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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.”

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.”