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Page last reviewed: 12/20/2012

Highlights

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Diesel Exhaust

Diesel engines provide power to many types of equipment used in a large number of industries, including transportation, mining, construction, agriculture, as well as many manufacturing operations. Occupations with potential exposure to DE/DPM include miners, construction workers, heavy equipment operators, bridge and tunnel workers, railroad workers, oil and gas workers, loading dock workers, truck drivers, material handling operators, farmworkers, long-shoring workers, and auto, truck and bus maintenance garage workers.

Diesel exhaust is a mixture of gases and particulates produced during the combustion of diesel fuel. The very small particles are known as diesel particulate matter (DPM), which consists primarily of solid elemental carbon (EC) cores with organic carbon (OC) compounds adhered to the surfaces. The organic carbon includes polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), some of which cause cancer when tested in animals. Workers exposed to diesel exhaust face the risk of health effects ranging from irritation of the eyes and nose, headaches and nausea, to respiratory disease and lung cancer.

Standards

OSHA has not established a standard for diesel exhaust as a unique hazard, however exposures to various components of diesel exhaust are addressed in specific standards for general industry and shipyard employment. This section highlights OSHA standards, Federal Registers (rules, proposed rules, and notices), directives (instructions for compliance officers), standard interpretations (official letters of interpretation of the standards), and other federal standards related to diesel exhaust. Twenty-five states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved State Plans and have adopted their own standards and enforcement policies. For the most part, these States adopt standards that are identical to Federal OSHA. However, some States have adopted different standards applicable to this topic or may have different enforcement policies.

OSHA

General Industry (29 CFR 1910)

Shipyard Employment (29 CFR 1915)

Federal Registers

Directives

Standard Interpretations

Other Federal

Note: These are NOT OSHA regulations. However, they do provide guidance from their originating organizations related to worker protection.

Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The EPA is responsible for developing regulations that set emission standards for diesel vehicles and engines, as well as for diesel fuel. Though these are not directly related to occupational exposure, lowering emissions does lower potential occupational exposure.

Health Recognition

  • Diesel Exhaust in the United States [412 KB PDF, 4 pages]. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), EPA-420-F-03-022, (2003, June).

  • Health Assessment Document for Diesel Engine Exhaust [9 MB PDF, 669 pages]. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Center for Environmental Assessment, (2002, May). Examined information regarding the possible health hazards associated with exposure to diesel engine exhaust (DE), which is a mixture of gases and particles.

  • National Clean Diesel Campaign (NCDC). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) National Clean Diesel Campaign promotes clean air strategies by working with manufacturers, fleet operators, air quality professionals, environmental and community organizations, and state and local officials to reduce diesel emissions.

  • NYCOSH Diesel Exhaust Fact Sheet [158 KB PDF, 3 pages].

Exposure Evaluation

  • Chemical Sampling Information. OSHA. Presents, in concise form, data on a large number of chemical substances that may be encountered in industrial hygiene investigations. Basic reference for industrial hygienists engaged in OSHA field activity.

Analytical Methods

OSHA

OSHA has developed and validated methods for use by the Salt Lake Technical Center (SLTC) laboratory. The following methods on the Partial List of Chemicals Associated with Diesel Exhaust page have been adopted by many laboratories for the analysis of chemical compounds.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

Control Measures:

  • Diesel Exhaust. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Mining Topic. Provides links to sources of information on a variety of topics relating to Diesel Exhaust.

  • Diesel Aerosols and Gases in Underground Mines: Guide to Exposure Assessment and Control. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 2012-101, (2011, October). A comprehensive guide to establish a program to curtail diesel particulate matter emissions, control pollutants after release in an underground mine environment and reduce exposures using administrative controls.

  • Practical Ways to Reduce Exposure to Diesel Exhaust in Mining - A Toolbox. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Provides information shared at workshops about practical methods to reduce exposure to diesel exhaust in mining. This material is organized as a toolbox so it can be put to use directly by those working with diesel-powered equipment.

  • NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 2005-149, (2007, September). Provides a physical description, exposure limits, measurement method, personal protection and sanitation, first aid, respirator recommendations, exposure routes, symptoms, target organs, and cancer sites.

Because diesel engines can operate for 20 to 30 years, millions of older, dirtier diesel engines are still in use. EPA offers many strategies and programs to help make these engines operate more cleanly and funding to help build diesel emission reduction programs that improve air quality and protect public health. EPA recommends a wide range of emission reduction strategies for diesel vehicles, vessels, locomotives, or equipment. These include:

Additional Information

Related Safety and Health Topics Pages


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