In 2011 it was estimated that 1.2 million Australians were exposed to deadly diesel engine exhaust (DEE). This is the second most common cancer causing agent that Australian workers are exposed to (following solar ultraviolet radiation).
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified DEE as a group one carcinogen. This means that it definitely causes cancer.
DEE is known to cause lung cancer and possibly bladder cancer; yet every day Australians are exposing themselves to a known carcinogen while at work. This needs to change. The occupational groups identified to have the greatest exposure include farmers, heavy vehicle drivers, miners and metal workers.
Signs that DEE is a problem in your workplace include:
• Walls or surfaces covered in soot
• A smoky haze when diesel engines are used
• Blue or black smoke coming from diesel exhaust fumes
It’s important to talk to your boss if you notice any of these things in your workplace.
How can you reduce your risk of exposure to DEE?
Luckily there are actions both employers and employees can take to reduce their risk of exposure and therefore cancer attributable to DEE.
Any identified risks should be eliminated. If this isn’t possible substituting the hazard, isolating the hazard from staff or reducing the risk through engineering controls should be considered. If these changes aren’t possible it is essential that personal protective equipment is worn by staff at all times.
Examples of engineering controls:
• Engine selection: Replace diesel powered engines with other energy sources.
• Fuel selection: Use low sulphur and other low-emission diesel fuels.
• Emission control devices
• Ventilation: Natural ventilation is NOT adequate. Both local exhaust and forced dilution ventilation should be used.
• Share activities: Rotate job tasks between your employees to reduce the amount of time exposed to DEE.
• Personal Protective Equipment: Wear air supplied or air purifying respiratory protection. They should be fitted to each worker individually. If it doesn’t fit it doesn’t work.
Without adequate controls diesel engine exhaust can cause cancer.
For more information or resources on this topic please visit cancer.org.au/workcancer or contact us on 13 11 20.