Diesel exhaust emissions are a complex mixture consisting of hazardous and non-hazardous gases as well as fine, respirable particles known as diesel particulate matter (DPM).
Negative health effects of the gaseous portion of diesel emissions have been recognised for some time now; however the adverse effects of DPM exposure is a relatively new concept.
In 2012, the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) classified DPM as a Group 1 carcinogen, but did not provide information on exposure levels.
Occupational exposures have been associated with both acute and chronic effects; symptoms include nose and eye irritation, coughing, nausea, chest tightness, wheezing, chronic bronchitis and decreased lung function.
The predominant source of diesel exhaust exposure in the workplace is via heavy vehicles with diesel engines such as trucks, ships, fork lifts, buses, bulldozers and other plant. Exposure levels are generally higher in enclosed, poorly ventilated areas such as tunnels and workshops.
In 2011, it was estimated that approximately 1.2 million Australians were exposed to diesel exhaust in the workplace.
An employer has various duties under the OHS Regulations to eliminate and minimise exposure, in that order, so far as reasonably practicable.
Risks associated with diesel exhaust may be managed via a systematic approach which should begin with consultation with workers and HSRs. It is then necessary to identify hazards and risks associated with diesel exhaust and implement appropriate control measures.
For diesel fumes this may include:
If concerned about exposure to diesel particulates in your work environment, it may be worth considering air monitoring for DPM, carbon monoxide (CO), oxygen (O2), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to indicate whether existing procedures, controls and maintenance programs are resulting in a healthy work environment.
Should you have any questions regarding DPM exposure in your workplace, please contact a HAZCON consultant on 1800 429 266.
We are able to offer guidance on reducing DPM exposure, provide DPM air monitoring, and assist in control measures to reduce risks associated with DPM, and other airborne contaminants concerning your specific workplace.