Claims over toxic air at work grow
Legal claims over exposure to diesel exhaust fumes at work are growing as unions warn that toxic air in the workplace is a timebomb on a par with asbestos.
Royal Mail and at least one local authority are among employers being sued over alleged failures to protect staff from the damaging health effects of diesel pollution from vehicles. More cases are lined up, according to lawyers and unions involved in supporting workers.
Dan Shears, the health and safety director for the GMB union, said: “It needs a test case and then there will be an increase in claims … There are potentially lots of people who have unnecessarily suffered premature death who may have been affected by industrial exposure.
“We are now with diesel in the same place we were with asbestos in the 1930s.”
Five years ago the International Agency for Research in Cancer classified diesel engine exhaust emissions as carcinogenic to humans. That classification – combined with growing awareness of the damaging effects of diesel air pollution, the VW emissions scandal, and research showing some diesel cars have been emitting about six times more nitrogen oxide than is allowed – has led rising numbers of employees to consider action.
Parcelforce Worldwide, part of Royal Mail Group, is being sued for negligence for allegedly breaching health and safety regulations. Under the Control of Substance Hazardous to Health regulations 2002, all employers have a legal duty to prevent exposure to substances that can cause health problems.
The claimant is a Parcelforce employee who worked at a depot where he says he was exposed daily to diesel pollution. He says this led him to develop asthma. “The claimant was exposed to, ingested and breathed diesel exhaust fumes and particulate and other combustion gases,” the claim states. The claimant said no protection was provided in the form of ventilation in his booth or protective equipment.
His lawyer, Phillip Gower, said: “We have seen an increase in the number of inquiries from clients who have been exposed to diesel fumes, car exhaust fumes and pollution at work.”
Royal Mail confirmed that a Parcelforce Worldwide employee has submitted a claim alleging that diesel fumes had contributed to his asthma. “Royal Mail Group has denied liability and is robustly defending this claim,” it said.
Researchers have found that some diesel vehicles produce about six times more nitrogen oxide on the road than is legally allowed