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Would You Like Fumes With That? 

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We have a long history of protecting our workers’ safety in Australia. From unions’ efforts to acts of state and federal parliament, the right of the worker to do their job without coming to harm has been all but guaranteed. It is the mark of a civilized workplace that people are not regularly losing life and limb in the pursuit of an income. Yet, I think I have found a flaw.

This morning at the park, my grandsons and I watched (from a safe distance) a very proficient crew cut down a large gum tree that had been damaged in the recent storms and become dangerous. I was impressed by how far we have come with workplace health and safety. The men were dressed in all the safety gear, steel-capped boots, protective clothing, safety goggles, hard hats, and even ear muffs to protect them from the sound of the large chainsaw.

Then it struck me — there was no protection from the fumes coming from either the chainsaw or the large diesel truck idling nearby with its mulcher ready to eat the bits of tree as it was fed. I think our society has a blind (anosmia?) spot when it comes to the poisonous, carcinogenic matter and gases that are emitted by our faithful servant — the internal combustion engine.

How would we feel as we drove through our favorite fast food pickup if we were asked: “Would you like fumes with that?” And what of the workers who are in frequent close contact with vehicle emissions — the trolley boys in underground shopping center car parks collecting trolleys amidst the slow-moving cars as people circle looking for the best spot. Rose City in Warwick has particularly poor ventilation. I now have an electric mower, but I remember walking behind my good ‘ole Briggs and Stratton powered Masport as I struggled with the long grass and breathed in those fumes.

Getting us to slow down to 40 km/h as we drive through road works is a great safety measure, but it does not protect the workers who are there all day holding their stop/go signs and breathing the air redolent with extinct dinosaur juice.

The fact that you can commit suicide by sitting in your idling car in an enclosed environment should give us pause to reflect on just how poisonous this combination of nitrogen (N2), water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO) from incomplete combustion, nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter (mostly soot) is.

It’s time we had a conversation about this, because it’s killing us. Perhaps a class action lawsuit is brewing?

Featured image by Quang Hoàng Kim from Pixabay


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