Last reviewed 18 November 2020

A major new study from Imperial College London, funded by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), has shown that taxi drivers, couriers and waste removal drivers are at greater risk of cancer from diesel emissions.

Exposure to diesel exhaust is known to cause heart and respiratory health problems, leading to hospitalisations and premature deaths.

Diesel fumes can contain up to 10 times the number of soot particles found in petrol exhaust fumes.

In 2012, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified these exposures as carcinogenic to humans.

The new Driver Diesel Exposure Mitigation Study (DEMiSt) found that professional drivers are disproportionately affected by exposure to diesel exhaust fumes, including taxi drivers (the worst hit group), couriers, bus drivers and drivers working for the emergency services.

The capital’s taxi drivers experienced the highest level of exposure to black carbon (6.6μg per cubic metre). The next highest exposure levels were seen in couriers (5.5μg per cubic metre) and waste removal drivers (4.3μg per cubic metre).

There is, therefore, an urgent need for employers and stakeholders to take action to reduce the levels of these workers’ exposure to diesel emissions.

The DEMiSt study has identified a range of driving behaviours that can play a part in reducing exposures, with minimum cost to the industry, as an initial step to protect drivers’ health. These include:

  • driving with windows closed ― the simplest change drivers can make

  • taking less congested routes and avoiding tunnels

  • using recirculate ventilation settings (with windows closed), though only for short periods at times and in areas of high congestion

  • shift rotation to reduce each driver’s exposure to peak traffic times

  • changing to zero tailpipe emission vehicles with airtight cabins (this will benefit the general population as well as professional drivers).