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Chemicals: Health Hazards

Question for Department for Work and Pensions

UIN 74727, tabled on 15 July 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps the Government has taken to implement recommendation 15 of the Environmental Audit Committee's Twentieth report of Session 2017-19 entitled, Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Life, HC1805.

Answered on

23 July 2020

When deciding whether to prescribe new diseases under the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit Scheme Minsters are guided by the recommendations of the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (“IIAC”). IIAC are independent of government,

Following the recommendation of the Environmental Audit Committee IIAC launched an investigation into the cancers likely to be suffered by fire fighters, building on the extensive commissioned review it carried out in 2010. To inform its investigation, IIAC engaged with the University of Central Lancashire and conducted a detailed search of the published scientific literature in this field in order to scrutinise the available evidence. Having analysed the evidence in depth, IIAC is currently in the process of concluding its deliberations and expects to be able to respond to the Environmental Audit Committee in due course. IIAC plans to publish a position paper setting out its findings.

Fire and Rescue Services have duties to prevent and control risks (so far as reasonably practicable) to the health of their employees due to exposure to hazardous substances, and the Health and Safety Executive expects Fire and Rescue Services to ensure that measures are in place to control exposure and minimise contamination, as this may lead to health risks. Such measures would include the provision and maintenance of suitable personal protective equipment, facilities for storing and cleaning such equipment and providing information, training and appropriate supervision to their employees on potential risks.

The Health and Safety Executive is monitoring the progress of all current research which seeks to improve the working environment for firefighters, and will ensure that Fire and Rescue Services continue to identify and control risks to their employees. HSE are also aware that United Kingdom Fire and Rescue Services (UKFRS) are also researching health risks and effects from contaminated kit. HSE have provided support at National Level to ensure that this is kept near the top of the priority list.

Background info:

House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee

20th Report: “Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Life”

Recommendation 15 (page 47):

94. We recognise that firefighters have a greater risk from environmental contamination from fires and support the research being undertaken by the University of Central Lancashire and the Fire Brigades Union. This is still in its early stages. However, research from the US has already shown that firefighters suffer higher instances of cancer in carrying out their duties than the normal population. The Government should update the Social Security Regulations so that the cancers most commonly suffered by firefighters are presumed to be industrial injuries. This should be mirrored in the UK’s Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefits Scheme. We also recommend that the Health and Safety Executive monitors the progress of the Fire Brigades Union research and provides assistance in implementing recommendations which seek to improve the work environments of UK firefighters. This should include measures to minimise contamination from clothing and equipment and reduce the overall exposure of firefighters, their families and the public.