Issue 4: April 1998

HSE involvement in Faraday partnerships through INTErSECT

In order to improve liaison and innovation between the UK science, engineering and technology base and business, the government (through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, EPSRC) is part funding Faraday Partnerships, of which INTErSECT - Intelligent sensors and control technology - is an example. The partnership model is based on intermediate organisations which stimulate and facilitate industry-university collaboration. [For INTErSECT, the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and Sira Ltd are the intermediates].

The INTErSECT partnership is focusing on industrial requirements to analyse, control and monitor processes using non-invasive measurement methods and includes: the characterisation of novel intelligent sensing techniques (a FORESIGHT key topic area); the theoretical and practical understanding of new sensors; and the use of measurement data in modelling complex processes. This work is of considerable interest to HSE as it should lead to new and improved technologies for the monitoring and analysis of workplace and environmental contaminants. However, the partnership will not itself support technological exploitation and any such opportunities will be referred to other programmes.

In addition to funds provided by EPSRC and NPL, 12 sponsors (including HSE) have so far agreed to become industrial partners. There are also eleven university partners. It is anticipated that the majority of the funds will be spent in these universities. Collaboration between the Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) and one or more of the universities is encouraged. Within INTErSECT, it is envisaged that there will be a total of 4 or 5 flagship projects including:

HSE staff have already attended meetings and workshops associated with INTErSECT and further details of the progress to date can be obtained from Dr Peter Walsh, the HSE Project Officer for this work, on (0114 289) 2533. Also, Dave Wilson from HSE's Chemical and Hazardous Installations Division is involved in the data fusion area and may be contacted on (0151 951) 4969.

What's new?

Susiephone warning system for buried pipelines

(Contractor: Susiephone Ltd.)

HSE consider third party digging activities to be an important source of hazard to persons involved and the public, and pipeline operators identify it as a principal concern for breaches of buried pipeline integrity. The industry has tried various means to raise awareness of their pipeline routes and the dangers arising from uncontrolled excavations, but it is agreed that much more needs to be done.

The Scottish Roadworks Register have successfully put into place a 'one-call, dial-before-you-dig' warning system in Scotland and with HSE involvement they have secured strong operator support to implement a similar scheme in Cheshire for a trial period of a year, as a step towards the formation of an integrated national system for the rest of England and Wales.

The objectives of this project are: to minimise the likelihood of third party damage to buried pipelines and thereby improve the safety of workers and public coming into the proximity of such works; to support the prevention of damage provisions in the new Pipeline Safety Regulations 1996 by encouraging the industry to take pro-active measures in minimising the likelihood of third party damage from excavation interference; and to encourage and promote development of an integrated national 'one-call, dial-before-you-dig' warning system for excavators by owner/operators of buried pipelines as one way of meeting their legal obligations.

Exposure to cytotoxic drugs in clinical practice


HSE has recently held a workshop on cytotoxic drugs with participation of health professionals and the pharmaceutical industry.

Recommendations from this workshop included the need for research into the extent of problems associated with occupational exposure to cytotoxic drugs as concerns about the potential for exposure of health staff to cytotoxic and cytostatic drugs have been expressed.

Recent improvements to control measures have been implemented in many hospital pharmacies where dosing units of drugs are prepared.

However, the extent of exposure on the wards has not been investigated against the control measures used by health professionals who administer the drugs and who deal directly with patients receiving chemotherapy.

This research project intends to investigate the uptake of cytotoxic drugs in health professionals working with chemotherapeutic agents on oncology wards, and also to study the extent of any uptake against a detailed description of the work practices and control measures in place.

Stability assessment of mobile machinery

(Contractor: HSL)

Tip-over or overturning of machinery is a major source of injury in the workplace. For mobile machinery which must remain free standing during use (eg cranes, fork lift trucks, excavators, etc.), stability related hazards are particularly acute. The relevant legislation requires machinery to be designed so that it is stable under the foreseeable operating conditions. However, there is currently no guidance on how this general requirement should be met. Standards for specific machinery exist, but there is no commonly agreed basis on which such standards may be formulated. The purpose of this project is to provide guidance for machinery manufacturers and for those who develop operating standards, which will assist them to specify appropriate techniques for predicting and quoting stability limits for mobile plant which may be used at work.

Display screen equipment health problems

(Contractor: System Concepts Ltd.)

There are currently few statistics available on the incidence of particular health problems in populations of display screen equipment (DSE) users.

It is the aim of this project to analyse a large store of pre-existing data (relating to DSE use and users), which is held by the contractor, in order to produce estimates of the underlying incidence of each kind of discomfort or health problem associated with DSE use. Additionally, records of the users' satisfaction with particular features of their DSE equipment, workstation and work environment will also be analysed and this information will then be related to the associated incidence and nature of ill-health in DSE users.

Successful design for health and safety

(Contractor: AEA Technology)

The concept of inherently healthier and safer design has wide application in industry. It seeks to achieve health and safety performance through the use of design features which avoid or prevent the negative results of deviations from a design's intent.

The concept has been promoted in several fields of engineering design and there is a great deal of relevant accumulated expertise. However, there is an absence of over-arching principles for its application and usage, which would serve to give coherence to the concept.

This project has been initiated in order to produce guidance for management on the principles and practice of inherently healthier and safer approaches to design and will provide a high level source of reference for engineering designers and will also assist in training the designers and engineers of the future.

Comparison of a man-made fibre durability test

(Contractor: HSL)

This project forms part of an inter-laboratory comparison between HSL and the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh. The basis of the project is to carry out a range of laboratory based physio-chemical measurements which should give a measure of the likely persistence of fibres in the lung. The work carried out will involve the use of a constant flow cell and simulated lung fluid in order to measure the in-vitro solubility and durability of up to 12 types of fibre. It is intended that the work will contribute towards the development and recognition of an EC standard assay for establishing the potential of in-vitro solubility tests as an indicator of biopersistence, (persistence in the biological system) and hence the associated health hazard in the lung and surrounding tissues.

The development of this test will reduce the need for in-vivo experimentation to assess and classify fibre hazard.

Surveillance schemes for work-related disease

(Contractor: University of Manchester)

HSE has an ongoing requirement for information relating to the scale and distribution of all categories of occupational ill-health and diseases. HSE recognises that no single source of information is able to fulfil this requirement and has therefore supported a range of approaches for gathering relevant information, from population-based surveys of self reported work-related illness through to the reporting of illness and diseases by specialist occupational physicians.

The purpose of this project is to collect information, from consultant specialists and/or the professions allied to medicine, about a range of work-related illnesses. Information appertaining to: the incidence of the illness; possible or probable causes; and distribution of the illness by occupation, industry and by a variety of other variables, such as age, sex, etc. will be collected and collated by the contractor for HSE's use.

The major hazards and risk assessment portfolio research group

The Major Hazards and Risk Assessment Portfolio Research Group (MHRAPRG) was established as part of HSE's new research management structure in 1996, although most elements of the Group had existed for some years prior to this, in the shape of the HSE Risk Assessment Research Group (RARG), which provided the archetype for the PRG activity and function. On formation, the PRG incorporated relevant existing research groupings, and formed others at the subject research group (SRG) level, to achieve the strategic and working level coverage of PRG specific interests.

The PRG recognises that the term 'risk assessment' covers, directly or indirectly, most of the activities of HSE (including research); and has restricted its risk assessment content to, or relevant to, the 'major hazards' and related areas. All Divisions of HSE (other than RPD) are represented (in some cases with multiple membership) on the PRG, along with HSL; and there is wide representation from operational and technical interests in the SRG membership. The PRG meets normally twice yearly, in the Spring and Autumn, timed to provide appropriate inputs to the relevant meetings of the Research Strategy Committee. External speakers are occasionally invited to speak to PRG meetings.

The current portfolio overseen by the PRG is approximately œ6M, with about 120 on-going projects, excluding offshore and nuclear research. (There is substantial commonality of interest with the latter two programmes). Projects, and potential projects can be grouped into 3 main areas of research:-

Many members of the PRG (and SRGs) have extensive technical contacts at both national and international level, and this networking enables the Group to have a broad overview of the wider research scene in this area of HSE activity. The work of the individual SRGs is now described in more detail.

a) Fire SRG
SRG interests encompass ignition, development, growth and spread of fire, its effects on people and on structures (including plant and equipment), the means of fire detection, prevention and control, and measures to mitigate its effects. To carry out its work effectively, the SRG uses information from incidents, from scientific research and from technological activities to evaluate the risks involved. These together help individual Directorates and Divisions contribute to the definition of HSE policies and enforcement strategies and to the development of national and international standards.

Jet fires are one area of particular interest to SRG members. The Cullen Report into the Piper Alpha disaster recommended that efforts should be made to improve understanding of the characteristics of jet fires through modelling and to develop measures to protect plant and equipment from the effects of jet flame impingement.

The Cullen recommendations form part of the rationale for the Fire SRG interest but, more generally, the need for research arises because incidents involving jet fires present a significant increase in threat to people, plant and the environment over the more common pool fire. The thermal load from jet flames is about 3 times that of pool fires. Unprotected, the majority of structural steel, plant and pressure vessels is not designed to withstand this level of thermal exposure. The risk of structural or plant failure through exposure to jet fires is therefore much greater than for pool fires; the consequences of exposure include catastrophic structural collapse or release of hazardous inventories to endanger health, safety and the environment.

Examples of current research which support the SRG objectives include:-

b) Explosions SRG

The Explosions SRG covers research into the causes, phenomenology and effects of all types of explosion, as well as methods of assessing, preventing and mitigating explosions. With interests ranging from explosions offshore to fireworks and from explosible dusts to gas in mines, there's something of relevance to most Divisions and Directorates.

Priority needs for research are ignition sources and hazards, predictive methods for explosion modelling and techniques for explosion suppression and mitigation. New technologies and EU legislation has focused attention on the need to identify and assess ignition sources and hazards in industrial plant, yet surprisingly little data is available on non-electrical sources such as mechanical friction and impact or fibre-optics except for a few well studied examples in particular scenarios. Under a recent Directive, equipment for use in potentially explosive atmospheres must be assessed and categorised before it can be marketed; HSE aims to ensure that the assessments are risk-based and that it develops guidance for industry on non-electrical sources of ignition.

As well as preventing ignitions, effort needs to go into protecting people from the effects of those explosions that do occur, by design of plant and structures and by providing explosion suppression and mitigation. For these measures to be effective, designers need to be able to predict the occurrence and effects of explosions. We're interested in the continuing development of modelling techniques such as computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and in the experimental validation of existing models to allow decisions to be made on the levels of explosion protection and mitigation to be provided.

(c) Source Terms, Dispersion and Risk Theory SRG

The Source-terms Dispersion & Risk Theory Subject Research Group (SDART SRG) has 11 members from seven HSE divisions. Meetings are held twice yearly and all proposals for research within the subject area are circulated electronically for consideration by the members. Current project areas include: experimental, integral* and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) modelling of two-phase flashing releases; spreading and evaporation of liquid pools including cryogenic materials and bund-overtopping; experimental, integral* and CFD modelling of vapour and two-phase releases from and near buildings; spillages of sulphur trioxide and oleum; properties of mixtures for use in consequence models; dispersion over complex terrain; indoor concentrations; low-windspeed dispersion; dispersion from pool-fires; 2D and 3D dispersion models; computerised quantified risk assessment (QRA) models; uncertainty methodology; and the new EC sponsored projects; URAHFREP for field experiments to determine the effect of buoyancy in HF dispersion, and ASSURANCE a benchmarking and uncertainty analysis project across the EU. Current contractors include HSL at Buxton and Sheffield, AEA, CERC Cambridge, W S Atkins, UMIST, and DNV Technica.

* (In this context, the term 'integral' refers to a mathematical model that does not contain partial differential equations either because they have been integrated theoretically, have been replaced by empirical relationships based on experimental data, or a combination of the two)

Details of some completed projects

Effectiveness of non-agricultural pesticide labelling

(Contractor: HSL)

Observational and interview techniques were used to gather information on how people used non-agricultural pesticide products in their own homes and the role of the pesticide's label in determining their use. The study involved 120 volunteers, who were all members of the public. Each volunteer was asked to demonstrate (in a room situation) how they would eradicate either fleas or cockroaches from their homes. A placebo pesticide was used for the exercise, which consisted mainly of water.

The study indicated that people are less likely to read the label on a product which they perceive as familiar and possessing few hazards. Products which were widely commercially available were perceived to be relatively safe. The main reason cited for reading labels was to determine how to use a product. The current label format has directions for use at the top of the label with statutory conditions relating to use and other safety information lower down, which could lead to this information being accidentally or deliberately overlooked.

From the study, the participants' behaviour with the placebo pesticide products appeared to be driven partly by information on the label, but knowledge of other pesticide products, of chemicals in general and common sense were all important factors.

Four areas of concern were highlighted by the project:

Impact resistance of colliery detaching hooks

(Contractor: HSL)

Following the accidental release of a detaching hook at the Vaal Reefs mine in South Africa, the South African authorities contacted HSL for assistance with the incident investigation. This project was initiated due to HSE's interest in the investigation and its value in providing information about detaching hook failure.

Detaching hook designs are intended to open only as a result of being pressured symmetrically from both sides. The release in this incident had been caused by debris falling down the mine shaft, which had then struck a hook asymmetrically, causing release of its load. Such incidents have very serious consequences if, as in this case, the load concerned is a cage transporting miners.

In order to determine the resistance of a range of pre-loaded detaching hooks to accidental opening, a test rig was developed which allowed a steel weight to be dropped onto hooks from a height of up to 25 m. The three main existing designs of hook, along with a number of modified designs, were examined. An impact alignment system on the test rig ensured that the weight struck the detaching hook in the correct manner. The results of the experimental work showed that a 750 kg mass with a kinetic energy of 150 kJ is capable of fully opening some hook designs when loaded to only 40% of their rated load. These designs were also partially opened and left in an unsafe condition by a 250 kg mass with a kinetic energy of only 30 kJ. The majority of drum winding installations in UK collieries were found to use a hook design which was determined experimentally to be much less susceptible to accidental opening. The experimental work also demonstrated the potential benefits of certain minor modifications to impact-susceptible detaching hook designs which could be made to existing installations.

The proposed modifications are currently under evaluation by the industry in consultation with HM Inspectorate of Mines.

An evaluation of the telephone reporting of RIDDOR incidents

(Contractor: Business Planning and Research International Ltd)

The regulations for the reporting of injuries, diseases and dangerous occurrences (RIDDOR) were revised in 1995 and came into force on 1 April 1996. They replace older legislation going back many years. The new regulations allow the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), for the first time, to authorise reporting of injuries, diseases, dangerous occurrences, flammable gas incidents and dangerous gas fittings by means other than in writing.

A pilot project to determine whether industry wants to report by telephone and will do so in practice; and to assess the feasibility of introducing a national telephone reporting system was initiated in May 1997. It was run in Scotland as a joint venture involving HSE and all Scottish Local Authorities (LAs).

From a slow start, the call rate gradually increased beyond initial expectations. In all, 5134 calls were received between May 1997 and March 1998. Of these, 3330 calls were made to report 4401 incidents (mainly injuries). The remainder were general enquiries about the system, and requests for information on RIDDOR etc. Over 20% of the accidents reported to HSE's Field Operations Directorate (FOD) during this period came via the pilot service and 679 reports were forwarded to LAs from the call centre.

The pilot was formally evaluated in November 1997. The general reaction was very favourable (particularly from small businesses) and showed that reports can be transmitted quickly to the enforcing authorities; and that there is potential for improving information quality. The indications are that a national reporting system could bring about useful business benefits - particularly if the system were to encompass telephone, paper and electronic (eg Internet) reporting streams.

Current Government policy aims to improve contact between the regulator and regulated. The latest draft of the Better Government White paper advocates increased use of telephone and other electronic systems alongside paper and the Cabinet Office are already actively encouraging Departments to move in that direction. This, coupled with the outcome of the pilot, has prompted HSE to set up a project to consider options for a national reporting system incorporating a telephone service and, possibly, other streams such as reporting via the Internet.

It has been agreed that the pilot service will continue to operate for a further year to provide a useful source of information for the next stage of the project; and continuity for firms who now use the service regularly.

Safety in high pressure testing

(Contractor: Imperial College Consultants Ltd.)

In recent years, the scale of high pressure operations in the UK has grown enormously, driven largely but not entirely, by the offshore oil and gas industry. Research relevant to the continuing safe operation of high pressure testing has not developed at the same pace as operational activities. A number of serious accidents have occurred during high pressure testing and it was identified that suitable information and guidance was required to help prevent further incidents.

Through this project, a method for quantifying the hazards associated with pressure tests and for the sizing of surrounding protective barricades has been devised. The hazard assessment involves the determination of the energy stored in a pressurised system and the destination of this energy following fracture of one or more components of the system. Computational methods for estimating: stored energy; size and speed of missiles generated by such a system failure; and the magnitude of any accompanying blast, are given. The work also provides general advice on the construction and use of pressure test facilities and on those operational procedures required if testing is to be carried out safely.

The report will be published as part of HSE's Contract Research Report (CRR) series.

Recent publications

Contract Research Reports

All these titles are available as priced publications from HSE books or from DIAS for HSE staff.

Added 11/06/98

Updated 2022-05-10