Health effects of diesel exhaust in mines

Hazard alert poster on health effects of diesel exhaust

Risk of cancer and respiratory diseases 

Health effects of diesel exhaust - Infographic Hazard Alert - Please download, print and share in your workplace

The World Health Organization classifies diesel exhaust emissions as a substance that is known to cause cancer in humans.

A new mining health and safety infographic “Health effects of diesel exhaust” aims to raise awareness about the health risks of diesel exhaust exposure and outlines strategies to reduce or eliminate diesel particulate emissions in the workplace. 

“Diesel exhaust is produced by the combustion of diesel fuel in engines,” says Jason Chevrier, Industrial Hygiene and Ventilation Specialist at Workplace Safety North. “Diesel exhaust contains a mix of gases and particulates that increase worker risk for lung cancer, as well as respiratory and cardiovascular disease.”

Signs of exposure

Approximately 9,100 workers in the Ontario mining industry are estimated to be exposed to diesel exhaust. 

Mining sector workers who work as an underground production and development miner, heavy equipment operator, or heavy-duty equipment mechanic are at higher risk of experiencing negative health effects from diesel exhaust exposure. 

“Exposures can be detected by using diesel particulate and gas monitors which measure levels of diesel particulate matter, carbon monoxide, or nitrogen dioxide,” says Chevrier. “Signs of exposure may include irritated eyes, difficulty breathing, visible haze, and noticeable odour of diesel exhausts.”

Workers do not need to experience signs of exposure or short-term health effects like breathing irritation and headaches to develop long-term health effects. They may only become ill years after exposure due to the slow development of diseases like lung cancer.

Ontario diesel survey 

In 2014 the Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL) surveyed underground mines and mining contractors. In response, 21 underground mines and six mining contractors provided information about the operating diesel equipment fleets in the province.

The survey requested information including the size and makeup of the diesel fleet, engine specifications, and maintenance practices of equipment operated by mines and mining contractors. The survey also looked at worker exposure data.

“Based on the reported data, there has been little movement to utilize newer engine tier ratings or engine emissions control technology to reduce diesel emissions in underground mines,” says Glenn Staskus, MOL Provincial Coordinator. 

“In addition, workers with the highest average concentration of exposure are workers performing ore and waste handling, bolting and mobile equipment operators, and tradespeople working underground,” he says.

“The internal responsibility system is often referred to as the cornerstone for health and safety," notes Staskus. "Programs to reduce worker exposure by implementing clean engine technology can be achieved with assistance and cooperation from workplace parties and joint committees.”

From July 1 to August 31, 2017, MOL inspectors will be looking for hazards related to occupational disease. This will include but is not limited to exposures to diesel exhaust and silica, as well as other designated substances, and chemical or biological hazards at mines and mining plants. 

Hierarchy of controls

To reduce or eliminate diesel particulate emissions, The Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC) provides a helpful “hierarchy of controls” tool, which is included on the back of the infographic. Control strategies rank from most effective to least effective, and distinguish between proactive and reactive controls. An effective emissions control program utilizes multiple controls from across the hierarchy, and includes a monitoring program to evaluate the effectiveness of the program.

For more information, please contact Workplace Safety North.


Infographic: Proper use of respirators in mines and mining plants

Health effects of diesel exhaust - hazard alert infographic

Controlling diesel particulate matter in underground mines - Occupational Cancer Research Centre

Ventilation assessment: A snapshot of mine ventilation practices in underground mines

Ministry-approved health and safety training: Supervisor Common Core: Mine Ventilation – Underground Mining

Auxiliary Mine Ventilation Manual