Only recently it has been made clear that warehouse operators using diesel forklifts could be sued by their former employees over a variety of cancers, especially lung and bladder cancers, which were reclassified by the World Health Organisation as Class 1 carcinogens, meaning that there is no doubt that exposure to diesel fumes at the workplace, like warehouses, is a killer. But now more alarming news has emerged from a study by Queen Mary University of London,* which shows that people living near busy main roads have dangerously swollen hearts, similar to those seen in the early stages of heart failure. While people with such enlargement may not feel ill they are, nevertheless, at greater risk of heart attacks and other problems caused by airborne pollution in the bloodstream.
The biggest source of air pollution is traffic and of particular concern are the sub 2.5 micron oily particulates emitted by diesel engines, which lodge permanently in the bloodstream and whose anti- pollution devices like soot filters cannot eradicate. Operators of warehouse diesel forklifts have long known the risk from diesel engines and are under a legal obligation to make the workplace safe. Internally, air extractors help and over recent years the diesel engine makers have made great strides to clean up their emissions but the problem of PM 2.5 particulates remains and may well be insoluble.
All responsible warehouse operators now considering renewals of their forklift fleets have an effective, safe alternative, namely electric forklifts. One of the main reasons why diesel was preferred over electric, i.e. greater performance in all weathers, no longer applies, thanks to big advances in battery and charger technologies that can deliver a performance the equal of diesel in all weathers. Add to that their other advantages, like low noise levels and compliance with hygiene levels in sensitive environments like food and pharma, and the motive power choice becomes a no brainer.
Michael Gove, Britain's Secretary of State for the Environment, has announced a target of banning all new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040, while other EU countries are setting more ambitious targets. The question is can users of warehouse diesel forklifts afford to wait that long, given the potential threat of lawsuits. That, too, is a no brainer. Insurance companies might also like to concentrate their minds with pre-emptive action, like hiking premiums for diesel trucks or withdrawing cover entirely.
*The study shows that diesels are the biggest sources of the two main pollutants measured in the study of heart structures and air quality. One of their key findings is that heart enlargement correlates closely with NO2 and particulate pollution levels, even when those levels are well within British guidelines, part of which, dealing with particulates, are more than twice as high as those set by the WHO.