world-leading air pollution monitoring technology in a new campaign to protect outdoor workers from the triple threat of dirty air.
Speaking at the British Safety Council's annual conference yesterday at the TUC Congress Centre in London, senior Air Quality Analyst at KCL, Andrew Grieve began by showing the audience a scan of dark smudges on lung cells. He said: “These are particles of diesel, unburned particles of soot in our lungs. We’re breathing these all the time.”
Together with the BSC, Grieve and his team are working on a new app, Canairy. The app will, for the first time, be able monitor exposure of these health harming particles to outdoor workers, a vulnerable group because of the length of time they are outside.
“We walk through [air pollution] when we’re commuting or in lunchtime but for outdoor workers they’re in it all the time,” he said.
Canairy will draw on KCL’s sophisticated mapping model, which takes in monitoring station data, weather stations, and traffic data to produce readings of concentration of pollutant down to a 20 by 20 metre grid.
The grid will show the concentration of the three air pollutants that we know are most damaging to human health – fine particulate matter PM2.5, nitrogen dioxide and ozone.
“We want to empower [the app] users to show them what exposure is. Currently no one knows. If you’re working by a busy road you don’t know exactly what it is. We want to offer it to people to say, this is what your exposure is," said Grieve.
Head of campaigns at the British Safety Council, Matthew Holder, said the idea for Cainairy came from a report produced by the Royal College of Physicians that identified outdoor workers, along with children and people with pre-existing health conditions like asthma as one of three groups of people most vulnerable to air pollution. It found that around 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution in the UK each year.
Mr Holder said: “This is about using the technology in London we’ve got for the purpose of worker health. Secondly, the data will help people in real time, every day, reduce their exposure; the employers, when they do risk assessments or how they structure their work, when and what time they place their workers outside.”
Canairy will be launched next year after being trialed by supporters including Kier Group. Although it is for use in London only, it is part of the wider campaign Time to Breathe, which will raise awareness and drive change around health and air pollution in the UK.
Holder hopes the app could also lead to a much better understanding of the impacts of air pollution on outdoor workers’ health: “As we collect data and hopefully get lots of supporters we can develop policy and research – could there be an outdoor worker workplace exposure limit? Could there be time limits to how long outdoor workers work when there are outdoor high pollution levels?
“On the research side, [we could] follow a cohort of workers and check their health and against the data coming out of the app. There are big opportunities but it requires your support, so get in touch. We need to get information and act now rather than do nothing, we don’t want air pollution to be another asbestos.”
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