Scientific reports confirming the shockingly bad quality of air on London Underground are becoming an annual tradition.
The latest report, from the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants, reported last week that the air on the platforms at Hampstead was around 31 times more polluted than the average in London, taken from a roadside monitoring point.
This might not effect passengers too badly, as they’re unlikely to be at platform level for more than a few minutes at a time. But what about staff? Station staff have to do SATS duties for up to two hours, and cleaners in some locations spend their entire eight-hour shifts at platform level.
The company has been scrambling to deny the problem. An Employee Bulletin said: “We spend around £60 million every year cleaning our trains, stations, and tunnels to ensure dust levels are kept to an absolute minimum. This includes regular cleaning of trains and stations.”
This reassuring statistic omits to mention a few vital facts. Firstly, the cleaning is not carried out by robots: it’s carried out by people, who are themselves being exposed to dust and air pollution. Secondly, ABM, the multinational contractor to whom LU outsources cleaning, is planning to make huge job cuts!
LU also claims it “performs regular health checks for all our operational employees.” This is a straightforward untruth, as any operational employee knows well. The only time we’re sent to Occupational Health for a checkup is when LU is worried we might be too ill to work for a prolonged period, when its various “supportive” methods of attendance management kick in (“get back to work quickly or else”). It’s also worth remembering that ongoing austerity cuts on LU have not spared LUOH, which has been radically pared back with many additional facilities, including health fairs on stations and in depots, reduced or scrapped entirely.
LU has also consistently refused requests from station staff to be allowed to wear simple dust masks while performing platform duties, for no other reason than that some senior boss has decided they don’t look good. So the company’s concern for some superficial notion of aesthetics apparently overrides its concern for our health.
Union health and safety reps are already demanding additional local checks into air quality. Make sure yours does this too. And if LU still won’t budge on the dust masks issue and enters into serious discussions about reducing platform time, including my increasing staffing levels to facilitate greater SATS rotation if necessary, we need to start thinking about industrial action to refuse to work downstairs.
It’s a jobs issue for cleaners too; without a significant increase in cleaner numbers, there’ll be no way to limit time spent on the platform. RMT’s fight to resist ABM’s job cuts, and bring cleaning in house, is a fight for workers’ health!