The British Safety Council is urging the UK Government to approach air pollution hazards with the same degree of urgency as it does climate change and to improve monitoring of air pollution levels across the UK.
In a letter to Goerge Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs this week, Mike Robinson, chief executive of British Safety Council, said: “The British Safety Council has been campaigning since 2019 to raise awareness of the impact that air pollution can have on the health of outdoor workers. More recently, the risk to everyone’s health from poor air quality was highlighted by the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s decision to significantly reduce the limits in its air quality guidelines (AQGs) for smaller particulates and nitrogen dioxide. We support this decision and have been consistent in continuing to call for the UK Government to match WHO’s limits.
“The UK has an opportunity to lead the world on this issue, particularly now that we have left the European Union, and should approach improving the air we breathe with the same energy and zeal as it does in tackling climate change.”
On the question of monitoring and data, Robinson said: “While we know that the government recently announced a new round of air quality grants for local authorities, which is welcome, much of this money is intended for them to raise awareness on the issue.
“The British Safety Council is calling for improvements in the monitoring of air pollution levels throughout the UK. Indeed, we want every town and city to have the same standard of information and data as the London Air Quality Network (LAQN) which is now even being supplemented by other additional sensors as part of the ‘Breathe London’ initiative.”
On the fact that risks of outdoor air pollution are not currently overseen by the government’s health and safety regulator, Robinson added: “We also would like to see the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recognise exposure to ambient air pollution as an occupational health issue. Only by accepting the health implications of noxious outdoor air can the necessary actions be taken to protect workers who are exposed to its harmful effects on a regular basis.
“The HSE must recognise outdoor workers as a vulnerable group and undertake the research needed to assess the scale of the problem, but we know it will not do so unless directed to by ministers.”
Robinson’s exhortation came ahead of a private member’s bill being tabled in the House of Commons this week by Christine Jardine MP, which also calls on the government to match the WHO’s clean air targets.
He added: “The government will be consulting next year to determine new limits for the UK, as part of targets being set under the new environment act. We are urging it to be as bold and ambitious as possible with these, given we know there are no safe limits to human health from breathing fine particles (PM2.5).
“We would encourage MPs to support this private member’s bill and urge the government to show global leadership and match the WHO’s new lower air pollution limits.”