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British Safety Council

Scotland air pollution ‘concerning’

The British Safety Council says it is concerned by data analysed by Friends of the Earth Scotland, which showed that air quality breached legal limits during 2021 in Glasgow despite traffic levels continuing to be lower due to Covid restrictions.

Peter McGettrick, Chairman of British Safety Council, said: “It’s concerning to see how air pollution levels in Glasgow and elsewhere in Scotland rose again last year, having fallen back in 2020, and on Hope Street levels of Nitrogen Dioxide even broke the legal limit.

“It’s why I took to the streets of Glasgow in November during COP26 to show people the impact air pollution has on our health, and especially people whose work means they don’t get to choose the air they breathe.

“It is also why British Safety Council wants the UK Government to be ambitious when it sets new air quality targets later this year and match the World Health Organisation’s new and ambitious limits.”

British Safety Council says it has been campaigning since 2019 to raise awareness of the impact that air pollution can have on the health of outdoor workers.

One of the drivers of its campaign, Time to Breathe, has been the call for more and better data on how air pollution affects people such as outdoor workers. There is little research on the impact air pollution has on workers like street cleaners, refuse workers, traffic police, cycle couriers, construction or maintenance workers, newspaper sellers, gardeners, teachers or security guards working on busy roads.

For more on Time to Breathe, visit: https://britsafe.org/campaigns-policy/time-to-breathe-air-pollution-campaign/time-to-breathe/

You can read the analysis by Friends of the Earth Scotland here: https://foe.scot/press-release/pollution-levels-rebound-in-2021/

British Safety Council updates Five Star Audit spec for 2021

The British Safety Council’s Five Star Occupational Health and Safety Audit has been revised and updated to place a greater emphasis on assessing how effectively an organisation manages risks to workers’ health and wellbeing together as well as business resilience and recovery.

The Five Star Occupational Health and Safety Audit provides a quantified outcome with detailed recommendations; it goes beyond the requirements of current health and safety management standards such as ISO 45001 and provides a structured route toward best practice status. Undertaking this audit enables organisations to demonstrate their commitment to achieving excellence in health and safety standards.

David Parr, Technical Advisor at British Safety Council said: “The Five Star Audit is a challenging process – the outcome is detailed findings and recommendations for improvement that organisations, who are truly dedicated to worker health and safety, can implement to demonstrate their commitment toward continual improvement.

“In these unique times, effective management of health, safety and wellbeing has perhaps never been more important. The Five Star Occupational Health & Safety Audit is the most comprehensive, contemporary, quantified audit process available, which allows organisations to evaluate their health and safety performance against the latest legislation, recognised standards and best practice techniques.”

British Safety Council says it believes that no one should be injured or made ill through their work. During times of significant change and uncertainty British Safety Council understands the importance of being flexible and adapting to circumstances to ensure that new risks associated with the changing workplace are addressed.

The updated guidelines can be downloaded from British Safety Council website and include greater emphasis on wellbeing in the workplace to reflect the risks to workers mental health that a transforming work environment can present.

Organisations who achieve a five-star rating following the audit process are eligible to enter the prestigious, internationally recognised, Sword of Honour award recognised as the ‘best of the best’ in health and safety.

BSA warns on risks to workers as COVID restrictions near end

The British Safety Council believes that while the withdrawal of some COVID regulations is valid, removing the mask mandate is the wrong decision to take now and risks real danger to workers.

The Prime Minister has announced the removal of almost all COVID controls from 19 July, including rules on social distancing and the cap on the numbers allowed at events. The wearing of face masks on public transport and in shops and hospitals will cease to be mandatory and will become a matter of personal choice.

With COVID cases rising rapidly, the BSA says masks protect others should you be asymptomatic, so wearing a mask indoors and in crowds reduces the risk of further spreading the disease.

While the vaccination programme has been a success, being vaccinated only reduces the likelihood of ending up in hospital, but it does not give full immunity, so the risk of serious illness remains high.

Furthermore, although the link between cases and hospitalisations is weakened, it’s not broken – the expected 100,000 cases a day could lead to 2,000 admissions, twice what the NHS sees in the depths of winter for all respiratory infections. Plus, millions of people are not yet fully vaccinated.

British Safety Council believes that delegating the decision on the wearing of masks to individuals risks chaos and confusion, as organisations and businesses interpret the change differently and impose their own rules. What businesses need most is certainty and consistency on what is the right thing to do.

It says the mixed messaging from Government is failing to provide reassurance to workers in transport, healthcare and retail who remain concerned about their safety. It adds that it has heard from British Safety Council retail members, for example, that they are planning to leave in place check-out screening to protect workers. Not only does this provide a physical barrier, but also psychological reassurance to staff.

British Safety Council is therefore urging the Government to re-think its policy on the wearing of face masks given the risks it presents to worker safety and not leave the decision to personal choice.

Lawrence Waterman, Chairman of the British Safety Council, said: “To go from the controls put in place for the last 15 months to nothing overnight is a significant risk and particularly to UK workers. While we would all like to believe that everyone will act responsibly, experience shows us this is not guaranteed. There has been a fantastic level of public compliance with the rules, why go from collective protection to a free-for-all?  The Prime Minster himself has said caution is absolutely vital – if he truly believes this, then he should show leadership on the wearing of masks rather than take a leap of faith into the unknown that risks all the sacrifices and hard-won progress made since March 2020.”

Government ‘ignoring the facts’ on clean air targets

The Government has ignored calls by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee to change its Environment Bill to protect outdoor workers from the dangers of air pollution, with the The British Safety Council asserting that the ‘shocking’ reality for many outdoor workers in the UK is that they are breathing toxic air during their working day.

In its response to the EFRA Committee’s February Air Quality report, the Government failed to agree to set more stringent targets for one of the most harmful pollutants known as particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) in line with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) standards.

The British Safety Council says it supports this call by the EFRA committee, which has also been supported by the recent report by an independent coroner into the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, where air pollution was found to have been a material contribution. 

The Government response also fails to tackle setting targets for levels of other harmful pollutants including PM10, nitrogen dioxide and ozone, which the British Safety Council has been calling for as part of its Time to Breathe campaign.

Poor air quality is now the biggest environmental health issue facing the UK and is linked to an estimated 64,000 deaths a year. It causes more harm than tobacco or a lack of exercise and costs the economy a staggering £20 billion each year.

The British Safety Council is therefore urging the Government to take the immediate opportunity to really show its ambition and commitment to clean air and stop shying away from what needs to be done through the Environment Bill currently progressing through Parliament. This needs to be amended to set more stringent targets for tackling the most harmful pollutants, by adopting the WHO guideline limits. Legally binding targets based on WHO guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK. The evidence at the inquest into the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah was that there is no safe level for particulate matter and that the WHO guidelines should be the minimum requirement. The issue will only get worse if the Government fails to take action to tackle the scale and urgency of this public health crisis.

Damian Testa, Head of Policy and Communications at the British Safety Council, said: “For many outdoor workers ambient air pollution has turned the simple, human act of breathing into a deadly occupational hazard. Action is long overdue, as confirmed by EFRA. Now is the time to take concrete action to ensure clean air for outdoor workers and stop tinkering around the edges.

“The Government must show greater urgency and accountability for this forgotten army of outdoor workers, the people who deliver our letters and food, help our children to cross the road, empty our bins, and keep us safe from crime. They deserve better protection. No one should be made ill by the job that they do.”

British Safety Council publishes Air Pollution Manifesto

The British Safety Council has launched its Air Pollution Manifesto, which calls on all candidates standing for election as a Metro Mayor on 6 May 2021 to commit to a Time to Breathe 7-Point Plan.

The industry body says air pollution is the UK’s largest environmental risk to health with 40,000 early deaths a year, including ‘deadly’ impacts on outdoor workers, and a £20 billion cost to the UK economy.

The 7-Point Plan comprises:-

  1. Appointing a Clean Air Czar with executive powers to ensure that levels of ambient air pollution are reduced to below legal/ WHO guideline limits for the most dangerous sources of air pollution in the shortest time possible.
  2. Running a publicity campaign to encourage drivers to stop engine idling.
  3. Permitting electric cars only in cities from 2030 at the latest
  4. Retrofitting diesel buses to be powered by electricity to improve urban air quality.
  5. Implementing a Clean Air Zone or an Ultra-Low Emissions Zone covering the metro area.
  6. Funding air pollution monitoring infrastructure to the same accuracy as London for emissions data.
  7. Investing in cleaner energy, cycling and walking.

Mike Robinson, Chief Executive at the British Safety Council, said: “The shocking reality for many outdoor workers in the UK is that they are breathing toxic air during their working day. For them, ambient air pollution has turned the simple, human act of breathing into a deadly occupational hazard. Action is long overdue. Now is the time to invest in clean air for outdoor workers.

“This forgotten army of outdoor workers are the people who deliver our letters and food, help our children to cross the road, empty our bins, and keep us safe from crime. They deserve better protection.”

“So, we are calling on those standing for election as a Metro Mayor this May to commit to ensuring clean air is our future. Outdoor workers deserve the same legal protections as those on the factory floor. No one should be made ill by the job that they do.”

You can read the full manifesto here.

British Safety Council repeats call for Government to enforce COVID-19 workplace safety rules

Recent figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show higher COVID-19 deaths amongst health and social care workers – and the British Safety Council says government needs to more to help bring numbers down.

The body says it is ‘disturbing’ to see that the ‘forgotten’ people who also can’t work from home like machine operators and those working in construction and on production lines, or those employed as drivers and workers in customer-facing roles are also more likely to die.

The British Safety Council says it’s appalled by these figures and is strongly reinforcing its call for a Government health campaign urging employers to improve workplace controls and for enforcement of COVID-19 workplace safety rules, such as ensuring all employers are conducting a risk assessment. People clearly mix in workplaces which increases the potential to catch and transmit the virus.

Mike Robinson, Chief Executive at the British Safety Council, said: “These statistics are alarming and highlight the urgent need for greater Government action to reduce the spread of the virus in workplaces. Employers must follow the rules on making the workplace safe; this will have a greater impact on reducing both the spread of the virus and the number of deaths. While infection rates are coming down in the current national lockdown, they still remain high.”

“Everyone should be safe at work and employers owe a duty of care to their workers to take the steps necessary to remove them from harm’s way.

“More can also be done to protect workers, including more Government support for vulnerable workers as well as for lower paid workers so they can to afford to self-isolate.”

British Safety Council develops app to ensure outdoor worker air quality

The British Safety Council in partnership with King’s College London have developed Canairy, which they say is the world’s first free mobile app to help employers minimise the risks of polluted air to outdoor workers.

The app provides real-time information about air pollution levels for London-based employers and workers. It calculates a user’s hourly exposure to nitrogen dioxide, ozone and the tiny particulates PM2.5 and PM10, and compares these exposure levels to World Health Organisation guidance.

It comes as the BSA cites a large UK study has linked air pollution to a higher risk of irreversible sight loss.

The research found that small increases in air pollution is associated with more cases of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of severe, permanent vision loss in people aged over 60 years old.

There are 200 million people around the world with the condition, but by 2040 the global projected number of people with AMD is close to 300 million. In the UK, about 5% of people over 65 years old have the disease. It happens when the small central portion of the retina, called the macula, wears down.

The study is the first to assess the connection between outdoor air pollution, diagnoses of AMD that the patients said they had been given, and measurements of harmful changes in the retina. It concluded that greater exposure to PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) was associated with self-reported AMD. It found a small increase in exposure to tiny pollution particles raised the risk of AMD by 8 per cent.

While the biggest risk factors for AMD are genetics and poor physical health issues (smoking and obesity), the impact of air pollution is going to become a bigger risk factor as lifestyles become healthier, according to the research.

Mike Robinson, the British Safety Council’s Chief Executive, said: “Air pollution is being linked to an increasingly wide range of diseases and this finding is significant. The Government needs to act now to ensure it adopts the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) air pollution targets. The Environment Bill currently making its passage through Parliament is the perfect opportunity to do so.

“This research will also help people alter their lifestyle choices, such as buying an electric car, instead of a diesel. Diesel air fumes, caused largely by the use of cars, are a key pollutant that affects respiratory health, particularly for outdoor workers.

“While we cannot change genetics or stop getting older, we can reduce the risks of poor health from exposure to air pollution with the right policies.”

British Safety Council calls for Government COVID health campaign for employers

The necessity for suitably robust COVID-19 workplace management arrangements has intensified since the highly transmissible new variant was identified last month, with the British Safety Council now urging the government to launch a campaign to raise awareness of the risks in the workplace.

While making a workplace COVID secure as far as is reasonably practicable is the legal responsibility of employers, the BSC says some have struggled to implement appropriate measures to restrict the potential for occupational exposure to the virus.

The evidence that workplaces are a major venue within which people have the potential to mix, and so increase the potential to catch and transmit the virus, has become ever more prominent in the mitigation process against the effects of the pandemic.

However, the BSC says whilst many organisations have embraced this increased responsibility, others have struggled with the changing nature of the situation, together with the government guidelines, and the added expectations this brings.

Therefore, the British Safety Council is calling for a coherent Government health campaign that urges employers to improve workplace protection and engage their workers more effectively to achieve better control in limiting the spread of the virus. For example, it says there is a significant vulnerability within buildings, as the virus can be passed between people breathing out asymptomatically and others breathing in the aerosol.

The Home Secretary this week urged people to ‘play your part’ and follow COVID rules to help reduce transmission of the COVID virus. However, the BSC says Government appears to be focusing primarily on enforcing the lockdown rules in general outdoor spaces like parks and is not doing enough around workplaces and the second variant.

It’s calling for a greater focus on having well prepared and effectively implemented COVID-19 management protocols within the workplace, which is about making work environments as safe as possible for people, is far more likely to reduce the spread of infection than concentrating on individuals who break lockdown rules.

The BSC says effective consultation with staff, good wellbeing and mental health support mechanisms, remote working wherever possible together with premises controls such as one-way movement flow around the building, wearing of face-masks in common areas, suitably positioned desks, protective screens, good information and warning signage, staggered operating hours are all considerations for business within any sector which can make a significant impact on reducing the likelihood of exposure to the risk of virus transmission.

Lawrence Waterman, Chairman of the British Safety Council, said: “We are being told by experts that we are in the eye of the storm, and workplaces seem to be at the centre of that eye.  We should be discussing this much more openly rather than taking our lead from the Government’s short termism, and then taking more and better action.  It requires more public health messaging to restrict work to where it is really required, so that more people can remain in relative isolation, and better funding to help employers and employees to do this.

“It may also mean that collectively we should consider much wider shift working, even half day, morning and afternoon, and improving community protection in every workplace, such as requiring the wearing of face masks in indoor workplaces.”

British Safety Council advises against non-essential office visits

People are being encouraged to go back to their workplaces as part of a government campaign. Its message will be that employers should reassure staff it is safe to return by highlighting measures taken to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

This new initiative comes as most schools in England and Wales reopen, relieving thousands of workers from childcare duties and in the face of the damage being done to city centres as people work from home.

Homeworking is still a popular choice. Between 27 July and 9 August, 39% of the workforce of businesses still trading was working remotely, according to the Office for National Statistics. As well as reduced contact at work, home working reduces potential exposure to the virus while travelling to and from work.

In July, Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Adviser, made the case that given the spread of the virus is dependent on contact, working from home remains an important option and there was no need to change the advice.  

Lawrence Waterman, Chair of the British Safety Council expressed his concern: “This new campaign [to get people back to the office] should be more about choice – treating workers as responsible adults who should agree with their employers a sensible balance of work in formal workplaces and home.  For some, with limited space, distractions like noise and/or a desire for contact with colleagues that balance may be struck differently. But it should not be for Government to tell employers or workers what arrangements they should make. 

“Government should concentrate on getting track and trace to operate effectively and ensuring that HSE inspects any workplace that is involved in a COVID hot-spot.  Only when the Government does its job of providing PPE to health and care workers, tracing all Covid contacts, making sure workplaces are legally compliant, providing consistent advice to schools, properly funding self-isolation, is it entitled to give advice on home/workplace balance.  

“All this noise and confusion suggests that we need an interim, speedy inquiry to learn the obvious lessons before the risk of a winter second wave.”