British workers expect better from bosses on air pollution

Flexible working, sharing information about local clean air routes and incentivising active travel are just some of the ideas being put to businesses today as new research suggests employers need to do more to protect staff both in the workplace and on their commute.  

Despite growing public awareness of the harmful effects of air pollution, nine in 10 UK employees are in the dark as to whether their employer has policies to protect them from air pollution, both on their way to and from work and in the workplace:  

  • six in 10 workers believe their employer has no policy at all  
  • two in 10 simply don’t know   
  • one in 10 thought their employer had a policy but it wasn’t communicated to staff   
  • Less than one in 10 receive regular communication from bosses on the issues 

According to new research, released today by environmental charity Hubbub as part of its #AirWeShare campaign, and just ahead of London’s first ever ‘car free’ day this Sunday, more than two thirds of workers in the UK believe employers should take responsibility to ensure the air their staff are breathing in the workplace is safe.  

Professional drivers and outdoor workers are among the most exposed professions, but office employees can also be exposed to high levels of pollution, if they’re commuting into busy urban areas and travelling to and from work meetingsi. Nearly half (46%) of those surveyed think employers should take more responsibility to protect staff on their commutes. 

Health research is increasingly showing air pollution can affect all organs of the body across the course of a lifetime. Recent revelations include links to reduced cognitive abilities, diabetes and the first direct evidence of pollution particles in mother’s placentas. Given that the average British worker spends nearly 85,000 hours at work in their lifetime, and more than 14,000 hours getting there and backii, it’s clear businesses have a significant role to play in addressing this public health crisis.  

Today, Hubbub is calling on all employers to check, update – or even develop from scratch – their policy on air pollution to protect the health and wellbeing of their staff. As well as reducing exposure, policies should look at how businesses can reduce their own contribution to air pollution across their operations. Hubbub is also asking more businesses to step forward and join the #AirWeShare movement to accelerate the process of cleaning up the air in our cities.  

Trewin Restorick, founder and CEO of Hubbub, said: “Employers have a huge role to play in protecting their workforce from pollution, whilst in the workplace and travelling during the working day and on the commute. Our research suggests that many employers either have no policy on this or are simply not communicating it.  We want to empower workers to ask their bosses what they are doing to protect them and to request that changes are made if they are falling short. And businesses need to show that they are willing to take action to support and protect their workforce from the effects of air pollution.”  

When asked what their own boss could do to help them reduce their exposure to air pollution, the most popular ideas were: installing air purifiers in the workplace (47%), allowing flexible working or home working (42%) and cash incentives to encourage people to cycle, walk or take public transport to work instead of driving (40%). One in five workers would consider grouping online shopping deliveries with colleagues to avoid lots of polluting vans delivering individual parcels to their office.  

As well as the business benefits of a healthier workforce, tackling the air pollution problem could also support recruitment and retention; when job-hunting, nearly two thirds (64%) of workers would find a potential employer attractive if they had an air pollution policy in place.    

Craig McWilliam, CEO, Grosvenor Britain & Ireland said: “We’ve introduced a number of new technologies to our London office to create a healthy space for our staff and improve environmental efficiency. A large living wall which spans two floors and green columns on every floor have brought our sustainability goals visibly to life and helped us reach 100% optimum air quality on readers we placed in our reception. As the first private sector organisation to join the London Air Quality Network, we are tracking our progress in reducing air pollution exposure on street for workers, residents and visitors and are proud to be on track to cut carbon emissions on our estate in half by 2023.” 

Top tips for businesses: 

  • Think flexibly: Consider allowing employees to work from home on some days, or stagger their start/finish times to avoid the roads during the most polluted hours. 
  • Incentivise active travel: With pedestrians and cyclists being shown to be less exposed to air pollution overall than those that used cars or public transportiii, incentivise staff to walk or cycle to work or between meetings, where possible. Consider signing up to the ‘cycle to work’ and providing cycle safety training. 
  • Celebrate quiet ways and green spaces: Taking back routes can reduce exposure by 50% on average, so share information about local clean air routes with employees so they can avoid areas of high pollution. Celebrate local green spaces and tranquil areas.  
  • Green up deliveries: Streamline deliveries and servicing, and consider using an ultra-low emission supplier. Reduce personal deliveries to the office by encouraging employees to use ‘click & collect’ services. 
  • Green up your building: Conduct an energy review and include the impact of pollutants. Upgrade and fine tune your Building Management System and consider installing low NoX boilers. 

The #AirWeShare campaign provides businesses with an opportunity to take the lead, exploring what they can do individually and collectively to best engage policy makers, clients, employees and the public. Over the coming months, Hubbub will be working closely with partner businesses to introduce well-being activities that address air pollution with their employees and act as a source of inspiration across the UK.  Businesses interested in joining the growing collaboration working to tackle this issue should email hello@hubbub.org.uk or visit www.airweshare.co.uk/businesses  

Author: Editorial Team

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