08 Mar Zehnder Clean Air Solutions and Global Action Plan team up for cleaner air in the workplace
Breathing at work can be bad for your health – report finds millions of manufacturing employees at risk from sub-standard air quality at risk from sub-standard air quality
Millions of employees in UK manufacturing are needlessly risking health problems from poor air quality at work. That’s the conclusion of a new study by environment charity Global Action Plan and the air cleaning company Zehnder Clean Air Solutions.
The report, entitled “Every Breath We Make – Ensuring healthy air for manufacturing”, draws on academic research into air pollution and health, sector studies and evidence from individuals, unions, and business groups.
Poor air quality is responsible for 36,000 deaths a year in the UK.
Prolonged exposure to high levels of air pollution can damage your lungs, raise blood pressure, and increase lung- and heart-related hospital admissions and deaths.
Emerging evidence also suggests that the problem contributes to the number of Covid-19 cases, with those exposed to high levels of air pollution more susceptible to catching the disease.
“We wanted to do this report because we felt general awareness of workplace air pollution is very low and needed to be a much higher priority for business,” says Ben Simons, Zehnder Clean Air Solutions’ Head of Europe West. “Global Action Plan is a charity doing brilliant work in highlighting the dangers of air pollution to health, so this partnership was a natural fit.”
Air pollution is caused by tiny airborne particles measuring less than 0.001 mm, or aerosols, from a variety of sources. In manufacturing, this will include cement dust, flour, stone working, chemicals, welding, grinding and spray painting.
Breathing in hazardous airborne particles can cause health issues for any worker but is especially dangerous to those with pre-existing conditions like asthma or heart issues.
In manufacturing, up to 440,000 people fall into this category. It’s no wonder the sector has a rate of occupational asthma about five times higher than the all-industries average.
One employee quoted in the report said air quality was so poor at his cylinder-filling workplace that: “At the end of a shift, staff would leave the facility looking like they worked on the coalface.”
While the HSE regulates the exposure of workers to 500 different substances, the report’s authors say the government needs to update regulation to lower the acceptable limits for air pollutants in the industrial workplace.
This echoes the call from the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM) and Trades Union Congress (TUC) that limits be changed to 1mg/m3 for respirable dust from the current 4mg/m3 COSHH trigger.
“This report not only highlights the serious threat to workers’ health that needs to be addressed, but also the opportunities for businesses to take positive steps,” says Simons. “In many cases, properly dealing with air quality in factories and other workplaces will be more than paid back by increased efficiency. Better health for employees; better for your business – it’s a win-win situation.”