While technology pushes ever forward to develop more affordable and efficient electric vehicles, we are still at a point where the air quality around our homes and workplaces are continuing to harm us and will likely do so for the forthcoming years. There are plenty of articles in mainstream and industry press that cover this, and a recent piece from SHP Online highlights research conducted by Kings College London which examines how air pollution can affect growth in children (https://www.shponline.co.uk/common-workplace-hazards/no-excuse-for-inaction-or-ignorance-on-air-pollution-says-british-safety-council/).
The introduction of the ULEZ in London and recent proposals from Bristol City Council to ban all privately owned Diesel vehicles from 2021, are a small step towards managing this however, as the above article indicates, we will not see the full impact of years of pollution around us and across the planet.
Ultimately though this will continue to be an issue for people if these pollutants continue to be pumped into the atmosphere through vehicle use and industry however this can be just the start of helping us to manage and improve air quality and people’s health while living and working in urban environments.
Alongside the impacts of this urban air pollution on children and those with breathing conditions, there are the many thousands of outdoor workers across the country who are being exposed to these contaminants. It’s a difficult one to try and manage as an employer, and not quite as defined as we have seen with exposure to Asbestos in the past, however, if employers are not taking action to at least monitor the levels of exposure to their employees then the issue will continue to exacerbate. A campaign launched this year by the British Safety Council titled ‘Time to Breathe’ calls on employers, policy-makers and regulators to start taking this issue seriously. Along with the campaign to bring about change, they have also launched a free App called ‘Canairy’ which can be used to monitor and highlight to individuals the air quality in and around the areas they are working. At present it covers Greater London and provides real-time information about air pollution levels, calculates a user’s hourly exposure to specific contaminants, and compares these exposure levels to WHO guidance. It also gives employers insights to inform health risk assessments and work scheduling that will reduce exposure for the long-term,
Whilst this app has not stretched beyond the M25 yet, here are some helpful tips for anyone when working outdoors in an urban environment:
Move away from traffic
Pollution concentrations within a few metres of busy roads are normally 2 or 3 times higher than quieter, back roads.
If you can, when pollution increases, change position until the traffic reduces.
Reduce your physical activity
The faster you breathe the more airborne pollutants are delivered to your lungs.
If you can, during a period of increased pollution, reduce your exertion and the pace of work until a time when the pollution lowers.
The most extreme levels of air pollution are found in narrow streets lined with tall buildings, which can trap pollutants.
If you can, during a period of increased pollution, move to another place to work.
Don’t stand too close
Move away from any emissions from work vehicles.
If you can, request engines are switched off or report if they are not operating efficiently.
Put up a work tent or a screen barrier. Even a simple, fold-out work tent or screen barrier can cut your exposure to pollutants by 20%.
If you are spending long periods in a stationary position beside a busy road these are a great way to reduce your exposure.
Put Ozone in the shade
Ground level Ozone, produced by an interaction of traffic pollution, heat and sunlight, is a particular problem during the Spring and Summer months.
If possible, reschedule low-priority outdoor work to another time of the day.
Crossing roads, reduce exposure
If you’re constantly crossing busy roads, it’s worth doing the following:
• Stand well back from the kerb while you wait to cross
• Avoid getting stuck for too long on a central reservation
• Cross the road as quickly as possible
Health is also a barrier
There are some things in your own time that can help:
• A good diet containing antioxidants such as vitamin C (oranges, vegetables etc.) can help protect against some of the effects of pollution.
• Smoking is not a good idea, it probably goes without saying!
• Exercise is a good idea.
• Pollution attacks heart and respiratory systems, so strengthening them will help protect you.
Ultimately though, this will continue to be an issue for people if these pollutants continue to be pumped into the atmosphere through vehicle use and industry, however this can be just the start of helping us to manage and improve air quality and people’s health while living and working in urban environments.