Unite take action against diesel fumes time bomb

Unite takes action against diesel fumes ‘time bomb’

28 April 2017
A major new initiative to protect workers from the ticking time bomb caused by exposure to diesel fumes has been launched today (Friday 28 April) by Unite, the UK’s largest union.

The union which represents workers right across the economy is launching a diesel emissions’ register so that members can record when they have been exposed to excessive diesel fumes. The information will be used by Unite to report accidents, force employers to clean up their workplaces and could be the basis of future legal claims.

This week the government refused to comply with a high court demand to publish by Monday 24 April, tougher draft measurers to tackle illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide. The government’s original proposals were so poor that the court ruled them to be illegal. Yesterday (Thursday 27 April) the government lost a further court case and now will be forced to publish its plans.

Unite’s register has initially been trialled across the transport sectors where the issue is a priority and has already produced disturbing results with members reporting incidents including: “Many shifts have had dense fog through diesel emissions, staff have coughed, had sore eyes, sore throats” and “I regularly work in a building with diesel fumes from diesel engines”.

Unite’s study revealed that affected workers reported a series of short-term health concerns including: wheezing (55 per cent), other respiratory problems (55 per cent), eye irritation (45 per cent), lightheadness (36 per cent), chest tightness (36 per cent), headache (36 per cent), nausea (27 per cent) and heartburn (18 per cent).

Long term problems recorded by Unite members included: effects on lung capacity, breathlessness, asthma, being more prone to colds and flu and sinusitis.

Unite already has registers for members who are exposed in the workplace to asbestos or fume events on board aircraft. Unite is currently pursuing 94 legal case on behalf of cabin crew who have been exposed to toxic fumes on board passenger planes.

Unite assistant general secretary for transport Diana Holland said: “Unite is acting to protect our members from the ticking time bomb of being needlessly exposed to poisonous diesel fumes. We cannot take risks with health and safety at work. We are deeply concerned the government is burying its head in the sand and allowing people to become sick and even die due to its inaction

“In the meantime, where it is clear that employers are ignoring their legal duties, information form the register will be used to force employers who are making our members sick and ill to clean up their acts.

“If it can be proved that the health of workers has been damaged due to exposure to diesel fumes, Unite will consider taking legal action on behalf of our members.”


Notes to editors:

The World Health Organisation classifies diesel exhaust emissions as a Class 1 Carcinogenic Agent. The high level of nitrogen oxide in diesel emission cause: increased incidence of asthmas, decreased lung fuction and growth, an increased risk of lung cancer and death in high concentrations.

Diesel emissions also contain some particles that are so small that they pass through the lungs and can cause cancer anywhere in the body.

Under the Control of Substance Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) all employers have a legal duty to prevent exposure to substances that can cause health issues. The evidence generated by Unite, indicates widespread flouting of these regulations with regards to diesel fumes.

The emissions register can be found at

The register is being launched to coincide with International Workers Memorial Day the 28 April, the day when workers come together to ‘remember the dead and fight for the living’

For more information please contact Unite communications officer Barckley Sumner on 020 3371 2067 or 07802 329235.


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Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.