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Issue 6: October 1998

ORGANISATION CHANGES IN HSE RESEARCH MANAGEMENT

During 1997/98 an efficiency study of research arrangements including the related commissioning processes was carried out as part of the HSE Efficiency Programme for that year. This article outlines briefly the consequent agreed changes to HSE's organisational structure for research management, what the changes mean and when they will happen.

Hitherto, HSE's research has been managed in three discrete blocks; the Mainstream Research Programme, ie a general portfolio on safety, hygiene and health risks; Nuclear safety research and Offshore safety research. The separation reflects the history of HSE assuming the respective responsibilities. From April 1998, the Mainstream and Offshore programmes have been fully integrated into a single budget. The Nuclear programme's separate arrangements will be retained, given the particular close co-ordination with the nuclear industry's own research programme.

To match the budgetary integration, it has been decided that the Research Strategy Unit (RSU), responsible for the Mainstream programme and overall co-ordination of research management issues at the corporate level, and its counterpart for the Offshore Safety Research Programme should also merge. This is designed to streamline the arrangements, allow unified systems to be developed and so to achieve a long held ambition to provide a single, integrated service to HSE's research customers. The merger will take effect on 1 January 1999 and the expanded RSU will remain part of HSE's Directorate of Science and Technology.

HSE's Board also agreed to pilot an enhanced 'business management' research administration approach in two Directorates initially, viz Offshore Safety and Safety Policy. This will be evaluated in June 2000 to assess its wider potential application.

The majority of Offshore research contracts have to date been let by the Marine Technology Support Unit of AEA Technology. The merger makes it both practicable and sensible to end this arrangement and the work will in future be carried out within RSU. It is intended to make this change during the first half of 1999.

WHAT'S NEW

AGRICULTURAL TRACTOR AND TRAILER COMBINATION BRAKING CAPACITIES

(Collaborative project with Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions [DETR]. Competitively tendered and contracted by DETR)

HSE does not have its own policy on the standards of trailer braking expected in field situations. In such circumstances HSE tends to defer enforcement of the existing standards to the Police or the Transport wing of DETR as a road use issue.

Recent agricultural accidents have suggested that the current standards set for tractor/trailer braking are no longer suitable for the size and weight of modern tractor/trailer combinations. In particular, there is doubt as to whether tractor handbrakes can safely hold a laden tractor/trailer at rest on a slope.

The objective of this project is to establish the current braking capacities used on a range of agricultural tractors and trailers, both in terms of standards used during their design and construction (theoretical capacity) and their measured performance (actual capacity).

The maximum capacities (static and dynamic) of tractor braking systems, both with and without braking being provided by the trailer, will be established. The work will also establish whether the performance of the braking systems designed and built in accordance with British/ISO or EC standards is sufficient to allow the safe braking of typical tractor types of the 1990's.

EVALUATION OF THE NIOSH LIFTING EQUATION  (Contractor: HSL)

The USA's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has developed and published an equation which establishes recommended weight limits for manual lifting and lowering. The equation identifies a Lifting Index (LI) by calculating exposures in relation to the main factors determining pressure levels on the lower back. The equation has been very influential both in the USA and the rest of the developed world in fashioning design and risk assessment systems in relation to lower back injury. However, NIOSH acknowledges that the relationship between injury and the LI has not yet been established.

The objectives of this project are: to validate the relationship between injury and LI, so that the equation can be used to predict risk and identify the percentage of the workforce at risk of low-back injury from a given task; to establish the degree of risk associated with the increments in the LI and the influence of personal capability factors; and to develop and evaluate CEN and ISO standards based on amended versions of the NIOSH equation.

OCCUPATIONAL DERMATITIS AMONGST PRINTERS IN THE MIDLANDS (Contractor: Leicester University)

This project arose as a result of HSC's Printing Industry Advisory Committee's (PIAC) interest and work in support of the second phase of HSE's Good Health is Good Business (GHGB) campaign, which concentrated on dermatitis. HSE has some limited data to suggest that occupational dermatitis is a problem in the printing industry, however PIAC perceive that the problem is largely hidden and remains unrecognised by the industry.

The aims of this work are to quantify occupational ill-health resulting from dermatitis for print workers and to identify any links between individual work processes or activities and dermatitis. This will be achieved through the use of a self-administered postal questionnaire, distributed to print workers. This approach has the support of the Graphical, Paper and Media Union, which is represented on PIAC.

The results of the study will be used to develop a targeted strategy, aimed at reducing dermatitis in the industry. The work will also support the third phase of the GHGB campaign on solvents, which are widely used in the printing industry.)

DECOMPRESSION ILLNESS IN COMPRESSED AIR WORKERS  (Contractor: Unimed Scientific Ltd)

The decompression process results in the formation of gas bubbles within the tissues of the body. The current procedures for decompression following work in compressed air are described in the Blackpool Tables. For compressed air workers, the volume of gas which has to be removed from the tissues is normally much greater than for others who have to undergo decompression (such as divers), and the tables do not adequately allow for the volume of gas carried, particularly in body fat, nor for the removal of inert gas, both of which result from the formation of bubbles and which contribute to decompression illness (DCI).

Work already commissioned by HSE has provided scientific data to indicate that the incidence of DCI could be significantly reduced if compressed air workers were routinely decompressed using oxygen rather than air- the current UK practice. In addition, this work questioned the efficacy of existing hyperbaric procedures, designed for the therapeutic treatment of DCI in divers, being applied in the treatment of compressed air workers. Therapeutic treatments which use oxygen are currently in use in commercial, military and leisure diving.

In order to increase the effectiveness of the therapeutic treatment of compressed air workers an evaluation of these treatments will be undertaken through this research project in order to design hyperbaric treatment schedules which reduce or remove decompression bubbles in compressed air workers.

SAFETY INTEGRITY LEVELS OF FAIRGROUND RIDE CONTROL SYSTEMS  (Contractor: HSL)

The safety of fairground rides is increasingly becoming reliant on complex programmable electronic control systems (PES). One example is the use of programmable logic controllers (PLCs) for the control of braking on roller-coasters. The use of such technology in safety-related applications brings with it the difficulty of ensuring that the likelihood of the control system failing (in a way which could lead to an accident) is sufficiently low in relation to the hazards and risks involved.

The aim of this project is to define a risk assessment methodology to enable determination of the safety integrity levels for PES on fairground rides. The project will take advantage of an emerging international standard, IEC 61508, 'Functional Safety of Electrical/Electronic/Programmable Electronic Safety-Related Systems', which will specify the requirements for the design, implementation, use and maintenance of PES-based, safety-related systems.

MAINTENANCE AND UPDATE OF THE MHIDAS DATABASE  (Contractor: AEA Technology)

HSE ensures that risks from major hazards are controlled. To do this, an awareness of major accidents which have occurred involving dangerous substances is necessary. This information is required by HSE as a regulator, by the industries that are responsible for these risks and by others involved in controlling these risks.

A public access dataservice based on the MHIDAS accident database was established in 1985. The database contains coded information on reports of some 8000 major accidents which are in the public domain. The database is updated quarterly and is available to users via various media, including compact disc and the internet. The database continues to meet a wide range of needs both within HSE and externally. This project will allow the continued collection and coding of information on major accidents involving dangerous substances, according to the established inclusion criteria and will allow the development of improved access to the database for users.

MEDIUM ENERGY PHOTONSAPPROVED DOSIMETRY SERVICES PERFORMANCE TEST FOR LOW AND MEDIUM ENERGY  (Contractor: NRPB)

HSE approves suitable dosimetry services for the purpose of the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1985. As part of the requirements for approval, dosimetry services periodically undergo tests of their performance, using National Measurement and Accreditation Services-approved test-houses. The tests are performed according to protocols published by HSE.

The existing test for dosimetry of whole body external radiation is presently limited to a single type of radiation and there is a need to extend this to encompass other radiation energies that are routinely measured by the dosimetry services, notably x-rays.

This work intends to conduct a trial performance test, using a range of photon energies, in order to investigate dosimetric capabilities. A routine performance test, including pass/fail

PROVISION OF TRAINING FOR DRIVERS OF AGRICULTURAL VEHICLES (Contractor: Land Based Colleges National Consortium Ltd)

In 1996/97, four people were killed in accidents which involved tractors or loaders overturning. Over the last ten years, 12% of accidental deaths in farming, forestry and horticulture have occurred due to vehicle overturn.

HSE already supplies a training pack 'Tractor Action' to establishments such as agricultural colleges to provide guidance for safe tractor handling. However, guidance relating to driving tractors on slopes is omitted from this pack. Additionally, HSE has made two videos which cover aspects of tractor safety, and a HSE-produced leaflet 'Preventing Overturning Tractors,' has recently been revised and updated.

The aim of this project is to assess the current amount and scope of tractor handling and safety training provided by agricultural colleges and to determine the need for additional training material and guidance, perhaps to encompass driving on slopes.

FINITE ELEMENT MODELS OF PORTAL FRAME COLLAPSE IN FIRE (Contractor: HSL)

This project relates to the prediction by the Major Hazards Assessment Unit of off-site hazards from chemical warehouse fires and ammonium nitrate stores in implementing the Control of Industrial Major Hazard (CIMAH) and Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) regulations. The quantity and type of toxic fumes from such large fires depends crucially on whether sufficient air enters the burning building to completely combust chemicals that become involved, or whether the building fills with unburned or partially burned chemical vapours, i.e. the fire becomes ventilation controlled.

There is growing evidence that many steel-clad buildings are not sufficiently vented during roof collapse to prevent ventilation controlled burning. COMAH assessments of such premises will need to determine: i) if roof collapse is effective in preventing ventilation controlled burning; ii) the burning rate and chemical consumption rate if a ventilation controlled fire is established; and iii) the production rate for important toxic products of combustion. This project, together with an ongoing project at Sheffield University, is aimed at addressing the first element of this problem.

The work carried out at Sheffield University project has been aimed at developing a computer model to predict the collapse of steel portal frame buildings in serious fires, using finite element techniques. In order to validate this predictive tool, this project has now been commissioned. The objective of this work is to carry out a series of experimental tests on loaded model steel portal frame buildings in order to investigate the actual mechanism of structural failure. The results will then be used to assess the accuracy, and reliability of the finite element model of structural collapse which has been previously developed.

FORESIGHT: FUTURE CHALLENGES FOR OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY

...'The telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered

as a means of communication.' (Western Union, 1876)

Businesses face the dilemma that, although predicting the future is fraught with difficulties, success is increasingly dependent on innovation. Such considerations led to the announcement of the UK Technology Foresight programme (since renamed Foresight) in the 1993 White Paper Realising our Potential. The programme aims to identify opportunities in markets and technologies which will enhance the nation's prosperity and quality of life. Spearheaded by 16 sector panels, it brings together business, government and the science base to develop shared visions of the future and identify priorities for action to guide decision makers, both in the public and private sectors.

HEALTH AND SAFETY IMPLICATIONS OF THE TRENDS IDENTIFIED IN THE FORESIGHT PROGRAMME

As an adjunct to its work on strategic foresight and anticipating scientific and technological developments (Technology Trends), HSE viewed the panel reports as an untapped source of important knowledge and a means of providing an independent opinion. The output from the Foresight programme has been prodigious and HSE therefore commissioned Technopolis to review the occupational health and safety (OHS) implications of the main trends identified in this programme. The following trends which seem likely to lead to significant changes in the working environment over the next 20 years have been identified in the research report.

(1) Further dramatic developments in the performance of Information Technology, Electronics and Communications, and the widespread proliferation of applications based on these trends are widely anticipated. Occupational implications include reductions in the size of the workforce as a result of further automation of processes; continued increases in the proportion of people involved in sedentary work; and increased flexibility of working practices. The combination of sensors and IT systems will enable more precise control and remote monitoring of industrial processes. This should reduce risks to health and safety. However, increases in sedentary work may expose more people to chronic health risks like back pain or upper limb disorders, particularly in relation to the ergonomic problems of poorly configured work stations and bad posture.

(2) Social and economic trends include an increasing age profile of the working population and increasing fragmentation of the industrial base. The OHS implications of an older work force are unclear. Risks will be increased in some occupations where particular types of physical activity become more hazardous with age but in other sectors more mature and risk- averse behaviour may compare favourably with youthful bravado. Fragmentation of the industrial base may lead to a reduction in the use of good OHS management systems.

(3) The rate at which new materials are introduced into the workplace seems likely to accelerate. Materials scientists expect there to be a breakthrough in the cost of advanced materials, which will be more closely engineered, lighter and require less maintenance and repair. The challenge will be to develop understanding of the properties of these materials so that the OHS risks they pose can be fully characterised.

(4) Every panel expects widespread and profound changes to be pursued to protect the environment. Specific trends include: cleaner processing technologies; efficient, low emission and sustainable energy technologies; and life-cycle evaluation and analysis including environmental impact, changing use and lifelong support, and disposal and decommissioning. These trends should have mostly positive implications but there may be conflict between good practice from an OHS perspective and environmental considerations.

(5) Most of the Panels anticipate upheaval in the medium to long term as the combined effects of European integration, global competition, and technical change drive the rationalisation of whole sectors and the repositioning of businesses in higher value-added and knowledge-based activities. There is a widespread anticipation of multiple careers for most people entering the workplace today. Greater personal choice and autonomy will be combined with high levels of uncertainty about one's longer term prospects. The presumption is that this uncertainty will increase the levels of anxiety and stress in most people's lives.

(6) The ability to screen people to provide early warning of genetic susceptibility to certain materials or environments is clearly of potential benefit in reducing occupational ill health. However, there are potential ethical problems associated with the genetic testing of job applicants, with the possibility of spurious screening out of those deemed to pose a higher risk of under-performance.

Technopolis have tabulated their understanding of the current levels of risk in the sectors corresponding to the Foresight panels and then indicated how they expect these risks to increase or decrease in the light of the trends identified.

THE SECOND ROUND OF FORESIGHT

A consultation document setting out proposals for the next round of Foresight was launched in the Spring. The thrust of these proposals is that the next round will build on the work to date to produce a new set of visions and a fresh agenda for actions. Ministers believe that a key strength of Foresight is its ability to add value in areas which cut across departmental boundaries. They have proposed that, as well as sector Panels, the next round should include a number of cross-cutting themes which reflect the Government's high level priorities.

To support the Panels in the next round and provide a basis for broader participation, it is proposed to set up a "Knowledge Pool", a professionally managed library of strategic visions, information and views about the future. HSE has promoted this concept and we have described our experience in developing a database of technological trends and their implications for health and safety.

The Health and Safety Commission have submitted a formal response to this consultation exercise, which:

supports the objectives of the Foresight programme, particularly that the next round should focus on social issues as well as market opportunities;

agrees that participation should be as wide as possible;

supports the thematic approach but proposes that the focus must remain on the science and technology dimension;

proposes a thematic panel on risk assessment and management;

supports the concept of a knowledge pool;

emphasises that to maximise the impact of the second round of Foresight, full account needs to be taken of experience from the first round.

Over 400 responses to the consultation exercise were received and these are currently considered. Consultation on a blueprint for the next round is expected to begin in the Autumn.

If you would like to read more...

The overview of the programme, prepared by Technopolis, and the Commission's response to consultation on the next round of Foresight are both available to HSE Staff on the Chief Scientist Bulletin Board on cc:Mail

Updated 2012-01-13