There is growing awareness of the harm caused by air pollution. Both the impact on our health but also the damage it is causing to the environment.
In 2020, the inquest verdict following the tragic death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah made legal history. It was the first time that air pollution was recorded as a cause of death.
There is mounting evidence showing the devastating impact of air pollution. It harms our lungs, heart, brain and reproductive health. It also has lifelong impacts for children.
Worldwide it is estimated that nearly 9 million people die from air pollution related diseases each year. In Wales, Public Health Wales estimate it contributes to up to 1,400 deaths per year.
The link to climate change and nature loss
Air pollution is closely linked to the issue of climate change. So by acting on air pollution, we can improve the health of workers and communities and help to tackle climate change.
The pollutants that contribute to air pollution are not necessarily greenhouse gases themselves. But the causes of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are often the same. Key sources of air pollution include transport, industrial processes and domestic burning.
Air pollution also contributes to nature loss and damages ecosystems.
A workplace issue
Work-related emissions (including work-related travel) make a large contribution to the problem. Air pollution is blighting communities. It is affecting the health of workers on their journeys to and from work. It also harms workers while they are at work (both those working indoors and out). It’s why tackling air pollution is a key priority for unions.
Trade unions in the UK have set up the Trade Union Clean Air Network (TUCAN). TUCAN supports the call for workplace action. It has called for recognition of air pollution as an occupational health emergency. It has produced a charter and guidance for reps.
The Welsh Government’s Clean Air (Wales) Bill
In Wales, the Wales TUC has welcomed the Welsh Government’s proposed new clean air legislation. We want to see this tackle the problem of air pollution, protect workers and provide better air quality for all. We’ve worked closely with TUCAN in preparing a response to the Welsh Government’s consultation on its Clean Air (Wales) Bill White Paper. You can read our response to the consultation in full here but a summary is provided below:
· We’ve welcomed the proposal to adopt WHO guidelines on air quality and evidence-based targets.
· We’ve underlined the importance of a ‘just transition’ approach in all aspects of the Bill. Particularly where clean air proposals may have implications for jobs or employment. We’ve highlighted the need to ensure fairness so that workers on lower incomes are not unfairly impacted by the implementation of proposed measures.
· We’ve called for better access to air quality monitoring equipment and data. We’ve asked for mobile monitoring equipment to be made available for trade union reps who wish to carry out workplace air quality monitoring.
· We’ve called for a more coordinated approach to enforcement. We want to see more resources being put into enforcement and for inspection/enforcement officers to routinely speak to trade union reps as part of workplace inspections. We’ve highlighted the issues facing some of the most vulnerable workers, such as those in ‘drive-thrus’.
· We’ve welcomed the proposed statutory guidance for private, public and third sector employers but called for these proposals to be strengthened and expanded in scope. A key principle underlying the guidance should be that employers should work jointly with trade unions in developing measures to tackle air pollution. We’ve asked for the guidelines to reflect TUCAN best practice. And we’ve suggested employers should be asked to publish air pollution risk assessments and work jointly with trade unions to develop workplace clean air strategies and related policies (eg travel plans).
What can reps do?
Next month we’re holding our first greener workplaces network event on 18th May and air pollution will be the focus of the event. Sign up here to join the event if you’d like to find out more about why air pollution is an issue that should concern us all and what action you can take to tackle it in your workplace.
As well as its guidance for reps, TUCAN also has mobile air quality monitoring equipment available. This can be loaned to workplace reps who wish to test the air quality in their workplaces. TUCAN can provide guidance and support on how to use the equipment and what to do about the findings. Contact email@example.com for more information. Or come along to our event to hear what TUCAN have to say and find out more.
You can also download the Wales TUC Greener Workplaces for a Just Transition Toolkit. The toolkit includes information and ideas for practical action on areas like greener work-related travel to help reduce the impact of air pollution from workplaces.