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Issue 10: October 1999



HSE has recently published new guidelines which set out the business context for its research activities. This is the first time HSE has published its strategic thinking on research issues and the publication of these Guidelines reflects HSE's commitment to openness.

The publication, 'Guidelines for HSE's Research Programmes', describes those occupational health and safety issues that HSE has identified as priorities and which may require research over the next few years. The Guidelines reflect the important social, economic, political and technological influences that impact on HSC/E's Strategic Plan and hence on HSE's research programmes in the medium term. The aim of the Guidelines is to describe the connection between HSE's business needs and the research programmes that eventually result.

The Guidelines are not an invitation to submit bids for research. HSE's annual Mainstream Research Market document contains a 'competition of ideas' which does invite the submission of research ideas in response to a range of broad issues faced by HSE. This document also explains how HSE's research is procured and managed and provides details of current research interests and anticipated research requirements. The Guidelines are intended to compliment and provide background to the Mainstream Research Market document.

On publication of the Guidelines, David Eves, HSE 's Deputy Director General  commented:

"....HSE places a high priority on collaborative partnerships with a view to better use of resources and improved outcomes. We see these Guidelines as an important element in establishing a productive dialogue on research priorities to achieve our business needs."

Copies of 'Guidelines for HSE's Research Programmes' are available free of charge from Lee Collins, HSE, Seventh Floor South, Rose Court, 2 Southwark Bridge, London SE1 9HS. The Guidelines can also be accessed through the HSE Internet site on:

The HSC/E Strategic Plan for 1999/2002, ISBN 0-7176-2438-2, price £20:00, is available from HSE Books, TSO Customer Services, PO Box 29, Norwich, NR3 1GN.



(Contractor: HSL)

Recent Health and Safety Commission statistics have suggested that slip, trip and fall accidents (on level ground) account for 35% of all reported 'non-fatal major' injuries, and 21% of all reported 'over-3-day' injuries in the UK workplace. HSE research has, to date, considered pedestrians that were able-bodied and unencumbered (were not carrying loads), walking on flat, horizontal floor surfaces. This research project sets out to study the effects of sloping floor surfaces and encumbrance on workplace pedestrian slipping and will lead to a broadening of HSE's knowledge base in this area that will feed into future guidance. It is intended to look at the effects of both central and off-centre encumbrance on pedestrian slipping, and the use of existing measurement techniques to assess the slip properties of sloping walkways will be investigated.


(Contractor: HSL)

Annually, there are approximately 25 fatal diving accidents in the UK. These occur either at work, where Local Authorities are the enforcement agency; in the leisure sector, where the Police take the lead; or in the commercial diving sector, where HSE's Offshore Safety Division (OSD) have enforcement authority. Much of the diving equipment used is common to all these sectors. OSD wish to increase their knowledge base on equipment reliability, failure modes and adherence to Standards by examining the performance of a large number of diving apparatus sets, including all equipment involved in diving incidents in the UK, to a consistent level. The data collected will be used to inform the development of future policy, inspection and enforcement in this area. Manufacturers, users and Standards makers will be alerted to any recurring faults or shortcomings which emerge during the investigation of this diving equipment.


(Contractor: ADAS Consultancy Ltd)

In the agricultural industry, fatal accidents, injury and ill-health incidents continue to occur at a high level. Additional information is needed to enable HSE and the industry to better understand how and why agricultural accidents occur and thus more accurately target preventative campaigns.

It is intended that this project will carry out a survey of farmers in order to gather information on what shapes risk perceptions and how this influences risk taking behaviour amongst farmers. The project will also use focus groups to survey a small sample of farmers who have experienced losses (whether through accident, injury or ill-health) in the course of their work activities, and to ascertain what factors have shaped their risk perception in the light of their experiences. The focus groups will also examine the extent to which the loss has changed the farmers' perception of risk, so that preventative campaigns might best be used to change perceptions in order to avoid or reduce such losses in the future.


(Contractor: WS Atkins Consultants Ltd)

HSE expends major effort in communicating with small firms to improve the control of chemical risks through campaigns (eg Good Health is Good Business, GHGB), guidance, seminars and inspector visits. The focus has been on ensuring that advice is legally and technically correct, not on how the messages are received by people with differing values and beliefs. Recently, a literature review has been carried out and a workshop held in order to draw together work on perceptions of risk and risk messages. This study will build on this initial work in order to investigate those at risk from common workplace chemicals. The project aims to provide details of the characteristics of the various target groups that work with chemicals, so that the effectiveness of HSE's messages to these groups may be improved and the messages tailored to suit differing needs. The study will form the basis of a programme to explore the effectiveness of supply side messages on chemical risks and control.


(Contractor: Bostock Marketing Group)

Agency workers are currently of interest to Government Ministers and consequently the issue has a high public profile. The growth rate of the sector is approximately 3-4% per year.

In 1996, the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) issued a discussion document on the changing patterns of employment. Following this, the HSC then identified the need for more work on this topic and asked HSE to consider the health and safety issues related to agencies or agency workers. This research project has been commissioned as part of this work. There is concern about the lack of guidance and enforcement of the sector, as well as a general misunderstanding of the duty holder roles. The extent and nature of health and safety problems in the sector are largely unknown, although anecdotal evidence suggests that standards are generally poor. The aim of this project is to assess agency work in terms of its activity, sector coverage and safety standards. The work will also consider the views of agency workers and their employers on how current health and safety duties are discharged.


(Contractor: John Arnold Printing Consultancy)

HSE recently launched new style guidance for the control of substances hazardous to health called COSHH Essentials. This guidance, developed for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), is based around a series of generic risk assessments that allow the user to identify a suitable control approach. Additional information on how to apply the control approach to specific tasks is then provided in a series of control guidance sheets.

The initial launch of COSHH Essentials was targeted at the chemical industry. However, the printing industry contains approximately 16000 SMEs and the Health and Safety Commission's Printing Industry Advisory Committee (PIAC) have requested that control guidance sheets are produced for the common printing tasks. Industry, union and trade association representatives, through membership of PIAC, have helped to identify and prioritize those tasks for which guidance is needed. The aim of this project is to produce relevant guidance for the print industry, and through liaison with PIAC members, gain data to help validation the solutions that are proposed.


(Contractor: HSL)

Runaway chemical reactions, if not adequately prevented or mitigated, can give rise to major accidents (eg Seveso, Bhopal). Pressure relief, such as venting, is a commonly used method of mitigation. If properly designed, venting can bring a runaway reaction under control, so preventing loss of containment and thereby averting a major accident.

The current state-of-the-art design of pressure relief systems for runaway chemical reactions has been developed following research by the DIERS research consortium in the USA. However, the United Nation's Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods has adopted an example method of sizing the emergency relief system for tanks containing organic peroxides. Serious doubts as to the validity of this UN method have been expressed by experts in vent sizing. Meanwhile, the UN method is increasingly being used.

The purpose of this project is to further evaluate the UN method in order to determine whether or not its use is safe. The work will involve a literature review which will cover the development and validation of the UN vent sizing method and other data which could potentially be used to validate the method. The UN method will then be assessed in the light of the findings from the literature review and the relevant aspects of DIERS vent sizing methodology, including the results of pilot scale experiments at HSL.


HSE/HSL hosted a press reception at the British Association's Festival of Science, which was held in Sheffield on 14 September 1999. Welcoming guests, David Eves (HSE's Deputy Director General) emphasised that one of HSE's strengths was the close integration of its policy, operations and science functions. Guests were then invited to view the exhibits, which described some current HSE research projects and how they were helping HSE to meet key business objectives.

Manual Handling Research

Javelin champion Mick Hill donned an impressive array of biosensors to demonstrate how a range of movements affected muscular activity. Musculoskeletal disorders are the leading cause of occupational ill-health, affecting an estimated 1.2 million individuals each year in the UK. Manual handling is a major factor and HSE continually strives to develop and improve its guidance which must be underpinned by sound science. This is illustrated by current HSL research into the risks associated with the pushing and pulling of heavy loads.

As part of this research, workplace hazards will be identified through site visits and during workforce interviews. A rigorous laboratory-based study will investigate the importance of key risk factors affecting push-pull capabilities and the musculoskeletal stresses on an operator will be assessed through the use of HSL's biomechanics laboratory, equipped with a range of sophisticated instrumentation. This research will provide information which can be developed into advice for employers on how to minimise risks during push-pull operations.

Jet Fire Impingement on Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) Vessels

LPG is a commonly used fuel held as a liquid in pressurised vessels. If an LPG vessel is involved in a fire, it may overheat and explode violently giving rise to an intensely hot fireball and the projection of pieces of the vessel over considerable distances. Although previous work has established how LPG vessels can be protected against a number of fire scenarios, there was insufficient knowledge regarding protection against a jet fire (which could result from the failure of pipework carrying LPG under pressure).

Experiments were conducted in which unprotected LPG vessels were subjected to jet fires, and all failed catastrophically within 5 minutes. The performance of two types of passive fire protection, a light weight cement-based material and an epoxy material, was then tested. In each case the vessels were still in a safe state after 90 minutes. This work was used to help develop the Jet Fire Resistance Test of Passive Fire Protection Materials, which is now used extensively both on- and offshore. It has also informed recent guidance prepared by the LPG Association.

Fire Protective Clothing Evaluation for the Explosives Industry

Despite measures to prevent accidental ignition during operations involving explosives, a low probability of fire or explosion remains and workers have to be protected. In situations where protection through engineering measures is not reasonably practicable, fire protective clothing is worn. HSE commissioned the development of a portable mannikin test apparatus against burning explosives under conditions representing typical wearer exposure for accidental ignition.

HSL and the British Textile Technology Group, developed such a mannikin, representing the body of an adult male, mounted on a turntable and set on a track to enable rotation and subsequent escape from the fire to be simulated. The mannikin is fitted with 120 sensors mounted flush with the surface and positioned over the head, torso, arms and legs. By logging skin temperature during experimental tests it is possible to compare the protection offered by different types of protective clothing.

Social Amplification of Risk

Risk assessment and risk management are central to HSE's work. However, there is much more to risk than hard science, and HSE's interest also embraces the behavioural and social sciences. One example of HSE's interest in the social aspects of risk is a current project on social amplification. The objective is to gain a basic understanding of how factors such as the media, culture and individual perceptions determine why some risks catch the public imagination, whilst others are largely ignored. This would allow regulators to adjust risk communication policies and practices accordingly. This research is part of a wider portfolio of projects which embrace risk perception and the development of attitudes towards hazards, risk taking behaviour, risk communication and expert advice.

Trends in Technology

HSE has long acknowledged the importance of anticipating scientific and technological developments in ensuring that risks to people's health and safety from work activities are properly controlled. In 1996, the Trends in Technology project was commissioned to record emerging and foreseeable trends over the next 10 years. Specialists across HSE are contributing to the development of this knowledge pool with a view to using this knowledge to best effect in anticipating future challenges and opportunities for health and safety. HSL developed the relational database used to store the Trends in Technology information. Electronic storage of information allows originators to review regularly, update or amend as necessary. The database has been linked to the Government's main Foresight knowledge pool ensuring the profile of health and safety is secured in future technological advances.

Vehicle Air Bags

Improvements in driver and passenger safety have been achieved with the introduction of vehicle airbags. These are increasingly being installed as standard in many of the high volume cars currently on the market. People are increasingly coming into contact with these devices in the course of their work, whether in car assembly, repair and dismantling or as part of the emergency services. The likelihood of accidentally triggering an airbag is low but those handling them need to be aware of the associated hazards and the few simple precautions that can be taken to reduce the risks further. HSL investigations have identified the physical and chemical hazards presented by airbags during their handling and storage in the workplace; the means by which airbags could be accidentally initiated and the potential consequences of such an accident; and the hazards presented during transport of these devices. These investigations have provided the scientific basis for recently published general guidance and that targeted

Visualization as an Aid to Understanding and Controlling Workplace Exposure

For many types of work activity, short term exposure peaks to airborne toxic substances can represent a significant fraction of the total exposure. For sensitisers and irritants, such peaks may be associated with acute health effects. Exposure visualisation, based on the combination of video and personal direct-reading instruments, where the real-time exposure profile is shown as a window on the video image, identifies activities which result in high exposures. This provides a better understanding of how such exposures occur and can be controlled. HSE has commissioned HSL to enhance the existing system to incorporate digital techniques in order to improve both the quality and type of information provided for research and development of control methods, and the generation of training information on video and CD-ROM.



(Contractor: Robens Centre for Health Ergonomics, University of Surrey)

Physical exposure to risks for work-related musculoskeletal disorders have been described through the use and application of various methodologies, most of which are research orientated. These existing methods are based on the research experts' view of what risk factors are important and how they should be measured. Consequently, the methods have been developed for use by the researcher or well-trained analyst to make exposure assessments. These methods have certain disadvantages, such as: limitations with their applicability and use in different work situations; problems with reliability; and the fact that their use is time-consuming. The development and application of a user-friendly tool to assess musculoskeletal risk would offer many benefits and advantages for those organisations responsible for health and safety. Such a tool would allow the assessment of the extent of exposure, and the changes in exposure which arose from an ergonomic intervention, to be made.

This research project initially investigated the users' needs for such a tool. The existing methodologies/tools were then investigated in order to assess the way in which each of them tackled exposure assessment. In the light of these findings, a new prototype tool was developed. The prototype was tested, modified and was then validated with the help of 150 practitioners. The experimental tests have shown that the tool has good sensitivity and usability, and has acceptable or 'moderate agreement' for its inter-observer reliability with intra-observer reliability being even better. Field studies have shown that the tool was reliable practically and could be applied to a wide range of jobs. With brief training (self learning) and some practice in using the tool, an assessment for each work task can normally be completed within ten minutes.


(Contractor: Defence Research Agency - Centre for Human Sciences (DERA-CHS))

There is increasing recognition that fatigue contributes to human error as a key element in many accidents. In round-the-clock operations that involve working irregular hours, fatigue is a common sequel and leads to reduced vigilance, increased errors, impaired decision making and a general deterioration in mood and motivation. This has obvious implications for those industries where safety is a major concern.

The appropriate design and assessment of work-rest schedules are areas where the risks associated with fatigue can be carefully managed. Although an increase in fatigue is inevitable when operating a shift system involving unusual hours of work, employers should endeavour to ensure that working patterns are selected so that the risks are limited.

HSE previously funded some work to develop a prototype method, involving the calculation of a Fatigue Index (FI), which provided guidance on risk assessment for safety-critical work. This current project has assessed the Fatigue Index in order to identify its strengths and weaknesses, based on information from patterns of work that are currently being operated within British industry. Although the FI was found to contain many of the important factors which relate to fatigue, the method of calculation was difficult to apply in many cases and the individual factors did not always reflect current knowledge concerning the development of fatigue.

Consequently, the Fatigue Index was redesigned using calculations based on the results of a number of different studies. The revised Index includes 5 factors: time of day; shift duration; rest periods; breaks and culmative fatigue, which are added together to give an overall index for the shift pattern. The first four factors assess short-term fatigue and are calculated for each shift within the schedule. Culmative fatigue is assessed throughout a schedule.

Initial consultations with representatives from a wide range of industries have indicated that the revised Index could provide a useful initial assessment of the fatigue implications of any proposed changes in the organisation of shiftwork.


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

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