Diesel Exhaust in the Workplace
Overwhelmingly members have told us that this is an area of great concern and that more work is required in this area. As a result, the UFUSA has taken a deeper dive into the most current science on exposure to diesel emissions and the SAMFS’s approach to mitigating exposure. Over future WordBacks we will be exploring this topic further but to begin with we wanted to highlight why the UFUSA believes this places short and long term health of members at serious risk.
Diesel engine exhaust contains up to 20,000 different chemical compounds, with around only 700 having been identified to the present time, including carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide and diesel particulate matter. Diesel particulate matter (DPM) are fine particles of carbon and other hazardous chemicals generated by combustion processes and are found in the gas and soot emissions of diesel engine exhaust.
In 2012 the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found that diesel exhaust causes lung cancer, and noted positive associations with a number of other cancers and conditions and classified it as a group 1 carcinogen (see here).
Diesel exhaust emissions have been linked to lung cancer and bladder cancer. (Please note that lung cancer is not currently covered in our presumptive cancer legislation). Diesel exhaust emissions are also linked to lung and heart disease and parental exposure prior to childbirth shows increased risk of childhood brain tumours (Cancer Council, March 2017). 13.8% of Australians workers are substantially exposed to diesel engine exhaust every day at work (see here), which is second only to solar UV radiation exposure (see here), and every year 130 deaths in Australia are attributed to exposure to diesel engine exhaust (see here).
UFUSA members are particularly exposed to diesel engine exhaust in the course of the daily operation as Firefighters and as Engineering Technicians carrying out testing, repair and maintenance of fire appliances. In 2013 the SAMFS commissioned a study into the air quality at several SAMFS stations which, astonishingly, found that DPM exposure in those stations was considered to be “negligible”. In 2019 UFUSA members overwhelmingly voted in favour of the SAMFS taking action to combat diesel exhaust exposure.
In 2019 the UFUSA commissioned a report into DPM in the SAMFS, which found evidence of DPM contamination in all stations visited and that diesel exhaust extraction systems were non-existent, grossly inadequate or not working. The report contained the following 6 recommendations, which have been endorsed by the UFUSA State Council:
- The UFUSA and the SAMFS seek an agreed consultative process to implement systematic and regular health and air quality monitoring of all workplace environments where DPM is of concern including all stations, engineering workshops and training facilities;
- That the UFU seek agreement with the SAMFS regarding the installation of automatically operating, appropriately designed and appropriately sized Point of Capture Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) systems in all Stations, Engineering workshop and Training environments;
- The routine replacement of SAMFS Appliances per year be pursued as a matter of priority by the parties with the global goal of the replacement process ensuring that 100% of the SAMFS Appliance fleet is Euro 6 compliant by 2025 at the latest;
- PPC must be removed from being stored in engine bays as a matter of urgency and stored in fit for purpose, positively pressured PPC storage rooms;
- A training and awareness package needs to be developed to educate staff about the dangers of exposure to diesel exhaust and best practice for reducing exposure;
- A procedural document be developed around engine bay procedures and use to reduce exposure to diesel exhaust.
The UFUSA tabled the report at the SAMFS Work Health and Safety Committee and has set out 23 short, medium and long term goals and objectives which are a practical step toward implementation of the report’s recommendations:
- The UFUSA demands SAMFS commit to implement all of the UFUSA’s short, medium and long term goals and objectives as a matter of priority in accordance with SAMFS’ obligations under the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act 2012.
- The UFUSA also supports the Australian Council of Trade Union’s call for Safework Australia to immediately adopt a workplace exposure standard for elemental carbon of 0.05mgm/m3 with a reduction to 0.01mgm/m3 by 2023 (see here).
- The UFUSA calls on the SAMFS to adopt a proactive approach to adopting a precautionary standard that would ensure members are protected from the chronic and acute effects of DPM exposure now.
DPM exposure is part of the UFUSA’s resourcing campaign and further details can be found on the resourcing campaign page.