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Transcript: Emerging energy technologies

Welcome to the HSE podcast.

In this episode HSE's Taff Powell talks about our contribution to ensuring secure clean and affordable energy for Britain in the future

“If there's one thing that HSE must do it must give adequate public assurance.  People need to have confidence that HSE is going about its business in the right way and on the other hand if we're too cautious and we are not flexible and pragmatic enough then we may unnecessarily prevent the introduction of technologies that are actually vital to the social welfare and the economy in general in the UK”

And HSE Infoline's Victoria Brady explains how to assess the risks of carrying loads at work.  But first here's the latest health and safety news.

The latest company to sign up to the HSE's pledge to focus on real risks and not trivia has marked the occasion with a daredevil abseil down a freezing Scottish canyon.  Dean Dunbar from Perthshire set up his extreme dreams company because he's a registered blind man he felt he couldn't get access to the adrenalin-pumping sports he loves.  Both Dean and Gavin Howat an Inspector from the HSE's adventure activities group completed that decent down two waterfalls. 

The Head of the HSE's Offshore division has made his public debut saying tackling any industry complacency on safety is his top priority.  Steve Walker who replaces Ian Whewell on his retirement also said he inherited a great legacy and made commitments to continue to drive standards up within the industry.

Migrant construction workers in London are being given health and safety advice as part of a new HSE scheme.  Members of the Polish Romanian and newly arrived Indian communities who work on construction sites in London are being visited by Outreach workers and given wallet-sized cards with HSE information.  For each nationality there's a dedicated phone line and micro-website giving construction-specific health and safety advice.

For links to these HSE websites and other issues covered in this episode view the transcript at 

You can stay up-to-date with the latest news and updates from the HSE by visiting the news pages on our website 

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By 2020 its forecast that the global demand for energy will outstrip supply.  Renewable and other alternative energy sources are needed.  It's the HSE's role to assess these emerging energy technologies and their impact on the future of health and safety at work.  We've been talking to Taff Powell about the challenge ahead.

“I'm Taff Powell and I'm the director of the Emerging Energy Technologies program.”

So this new program EET can you first of all tell me what is it?

“The way we characterise it there are six main elements to the energy mix that we're going to need in the future to make sure that we've got sustainable energy and we combat climate change.  Now taking nuclear out which is not part of this program the five that remain are carbon capture and storage that's taking the carbon dioxide away from the power plants and cement works and other industrial facilities that generate huge amounts of it compressing it transporting it offshore and burying it underground.  There's storing natural gas importing it when its cheap storing it underground and using it into the economy when its more expensive in the wintertime for example because we are running out of our natural gas and we need to get it from somewhere else.  There's distributive generation which is the smaller-scale production of electricity feeding it back into the National Grid for example.  There's renewables people will be familiar with wind farms of course wave and tidal and there's clinical technology that's getting the energy from our coal seams we've got seventeen billion tonnes of deep coal that we're not going to mine in the future and also making the coal burning process which is incredibly inefficient at the moment much more efficient which will be an important contribution to reduce the amount of CO that we have to capture and bury underground.”

You're talking about a bunch of new technologies that are partly being developed at the moment and your job is to ensure that those technologies are safe.  So it's quite difficult is it doing what you do because you're trying to make sure that something you don't quite know about is a safe thing?

“It's slightly challenging.  It's endlessly fascinating because the more that you look into these things the more that you understand about the risks that need adequate control measures and the science gaps that exist.  But actually looking into this is what we need to do so that we can spot the gaps we can work with industry to plug them and we can give adequate public assurance that the risks are controlled and that the public can welcome if you like these new technologies that we're going to sustain as going forward to meet these huge targets set for 2050.”

So what's your actual job?  What are you going to be doing?

“Well I'm overall managing a program with a number of workstream managers who are leading the safe introduction and expansion of these technologies that I've just described.  There's administration of course for making all this work effectively.  Developing options that the organisation can take some decisions about how it wants to change itself to actually meet these challenges and be an effective regulator and also to reach out to both the industry that want to be in this marketplace and to the other organisations that have a key stake.  So for example on our program board we have members from the Environment Agency the Scottish Environment Protection Agency the International Energy Agency based in Paris from Department of Energy as well as some key staff from within HSE to make sure that we have a very kind of broad agenda that we have some good wide thinking and that we benefit from the experience that the diversity of important stakeholders can bring to the table.”

How is this program going to be developed?

“At the moment until the New Year we are mapping out for the organisation and will actually publish this and make this available freely the status of these technologies the sectors the hazards and the risks the international context the guidance and standards that exist and where there are gaps so that there will have been an authoritative sort of situation report if you like across all these sectors.  That will inform the knowledge gaps that we have to fill through research and development and we hope to do that collaborative with industry.  We will enhance and improve our communications and we will develop some options for HSE to consider at board level how it wants to proceed to actually develop its regulatory strategy in terms of regulation in terms of how it inspects and enforces in terms of the knowledge that it needed in terms of resources that it requires and that's the job for next year.”

And you talk about communication so that's communicating with the public is it?  Making sure that the general public understand that these new technologies will be safe?

“Well its communicating with the whole stakeholder community but if there's one thing that HSE must do it must give adequate public assurance and people need to have confidence that HSE is going about its business in the right way.  It can't be a responsible regulator if it's simply there to make sure these technologies are introduced and on the other hand if we're too cautious and we are not flexible and pragmatic enough then we may unnecessarily prevent the introduction of technologies that are actually vital to the social welfare and the economy in general in the UK.”

And so how long will this project go on for your particular job years?

“Well no I certainly hope not.  I think the development overall of these of HSE's regulatory approach will last as long as the technologies evolve that's the way HSE is.  But this particular program should set the course and have things working steadily and progressively forwards and so that we can withdraw if you like as a program sometime during 2011.”

Visit the transcript for this podcast episode at for more information about HSE's Emerging Energy Technologies program.

The HSE protecting people's health and safety at work.

Now in our regular feature we put HSE Infoline's Victoria Brady to the test by asking her to answer one of your popular health and safety questions.

“Good afternoon HSE's Infoline Andrew speaking how can I help?”

“Hi my name's Victoria Brady I'm the training manager here at HSE's Infoline and I'm going to answer all your health and safety questions for you.”

Is there a maximum amount that I can lift at work?

“There isn't sort of a maximum limit set down in legislation.  The legislation that deals with this is the Manual Handling Operation Regulations of 1992.  What it does state is that you have to carry out a risk assessment and that risk assessment has to be done on an individual basis.  I mean the way I always describe it is you know I'm sure a big burly man can lift a lot more than I can so the risk assessment is going to be slightly different for the both of us.  You have to sort of look at a lot of different circumstances such as the weight of the load.  The size and the shape of the load can certainly affect it if there's no handgrips on it or if there's sharp corners.  The environment you're going to be lifting it in.  I mean you could be certainly walking up slopes or walking up stairs.  It's going to be a lot different from walking along just a normal road and again individual capacity.  You know like I said you know a big strong man's going to be able to lift a lot more than me.  You do have to look at a lot of things when making that assessment and you do have to individualise it to the person.”

So if there isn't a maximum weight then does that mean employees need some training in how to lift things?

“Yes all employees should definitely be given training on manual handling if that's something they're going to be doing within their job.  They should be shown obviously how to lift safely without damaging their back or their legs and obviously given the risk assessment to show them how they're meant to lift that specific load and what they're meant to do with it.”

There's a diagram that we're looking at which sort of explains not the maximum amount that people can carry but just gives a bit of a guide doesn't it can you explain it?

“Yeah sure it's a diagram of sort of a man and a woman and what it gives is the sort of weight limits you should be looking at for different heights of your body.  So for example at sort of shoulder height a woman could lift thirteen kilograms close to her chest and seven kilograms away from her chest.  As you said this isn't a sort of maximum weight limit what we suggest to employers is if they would have to lift above that weight they should do a far more detailed risk assessment.”

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Updated 2014-09-02