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In last week’s blog we raised issues on the risks of exposure to carcinogenic (cancer-causing) agents in the workplace and particularly silica dust. This week we review the possible effects of exposure to diesel exhaust and related airborne contaminants.

Diesel fuel is generally a petroleum derived fuel used in diesel engines which are used widely in road and rail vehicles as well as in power generation and broadly across a range of industries and for a variety of purposes.

Diesel exhaust is created by those engines burning diesel fluids. Exposure to the airborne chemicals in the form of soot and various gases released as a result can be harmful. Over the longer term, diesel engine exhaust can contribute to lung cancer and bladder cancer. Those risks are increased where, amongst other things, the engine is being operated in an enclosed or unventilated workspace, where high sulphur diesel is used, where the exposure is for a lengthier time, and where the engine is poorly maintained or tuned.


All employers have an obligation to ensure the health and safety of their workers and to control the risks associated with the work. Having effective control measures in place is the only real way to reduce the risk of occupational related cancers and exposure to cancer causing substances.

Employers who have diesel engine exhaust issues in the workplace should consider controls such as:

  • ● the replacement of diesel engines with electric or gas engines
  • ● the installation of emission reducing devices (filters) if replacement isn’t possible
  • ● maintenance schedules to ensure the engine is running optimally
  • ● periodic testing of the exhaust
  • ● the use of biodiesel if possible

As always, only rely on PPE if no other eliminating control or re-engineering of the problem is available.

Need help?

Contact Better HR and speak to the advisory team to discuss the requirements for controlling these issues in your workplace.

Author: Charles Watson, Senior HR Advisor, Better HR.