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What do managers and business owners need to know about diesel fumes?

Following the plan, do, check, act (PDCA) health and safety management system method, eight simple steps can be taken to reduce diesel engine exhaust emission (DEEE) exposure for workers.

Graphic showing Plan, Do, Check, Act method for health and safety management


Designate a responsible person to implement and develop a DEEE exposure plan

Mitigating DEEE exposure is achievable. The responsible person should be competent to undertake the task and start by developing a plan to assess the risks of exposure and consider:

  • are diesel engines or equipment being used in or for the workplace?
  • are DEEEs being released into enclosed working areas?
  • are DEEEs being drawn into the workplace through ventilation inlets?
  • are DEEEs concentrating in confined spaces or areas in buildings where there’s limited air movement?
  • are there clear soot deposits on surfaces in the workspace?
    Is there a visible ‘haze’ or ‘smoke’ appearance in the air?
  • is there white, blue or black smoke being emitted from diesel engines? If so, how often does this occur?
  • have there been any ill-health complaints from potentially exposed workers – do workers suffer from irritated eyes, throat or lungs, or incur headaches or coughing?

Are people ‘competent’ to manage DEEEs? Assessing and managing exposure to harmful substances are specialist areas. If workers do not have the right training, knowledge and experience then a fatal mistake could occur. Seek expert advice if required.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.


Complete an organisational DEEE exposure risk assessment

Consider who might be exposed to DEEEs throughout the organisation.

  • What tasks will they be doing that may expose them to DEEEs?
  • How likely is it that workers will be exposed to DEEEs and who could be affected?
  • Can exposures be avoided?

Communicate the risks to those who are potentially exposed and involved with tasks involving DEEEs

As good practice, whether it is law or not in your country, workers should be informed of the level of risk to health and what precautions they must implement to keep themselves and others safe. Contractors should also be informed of risks.

Implement suitable control measures focusing on eliminating or reducing DEEE exposure

These will include:

  • switching to other forms of fuel where possible, for example electric vehicle
  • replacing old engines with newer versions with lower emissions
  • reducing exposure via engineering controls such as implementing local exhaust ventilation
  • implementing administrative controls such as rotating jobs between different workers to minimise exposure and providing training
  • providing suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE) where required to protect workers.

Provide information, instruction and training for workers

It is good practice to provide DEEE exposure awareness training to workers whose activities may involve tasks with exposure risks.


Investigate DEEE exposure-related incidents to identify causes

The investigation must check:

  • if the DEEE exposure plan was accurate and shared
  • if local procedures were implemented and followed correctly
  • whether those exposed had been informed of the risks associated with DEEE exposure
  • whether those exposed had been provided with relevant training and RPE.

A note should be made in the personal records of those exposed with DEEE-related ill-health. Records should include when the incident happened, how long it lasted, and the outcome of the exposure.

Consider submitting exposed workers to an organisation health monitoring and surveillance programme.

Monitor to ensure controls are effective and DEEE exposures are mitigated and minimised, and arrange health surveillance for workers if required

Monitoring controls is important to check whether they are suitable and working to eliminate or reduce DEEE exposure. Health monitoring can also be important. Workers should undergo regular health checks by a competent medical professional (this may be through occupational health).


Evaluate and apply learning lessons

After any incident and investigation, learning lessons must be recognised and applied back in to the DEEE exposure plan and health and safety management system. This will help to prevent and reduce the chance of exposures recurring.

The DEEE exposure plan should be reviewed regularly. This will ensure it remains as accurate as possible. Good practice would be to complete reviews on an annual basis or sooner, if required. For example, a more frequent review may be required if a large amount of work involves DEEEs, as more workers may be at risk.