Dangerous Emissions campaign targets builders


The HSE has announced a campaign to focus on, and seek to reduce, exposures in the workplace to dangerous gases, dusts, chemicals and other emissions. Inevitably, the issue probably most in their sights is once again construction safety.

Here is an edited run-down of the main areas they are already researching, or plan to; or where they are mounting educational and training initiatives.

Diesel Engine Exhaust Emissions (DEEEs)

The concern about DEEEs results from the International Agency for Research in Cancer classifying them in June 2012 as being carcinogens.  A Cancer burden study estimates deaths as 625 p.a. Possibly 10,000 workers or more are exposed to them.  However, no safe limit has yet been determined (research is continuing). Heavy trucks etc. and static motors are the main generators of DEEEs in the workplace and they are obviously a building site safety issue in confined spaces.


Construction and maintenance staff are the most at risk of asbestos exposure from working on pre-2000 buildings. As many as 1.8 million tradespeople could be involved.

Some 4,000 deaths occur every year from past and present exposure and the consequent diseases.  HSE estimates that around 1,000 of those dying are workers who disturb asbestos materials on site. HenceHSE’s Hidden Killer campaign to educate people and their drive to enforce the strict controls on who can handle and remove these materials.


Solvents, additives and pigments in paints, and asbestos and silica materials that painters have to work on, account for an estimated 334 deaths p.a. due to lung cancer and bladder cancer. Spray booth painting and paint manufacture account for many of these, but research is also being done on how much risk is faced in construction painting work.  REACH regulation and other measures have reduced the danger from many modern coatings.

Coal tars and pitches

The burning of coal or petroleum produces PAHs, a widespread chemical group, including carcinogens. Workers in timber impregnation plants were the only ones found to be at risk of PHA-related skin cancer, in a 2006 study. Nevertheless, a new study aims to check evidence of any risk from the use of road tar and treated timber etc. in construction.


Rock, sand and clay, bricks and concrete contain silica. Fine dust given off from cutting and sanding down these materials can contain respirable crystalline silica (RCS) that reaches the lungs and may cause silicosis and lung cancer.

Of the estimated 600 RCS-related lung cancer deaths a year, 450 may involve the building trades. HSE is trying to encourage construction safety training and advice to minimise the risks.

Sun exposure

The main solar risk to the open-air workers of the building industry is non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC). It is common in the general population but fortunately does not kill many people and is treatable. Commonsense measures should be taken, and workers should be made aware of the need to protect themselves.


Building tradespeople, including steelworkers and plumbers, carry out welding. It is thought that 152 die annually of lung cancer from the complex and noxious fumes that are given off from it.  Some of the constituents of the fume There are Workplace Exposure Limits on some fume elements.

HSE estimates that over 75,000 people carry out such work routinely and are therefore at risk.

It remains to be seen whether HSE seeks to legislate on any of the above issues. As and when more news emerges, your local McCormack Benson Health & Safety consultant will be ready to advise you of the implications for contractors.