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CWU Telecoms Conference Delegates Urge BT Develope Air Pollution Policy

In the week of major global warming campaign action in Parliament as a direct result of the Extinction Rebellion campaign and climate change activist Greta Thunberg's supporting the school children's strike concerning climate neglect from government's around the world, CWU delegates have agreed a motion at their annual Telecoms and Financial Services (T&FS) Conference that commits the T&FS Executive to urge British Telecom (BT) to develope air pollution policies and guidance for it's employees working outside.

Pic: Mark TripconeySomerset, Devon and Cornwall Branch's Motion 75 was moved by Mark Tripconey, CWU Somerset Devon & Cornwall Branch Health & Safety Co-ord. Below is the motion and his moving speech:

Motion 75: Conference notes that studies have demonstrated an association between different levels of air pollution and various health outcomes including mortality, exacerbation of asthma, chronic bronchitis, respiratory tract infections, ischaemic heart disease and stroke. Diesel exhaust particles are one of the most significant air pollutants putting our members at risk on a daily basis, whether, driving or working on the telecoms network at the roadside. Currently there is very limited protection or guidance for CWU members regarding this issue.

Conference therefore instructs the T&FSE to negotiate with BT to develop air pollution policies and guidance in order to get our members better protection from diesel exhaust particles.

Somerset, Devon and Cornwall

"Conference, walk along a railway platform, through a bus station, by a road. And breathe. Our bodies are not designed to cope with a chemical-laden lungful every time we inhale, much less the doses now routine on Britain’s transport choked streets.

Those who work regularly on or by the roads are particularly hard hit.  Recent GMB research showed ‘excessive’ levels of diesel exhaust fumes on Britain’s streets place a broad range of workers at risk, from street cleaners to traffic wardens. These transport choked streets are where many of our members have to work for the majority of their time at work. Whether working on a PCP or DSLAM, driving or working in an office next to a busy road, our members are being exposed to a toxic cocktail of poisons.

The acute symptoms of eye, nose and throat irritation, dizziness, headaches, a cough, frequent colds and chest infections, are bad enough. But the black gunk smearing your handkerchief when your blow your nose reveals a more serious problem. It is a signal the constant exposure to vehicle pollution could be overwhelming your body’s defence mechanisms.

Breath-by-breath, we inhale a dose of diesel exhaust fumes, containing a mix of potent poisons linked to lung and bladder cancer, potentially fatal heart problems including heart attack and stroke, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema  and other chronic harm including cognitive’ impairment, or brain damage.

Hazards magazine warned over 30 years ago that diesel fumes were deadly, with millions at risk at work every day. If the authorities had listened then, today’s diesel exhaust driven public health catastrophe could have been averted.
Take cancer. Diesel exhaust emissions are on the Health and Safety Executive’s top 10 occupational cancer ‘priorities for prevention’. There is good reason. Diesel exhaust fumes cause, in HSE’s estimation, 652 deaths a year from lung and bladder cancer.

But a 2013 study blows a hole in the estimate on which HSE is basing its prevention priorities, falling shockingly short of the true toll.

The researchers from US and European institutions, estimate that based on diesel exhaust exposure data available in the US and UK, 4.8 per cent of lung cancer deaths are due to occupational exposure to diesel exhaust, while 1.3 per cent is due to environmental exposures.

In 2016, there were 35,620 deaths from lung cancer in the UK. Based on the findings of the 2013 study, that would equate to over 1,700 occupational lung cancer deaths linked to diesel alone each year.

Pic: T&FS Conference AgendaWhat can we do to prevent the risk to our members?

The UK’s prevention strategy – or absence of one – is based on a fatal mixture of a lack of the right intelligence and lack of give-a-damn. All topped up with a dose of industry foul play.

Unions have been key in preventing or reducing exposure to diesel exhaust for decades, through demanding cleaner technologies or better maintenance and ventilation. For example, without union pressure, our members working in BT Fleet workshops would not now benefit from ventilation systems to remove diesel exhaust from their workplace. It’s a protective role unions continue to perform.

For many of our members the exposure happens outside a specific workplace. This is a particular problem for people who spend a lot of time on or by busy roads, such as Openreach engineers, BT Transport drivers and many other people working at sites next to these roads.

Employers often say that there is nothing they can do to prevent this exposure. That is not true. They can look at working practices to see if they can be altered to reduce levels of exposure.

Examples of simple adjustments are changing routes for drivers, so they do not have to travel on the most polluted roads, and ensuring that anyone working in a busy street only does it for a limited time. That can be done by changing rota systems.

Several other unions have already carried out research and produced guidance for their members. But currently both BT and the CWU have very limited or in reality no guidance on how to reduce the risk to our members from this hazard to their health.

It is now essential the CWU works hard to reduce this risk to our members.

Therefore Conference instructs the T&FSE to negotiate with BT to develop air pollution policies and guidance in order to get our members better protection from diesel exhaust particles.  
Please support this motion, I move."

The motion was carried.

For information about air pollution, go to the Unionsafety E-Library Use category 'Environmental Pollution' for documents concerning diesel air pollution, including TUC guidance for Union Safety Reps.

Source: Mark Tripcony / unionsafety


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