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HSA publishes diesel engine exhaust information sheet

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has compiled an information sheet, which looks at the harmful effects of diesel exhaust fumes and ways to assess and prevent exposure.

The HSA says that diesel engines power many machines and vehicles including trucks, buses, private vehicles, farm machinery, and construction equipment. Such vehicles and equipment are also potential sources of exposure to diesel exhaust fumes in the workplace.

This HSA information sheet will help you understand the composition of exhaust fumes, its health effects, and ways to assess and prevent exposure.

How can diesel exhaust exposure affect your health?

  • Even short term exposure to diesel exhaust can cause eye irritation, breathing problems and inflammatory symptoms.
  • Prolonged (chronic) exposure can lead to coughing and breathlessness, lung damage and, (depending on exposure) an increased risk of lung cancer.
  • Exhaust fumes can also contain known carcinogenic substances such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which can be inhaled into the respiratory tract.

How to risk assess diesel exhaust exposure
Where there are diesel engines of one kind or another in the workplace, there is a risk of exposure to diesel exhaust fumes. The exposure risk should be assessed as part of your overall chemical risk assessment. The risk assessment will help you to make the correct decisions, and should be based on the following questions:

  • Is there a potential hazard of exposure to diesel exhaust in my workplace?
  • Is the risk of exposure high or low?
  • Who is being exposed and to what extent?
  • How many employees are being exposed and for how long?
  • How can exposure be prevented or minimised?
  • If action is necessary to prevent potential exposure, have you prioritised your actions?

How to prevent exposure
The best way to control a hazard is to eliminate it. Can the exhaust be removed from the workplace? There are scenarios where natural gas or electricity can substitute as the energy or fuel source. If the exhaust cannot be removed from the workplace, a number of options can be used to prevent exposure:

  • Change the work methods
  • Modify the layout
  • Change the work procedures Engineering controls

Is the workplace well ventilated naturally or mechanically so there is a good ow of fresh air? As well as general ventilation within the workplace, consider local exhaust ventilation (LEV) as it can efficiently remove diesel exhaust fumes at the point of release into the workplace (rather than relying on dilution of the fumes by general ventilation).

Local Exhaust Ventilation
Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) can capture vehicle exhaust in workplaces such as garages or vehicle test centres. When installing LEV Systems, the HSA says employers need to work with designers, suppliers and employees to ensure effective control, to avoid expensive mistakes and to control exposure effectively.

Suppliers must provide LEV systems that are fit for purpose, are shown to work and continue to work into the future. The employer (the LEV owner) must ensure controls are adequate. Everyone, both suppliers and users of the LEV, must be competent in the operation of the LEV system.

Adverse health effects can occur when employees are exposed to occupational hazards such as dusts, fumes and vapours (chemical or biological agents). The effects of exposure to a hazard depend on the frequency, duration and degree of exposure: some substances can cause immediate health effects, such as carbon monoxide poisoning; others, such as asbestos, can have a long latency period.

The potential for exposure to any chemical or biological agent needs to be assessed in each place of work. Employees can contract occupational illnesses and diseases and develop these because they breathe in too much dust, fumes or other airborne contaminants at work, often because control measures are not in place or do not work well enough.

Health surveillance
Health surveillance is appropriate when the exposure of an employee to a hazardous chemical agent is such that a clinically identifiable illness or adverse health effect may be related to the exposure. It may also be needed if there is a reasonable likelihood that the illness or effect may occur or there are valid low-risk techniques available for detecting indications of the illness or effect.

Training and information for employees
Information, training and instruction should be given to employees on the health hazards relating to diesel exhaust fumes. Employees or their safety representative should be involved with the risk assessment and informed of its outcomes.

They should be trained in the proper use of control measures. The information, training and instruction should help employees to recognise the risks and associated hazards and enable them collaborate with management in protecting their health and safety.