The need to tackle air pollution in major UK cities is a political news headline that resurfaces every few years.
In January 2019, London Mayor Sadiq Khan revealed that London’s “filthy, toxic air” is causing thousands of premature deaths each year and labelled it a “public health emergency”.
His comments followed the announcement of the Government’s clean air strategy, which lays out plans – with targets – to reduce atmospheric pollution and therefore reduce the number of deaths linked to breathing ‘toxic air’.
But while air pollution in major UK cities is well-known, there is a workplace health crisis that has been occurring for decades and has largely remained out of the scrutiny of the public eye. What is it?
Dust in the workplace.
According to the UK Health and Safety Executive, exposure to dust in the workplace is killing 12,000 people a year. To put that into context, that is 33 people dying everyday – nearly 10 times more than the number of deaths caused by road traffic accidents.
The severity of this crisis is only now being understood because the health impact of dust exposure in the workplace takes years (sometimes decades) to manifest. Those suffering today were most likely exposed to harmful dust and particulates years ago.
Changes have to be made to protect the workforce.
A major contributor to today’s workplace health crisis is that many of the original health and safety regulations governing air pollution in harsh and hazardous environments were limited by the technology available at the time.
Due to the rising number of deaths related to dust exposure in the workplace, pressure is finally being applied to regulatory bodies to take a closer look at the root cause and consider updating the regulations for particulate monitoring within harsh and hazardous environments accordingly.
How can worker safety be improved?
New regulations must focus on providing accurate, real-time and continuous monitoring within harsh and hazardous environments. This will allow organisations to understand the harmful dust levels workers are exposed to throughout an entire operation.
Having this accurate and real-time picture not only protects workers’ health, it can also help organisations to become more efficient and improve working conditions.
The evolution of particulate monitoring
The latest particulate monitoring solutions use lab-grade laser technology combined with optical particle counters to provide full-spectrum, continuous and real-time particulate monitoring.
These devices have no pumps, filters or moving parts that might get clogged and break down in harsh and hazardous environments, greatly improving their lifespan and efficiency.
Organisations now have the capability to get a far clearer understanding of the link between events and exposure, as well as reassure workers that their health and wellbeing is being protected.
These devices should be front of mind in the workplace and challenge governing bodies to make the necessary changes to existing health and safety legislation for the monitoring of particulate matter in the workplace.
If early legislation for monitoring air pollution in the workplace was guided by the technology of the day, then new regulations should take advantage of technological advancements that have been made to provide a better and healthier future.
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