We need concrete commitments on air quality - British Safety Council

Posted On: 
14th October 2019

The British Safety Council has welcomed the government’s ambitions to improve air quality, but says it will be pushing for concrete commitments and funding to support those aims. 

Amongst the 22 bills announced was a new Environment Bill which importantly aims to improve air quality, writes the British Safety Council.
Credit: 
PA Images

Today’s Queen’s Speech is unprecedented. Against the backdrop of Brexit, the speech from the throne followed convention and set out a programme for government. In practice, it was an election manifesto.

This is not a plan the prime minister will implement, but a plan he hopes to implement. However, if today’s speech does a legislative plan, it includes measures that the British Safety Council can welcome.

Amongst the 22 bills announced was a new Environment Bill, which aims to “transform our domestic environmental governance based on environmental principles”. There will be measures to improve biodiversity, reduce single-use plastics and extend producer responsibility. Most importantly the bill aims to improve air quality.

In March 2019, the British Safety Council launched a major national campaign – Time to Breathe – to highlight the impact of air pollution on people working outside. We have been calling on the government to recognise workers’ right to clean air. At the heart of the campaigning is a ground-breaking app, Canairy – the first mobile app that gives outdoor workers and their employers insights into pollution and how to reduce exposure to it. Created in collaboration with King’s College London, Canairy draws on the London Air Quality Network (LAQN) to calculate an individual’s exposure to pollution on an hourly basis.

The British Safety Council has welcomed the government’s ambitions to improve air quality, but we will be pushing for concrete commitments and funding to support those aims. The Bill will include measures to increase local powers to tackle air pollution, and these powers must be backed up by central government.

The Queen’s Speech also includes proposals for new standards in building safety standards and reforms to “make work fairer”. New laws will revise the regulatory framework for high-rise residential buildings and improve the industry culture around safety. The British Safety Council has welcomed measures which will ensure we all learn the lessons from the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower. We will look with interest at the details of the revised regulatory framework and we will play our part in working with the wider sector to bring about a culture that is accountable and responsible.

Proposed employment reforms in the speech include increasing flexibility in the labour market, strengthening workers’ ability to get redress and supporting working families. Some of the proposals announced today could bring about real improvements in safety and wellbeing. But to be effective they must consider the link between wellbeing and mental health. Evidence shows a direct link between flexible working and improved mental health – given that three in five people will experience mental health conditions at some point in their life, any employment reforms must prioritise mental health at work.

Amid ongoing Brexit talks and no-deal preparations much of this Queen’s Speech will be overlooked – this is unfortunate as it includes the basis of reforms that have the potential to improve the environment, make buildings safer and working life fairer.

There are ideas here that all parties can engage with and the British Safety Council looks forward to working with politicians across the political spectrum to ensure our laws protect workers and ensure that no-one is injured or suffers ill-health as a consequence of their work.