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Sun, 5 April 2020

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We need to act now and address the risks of long-term exposure to air pollution

We need to act now and address the risks of long-term exposure to air pollution

Matthew Holder, Head of Campaigns | British Safety Council

3 min read Member content

The British Safety Council is concerned about the ill-health effects to outdoor workers from long-term exposure to air pollution. That is why we are launching a new campaign in March to raise this issue and produce a step-change in how employers, policy-makers and researchers recognise and help this vulnerable group.


It is widely recognised that the UK has an air pollution problem and regularly exceeds national and international safe limits. Research shows that toxic air, from the tiny particulates that end up deep in our lungs to the complex mix of diesel exhaust emissions, damages all organs of the body and is even implicated in the onset of dementia.

Like any issue of this nature, we need to act. To do so effectively we need better information, both to gain public support for change and to ensure we act correctly.  Which is why the British Safety Council welcomes the attorney general’s recent decision to back a new inquest into the cause of the tragic death of a child.  

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah’s nine year old daughter Ella died in 2013. Rosamund’s subsequent journey to air pollution campaigner began when it was revealed that Ella’s hospital admissions for asthma showed a “striking association” with spikes in illegal levels of air pollution around her home in London. Rosamund’s campaign for a new inquest into her death gained 177,000 signatures, with support from experts in the field, including Professor Stephen Holgate of the British Medical Research Council.

Rosamund now needs to convince the High Court to quash the original inquest and order a new one. The British Safety Council is calling on all parliamentarians to support her campaign and quest to find out the truth concerning her daughter’s death.

On a wider basis, we all need to know a lot more about the risks from air pollution and how it directly impacts on our health.  It is considered that nearly 40,000 people are dying prematurely every year, in part as a consequence of toxic air in the UK. There is good evidence that outdoor air pollution causes lung cancer and approximately 50% of air pollution comes from road transport including 40% from diesel emissions. Yet, As Professor Gary Fuller from King’s College, London points out, “air pollution, does not appear on anyone’s death certificate.” 

As a charity with a focus on occupational health and safety issues, the British Safety Council is concerned about the ill-health effects to outdoor workers from long-term exposure to air pollution. That is why we are launching a new campaign in March to raise this issue and produce a step-change in how employers, policy-makers and researchers recognise and help this vulnerable group. Though we see outdoor workers every day in our cities – helping us cross the road, fill potholes, repair our infrastructure, guard our children – they have been ignored for too long as our air pollution crisis deepens.

The British Safety Council wants to see a new inquest for Ella and her mother. We also want to see action based on the best possible information – be that causation studies, better insights into air pollution levels or where people, including workers, are exposed to toxic air – so we can dispel this avoidable health risk once and for all.

Read more about Rosamund’s campaign here 

To find out more about the British Safety Council air pollution campaign, contact canairy@britsafe.org

Read the most recent article written by Matthew Holder, Head of Campaigns - Air pollution: the new asbestos?

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