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Issue 8: April 1999

This newsletter is produced by HSE's Research Strategy Unit.

Portfolio evaluation of research

The purpose of research evaluation in HSE is: to determine the effectiveness and efficiency with which the overall research activity was carried out; to identify and establish the longer term impacts of HSE’s research investment; and to use the information obtained to improve the performance of research. Within HSE’s Mainstream Science and Technology Programme the evaluation of research activity occurs at two levels, namely project evaluation and portfolio evaluation. Evaluation of the impact of research can, in some cases, be undertaken at the project level but is normally more appropriate at the portfolio level in order to assess the effectiveness of the research in meeting the Health and Safety Commission’s and Executive’s Objectives.

A portfolio evaluation protocol was developed on behalf of HSE by PREST at Manchester University. The protocol was used initially in 1996 by DTZ Pieda, who won a competitive tender exercise to carry out an evaluation of HSE’s research on respiratory sensitisers. This evaluation was completed in Autumn 1997 and the results were considered by HSE’s Occupational Lung Disease Excluding Pneumoconiosis and Malignancy Research Subgroup. In Spring 1997, DTZ Pieda were commissioned to carry out two further evaluations on HSE’s noise and zoonoses research. These two evaluations were completed in early 1998 and the results were considered respectively by the Physical and Biological Risks Subject Research Groups.

A further set of three evaluations were let by competitive tender in 1998. Technopolis Ltd successfully tendered for an evaluation of HSE’s jet-fire research and Science Connections Ltd for evaluations of personal protective equipment research and research carried out by HSE’s Local Authority Unit. All three of these evaluations will be completed by the end of April 1999. Again, the relevant Subject Research Groups within HSE will consider the evaluation findings, and it is intended to publish the final reports from these studies.

A further batch of four portfolios of research for evaluation covering shiftwork, display screen equipment, momentum releases and respiratory protective equipment have recently been competitively tendered and this work will be contracted in the next few weeks.

On completion of the current batch of evaluations, HSE will have carried out ten separate portfolio evaluations and at this stage it is intended to carry out a comprehensive evaluation of the whole portfolio evaluation process.

What's new

Public participation: an operational framework

(Contractor: Institute of Food Research)

The Government's Better Regulation agenda has laid increasing emphasis on the need for accountable and transparent processes for regulatory activity. This is reaffirmed in the principles for good risk communication adopted by HSE, in particular that risk communication should be integral to policy development and to the stakeholders involved in the process. However, as innovative ways of involving stakeholders in the process are introduced, eg focus groups, citizen's juries, stakeholder conferences and the Internet, there is an increasing need to test, evaluate the effectiveness and develop good practice in the use of these techniques.

This Department of Health/HSE joint-funded project intends to increase understanding of the factors that impact upon the effectiveness of public participation procedures and through the development and testing of a theoretical framework, previously produced by the contractor. The work aims to develop a practical tool which can be used to assess the effectiveness of participation methods and to design better methodologies. The work will also be used to develop policy information on the appropriate use of public participation methods.

Testing of masonry fixtures

Expanding anchors are commonly used to tie scaffolds to the face of a building in front of which the scaffold has been erected. This is in accordance with legal requirements. Expanding anchors are also increasingly used as the sole connectors for temporary guard-rails on scaffolds. Unfortunately, all of the standards dealing with scaffolding and temporary guards presume the anchor will provide the necessary resistance to loads. Unless the anchors are installed in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions (ie with a hole of the correct diameter, drilled to the correct depth) there is some doubt as to whether the anchor will achieve the required strength.

The problem of predicting the strength of an anchor was approached theoretically in a previous HSE research project. However the results from this work were inconclusive. This current research projects intends to carry out field trials to measure the effects of variation in anchor installation parameters on anchor strength and to relate the strength to an easily checked torque-spanner setting. From these trials, it is also expected that advice on how to assess the efficacy of anchors for scaffolds will be developed.

Analysis of national injury rates

(Contractor: University of Warwick)

With the impending arrival of devolution, it is likely that increased attention will be given to statistics on work-related injuries for Scotland and Wales. The overall injury rates in Scotland and Wales are higher than in Great Britain and in many cases, the specific injury rates are also higher. The reasons for this are unknown.

The aim of this work is to establish a set of demographic, social and economic variables which are relevant in the context of varying injury rates across Great Britain. Appropriate probability models will then be developed to explain the relative effects of these variables in the constituent countries of Great Britain.

Effects of new ways of working on employees' stress levels

(Contractor: Corporate Solutions Consulting (UK))

New working practices such as 'hot desking' and aspirations to be a 'learning organisation' have the potential to exert either a positive or negative influence on employees' well-being.

This project intends to examine four organisations (two study organisations plus two controls) through a questionnaire survey of employees, in order to examine the effects of new working practices on employees' mental health.

This project arose as the result of a successful proposal submitted in response to HSE's Competition of Ideas exercise which featured in the 1998/99 Mainstream Research Market document

Hazard assessment of highly reactive systems - HarsNet

(Contractor: HSL)

Each year a number of incidents occur due to runaway chemical reactions. These have the potential to release large quantities of toxic, flammable or otherwise harmful chemicals into the environment and may result in injuries or death. Research has shown that many such incidents can be avoided if the reactions are properly assessed at the process development stage. A number of assessment techniques are available, but these are not widely used and there is no standardised assessment methodology across Europe. HarsNet is an initiative under the EC Industrial Materials and Technologies Programme, aimed at creating a forum of 25 companies and organisations with experience of chemical reaction hazard assessment. The project will be aimed at exchanging knowledge and information, to develop a common methodology and to disseminate information on chemical reaction hazard assessment, particularly to smaller and medium-sized enterprises.

Tree harvesters - Operator musculoskeletal disorders

(Contractor: HSL)

Investigations have shown that tree harvester or processor operators are potentially at risk from work-related musculoskeletal disorders. In the UK there are two main types machinery for tree harvesting, either excavator-based or purpose built. The drivers of such machinery have to operate the controls of complex multifunctional hydraulic systems for long periods of time. Stresses created by the operation of these controls are exacerbated by excessive static loading and whole body vibration to the upper body and back, caused by the uneven and steep terrain on which these machines work. The aim of this project is to investigate the prevalence of work-related musculoskeletal disorders amongst operators of excavator-based and purpose built tree harvesters/processors, as well as investigating the possibilities for improving their ergonomic working environment and the identification of other control measures to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders.

Identifying high radiation dose radiography work

(Contractor: University of Aberdeen)

HSE ‘Dose Trend’ reports (1993 and 1998) have shown that radiation doses received by industrial radiographers have not decreased in line with improvements seen in other sectors. The majority of radiographers receive low annual doses (<1 mSv). HSE inspection has shown that most of this work is done safely with no scope for dose reduction. About 10% of radiographers receive doses in excess of 5 mSv and this has a disproportionate effect on the average dose for the industry. HSE wishes to target its inspection resources at the high dose activities but does not have sufficient information to be able to clearly identify high risk work. The aim of this project is to identify industrial radiography work responsible for the highest doses and to recommend the additional steps which can be taken by employers and employees to enable the doses of radiation to be kept as low as reasonably practicable.

Evaluation of the 'Good Health is Good Business' campaign

(Contractor: Entec UK Ltd)

In May 1995, HSE launched its biggest ever campaign, ‘Good Health is Good Business’ to raise awareness to occupational ill-health and improve employers’ competence in managing health risks in the workplace. The improvement of occupational health standards was a priority objective for HSC/E and the campaign specifically targeted small and medium sized enterprises.

The aim of this project is to evaluate the impact of the campaign on awareness to health risks in the workplace and the effectiveness of the publicity materials produced to support the campaign. The project also intends to investigate whether employers have taken action to improve the management of health risks as a result of the campaign

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Application of pesticides by pyrotechnic devices

(Contractor: HSL)

HSE are responsible for registering non-agricultural pesticide products and are consulted as experts on agricultural pesticide products.

Pyrotechnic smoke devices are currently used to apply both pesticides and biocides. However, there is little available information on the behaviour of the devices, or of the resulting pesticidal or biocidal smoke: in grain stores or warehouses; during wood treatment in domestic premises, etc.; or during disinfection. HSE experts need practical information about these application devices in order to fulfil their role in assessing the risk of the devices in use, for supply under the Control of Pesticide Regulations.

This research intends to investigate the behaviour of pyrotechnic pesticide devices and to determine typical passive ventilation characteristics for spaces that may be treated with such devices. The experimental data produced will be compared to data derived from computational fluid dynamic modelling. The potential of a model to predict indoor dispersion and workers' exposure through dermal deposition while working in aerosol atmospheres will also be investigated.

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Genetic variations and organophosophates

(Contractor: University of Manchester)

An HSE-funded study of chronic neurophysiological and neuropsychological effects resulting from exposure to organophosphate (OP) sheep dips was carried out in 1995 by the Institute of Occupational Health. Although there was some evidence to suggest subtle clinical effects in sheep dippers with long-term low level exposure to OP dips, the results of this study were inconclusive.

This project has been set up in order to investigate whether some individuals have greater genetic susceptibility than others to OPs, thus making it more likely that they may suffer from ill-health effects following exposure.

The work will investigate whether sheep farmers with disabling chronic symptoms contain a greater proportion of individuals with dysfunctional polymorphisms in human serum paraoxonase than sheep farmers without these symptoms. The study will also examine the prevalence of other susceptibility genotypes in the two study groups. Any relationship between the occurrence of genetic susceptibility and the type of OP product habitually used will also be investigated

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On-line checking of flammability monitoring equipment

(Contractor: HSL)

The use of flammable solvents is an essential part of manufacturing in a range of industries (eg printing, paints and resins, aerosol manufacture and chemical processing). Fires and explosions continue to occur due to failure to control the flammable atmospheres associated with the solvents. The key to controlling the problem lies in the ability to monitor the critical parameter, namely the flammable vapour concentration, which can be achieved through the use of flammability monitors. In recent incidents these have failed to ensure safety because of their incorrect installation and/or inadequate maintenance. This has been a particular problem in small companies, which often do not have the knowledge or expertise to ensure reliable operation of the detectors used in the monitors. The reliability of these systems is likely to become more important with increasing use of gas detectors as the safety critical component of explosion prevention systems, where the response of the gas detectors initiates some action to prevent the formation of a flammable atmosphere. If other safety measures, such as explosion relief, are not in place, then total reliance for safe operation is placed on the detector.

The aim of this work is to undertake a review of the current and potential future usage of flammability monitoring equipment in safety critical applications and to develop appropriate guidance for industry on the its selection, installation and maintenance.

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European Community Fifth Framework Programme


The Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) represents the plan the European Community has to fund research and development activities for the period 1999 to 2002. The overall budget for the Programme has been set at 14.96 billion euros. Over the next four years, the Commission will, at regular intervals, put out calls for proposals. These will usually be against specific areas of each of the work programmes within FP5, and all of the work programmes currently have initial calls open to proposals. Further information sources, details of where to find calls for proposals and additional help are shown at the end of this article.

Although the entirety of the European Commission resigned on 16 March 1999, this will not effect the running of FP5.

Types of calls for proposals

Open calls - Such calls use a continuous submission scheme. Proposals may be submitted at any time up to the closing date of the scheme. The ultimate deadline for receipt is included in the calling notice. Proposals submitted in response to such calls are considered at fixed intervals during the term of the scheme.

Periodic calls - Most calls for proposals fall into this category where a fixed deadline for the submission of proposals is given. All proposals submitted before the closing date for the call are considered after the closing date.

Dedicated calls - These calls are published once or twice a year and address very specific activities and topics, often arising as a result of suggested ideas received by the Commission in response to a call for expression of interest. A call for expression of interest invites suggestion of ideas for topics only and not worked-up proposals.

Range of activities under FP5

FP5 is split into four activities. The first activity is itself divided into four Themes or Thematic Programmes, which are of greatest interest to researchers. The second, third and fourth activities are often referred to as Horizontal Programmes. The three Horizontal Programmes contain supporting activities.

Each Theme is split into Key Actions and each Key Action is split into Action Lines. Action Lines represent the priorities within each Key Action. Each Theme also includes activities of a generic nature and support for the research infrastructure. FP5’s Thematic and Horizontal Programmes are shown in Figure 1 below.

Occupational health and safety research

image showing the horizonal programmes and thematic programmes outlined in the European Community Fifth Framework Programme

There are a number of areas within the four Thematic Programmes where it may be possible to achieve funding for occupational health and safety research. A few examples are listed below:

Theme 1: Quality of Life and Living Resources, includes:

Theme 3: Competitive and Sustainable Growth, includes:

Theme 4: Energy and Environment, includes:

Contacts for additional information on FP5

Office of Science and Technology have an FP5 helpline to provide further advice on FP5 and information on EC R&D:- 0171 271 6520/22; fax:- 0171 271 6523; email: [email protected]

UK Programme Contacts: Theme 1 - David Coates: Tel: 0171 271 2012; fax: 0171 271 2016.

Theme 2 - UK/S Helpline: Tel: 0870 606 1515; fax: 0181 848 6660.

Theme 3 - NPL Contact Point: Tel: 0181 943 6660; fax: 0181 943 2989.

Theme 4 - Arwyn Davies: Tel: 0171 890 5271; fax: 0171 676 2356.

For FP5 information and work programmes, details of previous FP projects and up-to-date information on calls for proposals access the CORDIS Internet site at

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Details of some completed projects

A review of gene transfer from Genetically Modified Micro-Organisms

(Contractor: Molecular Microbial Ecology Laboratory)

In order to assess the risk posed by gene transfer from Genetically Modified Micro-organisms (GMMs) in the environment and the hazards associated with 'free' DNA released by such micro-organism, HSE commissioned a review of these processes in the broader context of the 'natural' exchange of genes and the presence of DNA in the environment.

Manipulated genes can be transferred horizontally to or from a GMM, where they may persist and be expressed. The frequency of horizontal transfer was usually low and the insertion of manipulated genes into carefully chosen chromosomal sites had the potential to reduced these events even further. Prescribing suitable chromosomal locations for gene insertion was not necessary unless minimising the chance of gene transfer was actually required. Although the nature of the constructed chromosome dictated the probability of gene transfer, the primary consideration remained the phenotype of the introduced genes and how they altered the ecology and activity of the modified host. Precise prediction of the change in behaviour arising from the acquisition of new genes was especially difficult due to the highly complex interactions occurring within microbial populations. The assessment of risks arising from the transfer of manipulated genes required the nature and activity of the genes chosen for use in a GMM to be considered on a case by case basis. Some genes were already common in bacteria in the natural environment and assessment of the risks associated with release of organisms containing such genes was easier than in other circumstances. Releases should avoid organisms that contain genes which would be anticipated to result in harm if they were transferred to a new organism. Special consideration and careful experimentation was needed to prepare for the introduction of genes known to express traits relevant to the natural environment. However, the considered selection of strains of organisms used for GMMs and genes used for insertion would make the problems arising from novel combinations of traits or altered pathogenesis rare.

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Noise attenuation of shotblasting helmets

(Contractor: HSL)

Air-fed helmets are used in abrasive blasting operations to provide essential face, eye and respiratory protection. BS EN 271: 1995, the standard which deals with the construction of blasting helmets, addresses the above matters and also the problem of noise generated by the breathing air supply. However, it has no requirements for manufacturers to measure or report the helmet's ability to attenuate the very high levels of noise generated by the blasting process, typically from 115 to greater than 130dB(A). Protection against noise is currently achieved through the use of hearing protection which has to be worn in addition to the blasting helmet. This limits the choice of hearing protection to lightweight earmuffs or earplugs, which may not be sufficient to ensure safe levels of noise in the ear. If the noise attenuation of blasting helmets was improved, users would be less reliant on additional hearing protection to reduce their noise exposure.

The purpose of this project was to develop a simple, objective test method for measuring the noise attenuation of blasting helmets during exposure to shotblasting noise, so that this requirement could be built into a future revision of BS EN 271: 1995. The test method which was developed was then applied to a range of available blasting helmets in order to measure their effectiveness in attenuating blasting noise.

The results from the project showed that the head and torso simulator (HATS), currently prescribed by BS EN 271: 1995 for testing parameters other than noise, could be used to measure the noise attenuation of blasting helmets against typical shotblasting noise. The HATS could also be used to measure noise from the helmet's air supply, using the method defined in the standard and which is currently carried out on human subjects. For both the measurement of noise attenuation by the blasting helmets and measurement of noise from the helmet's air supply, the results from the HATS correlated well with those from human subjects.

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Female wearers of RPE - the fit of full facepieces

(Contractor: HSL)

Concern has been expressed about the face seal leakage of RPE when used by women. Much RPE on the market uses face masks which were designed when the user workforce was predominantly male. The objectives of the work were to measure the face seal leakage of a range of RPE worn by a group of female volunteers and to assess these results using the laboratory’s experience of fit-testing male wearers. HSE’s Field Operations Division’s (FOD’s) concerns in respect of this matter initially centred on problems facing female inspectors having to use RPE when inspecting workplaces. Consequently, the RPE used in the various investigations in this project has been that available to HSE inspectors. However, this has included a good cross section of the RPE available on the UK market.

Face seal leakage measurements were carried out on RPE worn by female test subjects. The results showed that there were potential problems in providing RPE to female wearers, as there was less likelihood of achieving an effective fit than with male wearers. The project has introduced a novel classification of wearers by a combination of facial dimensions which appear to be a useful indication of RPE fit. The project has highlighted some difficulties in conducting European Standard tests using female test subjects. A report on this work has been submitted to the peer-reviewed scientific press.

HSE has subsequently introduced RPE fit-testing for all inspectors which has allayed FOD’s concerns. However, the findings of this project are still applicable to those industries where RPE fit-testing is not widely used.

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Voluntary reporting by the UK industry of occupational exposure data on chemicals - a feasibility study

(Contractor: Institute of Occupational Medicine)

In the UK, measurement of exposure to hazardous substances is undertaken by HSE, industry, occupational hygiene consultants and other organisations. For a number of years, HSE have stored their exposure data on a centralised computer database - the National Exposure Database (NEDB). It has been difficult to persuade industry and other organisations to contribute to this resource. The aim of this project was devise a cost effective mechanism for obtaining occupational exposure data from UK industry and other sources for incorporation into the NEDB. To ensure that the data collected was of good quality and suitable for inclusion in the NEDB, an essential core set of exposure-related information was agreed at the outset. This included data on the company where the measurements were made, the types of processes being undertaken and details of the measurements.

In the first phase of the project the contractor used five different approaches: contact with the relevant trade associations to identify whether their members held data; a survey of likely users of chemicals in two regions of the UK; contact with a group of occupational hygiene consultants; contact with major users or producers of hazardous substances; and contact with several local and national government organisations, to identify data for one commonly used chemical (toluene) and two specialist use chemicals (ethylene oxide and acrylonitrile). In total, 810 organisations were contacted and asked to complete a short questionnaire and around 45% of those contacted provided a response. Almost 19000 exposure measurements for the three substances were identified, of which around 5500 met the requirements of the essential core data set. The measurements were drawn from a wide range of industries and were representative of measurements made by UK industry. Almost all of the data provided directly were from companies employing more than 100 people. Only consultant occupational hygienists were able to supply exposure data for small and medium sized enterprises.

During the second phase of the project, 3000 measurements with associated contextual information were collected on the three substances. Of these, 75% of the data were representative of personal exposure with information on local controls recorded for only about 20% of the data, although information on personal protective equipment was available for 80% of the data.

Recent publications

All these titles are available as priced publications from HSE Books.

Added 12 May 1999

Updated 2021-04-21