Pollution Health Emergency Requires Urgent Action

The British Safety Council (BSC) has urged the UK government to end its “complacency” over the threat to health from air pollution.

The organisation welcomed the results of new research by King’s College London which demonstrates a direct link between air pollution and health emergencies.

Research by the university proves that hundreds of children and adults are needlessly suffering when air pollution levels are higher in nine major English cities, said the BSC. The research shows that hospital admittances related to cardiac arrests, strokes and severe asthma attacks increase during these key periods.

Matthew Holder, British Safety Council Head of Campaigns, said: “The more we learn about the health impacts of air pollution, the more concerning it becomes. The latest research from King’s College London provides evidence that even relatively short-term exposure to air pollution at high levels causes immediate and serious health conditions. At the British Safety Council, a charity focused on occupational issues, we are very concerned about the health of outdoor workers who spend week after week in the ambient environment, breathing in toxic air. Outdoor workers face a potentially higher risk of heart attacks, strokes and acute asthma than many people who live and work in our cities.”

In March 2019, the British Safety Council launched its Time to Breathe campaign, which is focused on the protection of outdoor workers from air pollution. The cornerstone of the campaign is Canairy, the first mobile app that gives outdoor workers and their employers insights into pollution and how to reduce staff exposure to it. It has been created in co-operation with King’s College London.

Mr Holder added: “Although Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, said that King’s research provided the evidence of a ‘health emergency’, the government, the regulator and employers are complacent about this risk and are reluctant to take urgent and appropriate action. That is why we launched the Time to Breathe campaign.

“We are calling for:

  • adoption of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) exposure guidelines for nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) and ozone in the UK by 2030,
  • pollution alerts issued by Defra to reference outdoor workers when necessary and
  • better measurement of the exposure of workers, as well as comprehensive cohort studies into the health impacts of air pollution.

“This week the Mayor of London hosted the International Clean Air Summit. Government ministers and business leaders came together to agree new actions for tackling air pollution. We hope that the summit will move the agenda of air pollution forward significantly, including acknowledging the serious risks to outdoor workers.”