Hazardous materials, News, Work health and safety

Staying safe around diesel engine exhaust

diesel engine exhaust

A new fact sheet from the Cancer Council discusses how workers can stay safe around carcinogenic diesel engine exhaust.

From trains to haul trucks to generators, diesel powers a lot of equipment in the Australian mining industry. And while mines gradually make the shift to electric assets, it will take a significant amount of time to phase out diesel-powered equipment.

But did you know that exposure to diesel engine exhaust (DEE) can cause a range of health issues, including cancer?

“DEE is created by burning diesel fuels,” the Cancer Council said. “It contains a mixture of airborne chemicals that can be harmful to people.

“When breathed in, these chemicals increase your risk of developing long-term health problems.

“This includes lung cancer and possibly bladder cancer. In Australia, DEE is the second most common carcinogen workers are exposed to, behind solar UV radiation exposure.”

As diesel particulate matter is so small, harmful substances including carcinogens stick to the soot, which can be easily inhaled deep into the lungs.

Since diesel engines will have a role in mining operations relatively far into the future, it is important for mine operators and workers to learn how to minimise the risks.

Current workplace standards require sites to limit DPM exposure to 0.1 milligrams per cubic metre of air. DPM must not exceed this threshold over a time-weighted average for an eight-hour period.

Safe Work Australia poses the following questions to help sites work out whether diesel exhaust emissions may pose a risk to workers:

  • Is there visible smoke near the exhaust point? What is the type of smoke, for example is it white, black or blue? How could it be avoided?
  • Is there a visible haze in the workplace? Can it be avoided and how?
  • Are vehicles and plant left idling when indoors or in enclosed spaces?
  • How many engines are running at any one time? Are they all necessary?
  • Are there soot deposits in the workplace; how significant are they? What can be done to avoid them? What methods are in place for regularly cleaning the workplace?
  • Have there been any ill-health complaints from potentially exposed groups? If yes, what has been done about it?
  • Is the engine being operated at full speed or left idling? Can this be avoided?
  • What is the state of the engine, and how many kilometres or hours have been completed? Can the engine efficiency be improved, and can operating times and distances be reduced? Improving the efficiency of the engine will also bring financial benefits.
  • What happens to the exhaust emissions: do they enter directly into the workplace, or are they piped away so they don’t enter the workplace where they are being produced or other any premises? Are they processed through a treatment system? Could they trigger your fire detection system?
  • Is it necessary to use diesel engines, or can alternative power sources be used?

Once risks are identified, DPM can be driven down via the typical hierarchy of controls: elimination of risk, substitution, engineer controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment.

Higher order controls include replacing diesel engines with electric or gas, using ultra-low sulphur and low emission diesel fuels, refurbishing engines to improve fuel efficiency, install devices to reduce DPM and emissions, and so on.

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