Issue 12: April 2000

Control of statistical surveys and good survey practice

The control of statistical surveys is governed by standing instructions from the Prime Minister to all Government Departments and Agencies. The instructions recognise the value of statistics for Government business and the wider public debate, but they stress the need to minimise the burden placed on businesses and local authorities by Government form filling and inquiry.

Survey control procedures are designed to promote good survey and questionnaire practice, and ensure that surveys are sound, avoid unnecessary duplication within Government, and meet specified objectives, whilst minimising the burden on surveyed respondents. The Prime Minister's office issued new instructions on 25 May 1999, designed to ensure that adequate control of surveys is maintained at a broad strategic level. These new instructions represent a major change of emphasis. They focus on efforts to reduce the burdens imposed by large, regular surveys (of which HSE has none) and remove the need to obtain Ministerial approval for individual surveys. The new instructions are based around formal compliance planning. The key to the new approach is the preparation of an annual compliance and quality improvement plan, on a three year rolling basis. HSE is required to agree plans for all surveys of business and local authorities, covering the next year in detail and the following two years in outline, with the Minister.

The plan to the Minister includes:

  1. the total estimated compliance costs to be imposed on business or local authorities over the next three years and an outline of the benefits;
  2. a summary of the survey activity and compliance costs over the previous year (and comparison with the previous plan);
  3. a survey programme for the next three years, highlighting new work;
  4. the statistical outputs to be derived from HSE's surveys, their use and justification; and
  5. initiatives to improve quality and/or reduce running or compliance costs during the next year.

The new instructions recognise that some departments may have difficulties in planning for minor or ad hoc surveys due to uncertainties over policy requirements and dynamic operational needs. HSE is in this position and HSE's plan provides an overall limit for compliance cost for such surveys. The limit is agreed with the Minister and compliance costs for such surveys are reported retrospectively.

HSE's Survey Control Liaison Officer (John McGuinness, Head of the Chief Scientist's Unit) can provided further details and information on the new procedures.

What's new?

The role of work stress and psychological factors upon the development of musculoskeletal complaints

(Contractor: University of Surrey)

Work-related stress and work-related musculoskeletal disorders are the leading occupational health burdens in Europe according to the second European Survey on Working Conditions. The findings of HSE's Self-Reported Work-Related Illness Surveys (SWI90 and SWI95) have supported this. Stress has been implicated in the development of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, but the evidence, by way of epidemiological studies and investigations into the psychobiological mechanisms, is scarce.

This research aims to clarify the role of stress and other psychological factors upon the development of work-related musculoskeletal disorders and will determine whether lay beliefs (regarding the causes, manifestations and alleviation of work stress) differ between workers with and without work stress, and with and without work-related musculoskeletal disorders. The work will examine whether interactions between physical and psychological work risk factors increase the risk of work stress and self-reported work related musculoskeletal disorders and will determine whether lay beliefs and high exposure to physical and psychosocial work risk factors are a predictor of work stress and/or self-reported work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

Performance of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) at elevated pressures

(Contractor: HSL)

Tunnelling in compressed air, where the local atmospheric pressure is increased to reduce or prevent ingress of water from the surrounding rock strata, is a particularly hazardous sector of the construction industry. Workers tend to be mobile and move around the country to where the work is, and are rarely subject to health assessments or screening. Research is needed to examine the effects of the work environment both directly on the health of the workers and on the effectiveness of the controls put in place to protect them.

RPE is one measure which may be applied in these situations to control exposure to respiratory hazards such as dust and gases. It may also be required during an emergency evacuation. Such equipment is invariably designed to be used at atmospheric pressures, and its performance in an elevated pressure environment is essentially an unknown.

This project will examine the possible detrimental effects of elevated pressure on the critical aspects of RPE performance. Potential effects will be prioritised in terms of their potential risks to users of the equipment. The information will then be fed back to manufacturers of RPE and RPE Standard writers through the production of HSE guidance.

Stakeholders participation methods - scoping study

(Contractor: University of Surrey)

HSE's framework for risk-based decision-making requires the involvement of its stakeholders, including the general public, at all the decision-making stages. This is necessary because HSE must adopt criteria for judging whether a particular risk is tolerable, acceptable, etc., that reflect society's values. Though HSE has well-tried methods of engaging the stakeholders it has traditionally dealt with, particularly those represented on the Health and Safety Commission, it has been less successful in engaging stakeholders such as: the non-affiliated; members of minority groups; and other such difficult-to-reach groups. There is a need for HSE to determine what constitutes effective stakeholder participation methods for these groups. This project will examine and set out the present state of knowledge on issues connected with public participation methods, particularly in relation to minority and difficult-to-reach groups, and will identify those areas where further research might be usefully applied.

Evaluation of the safety information centre approach in providing health and safety advice to small firms

(Contractor: Loughborough University)

The number of small businesses in the UK has increased greatly in the last decade or so. This change has in turn enhanced the importance of intermediary organisations, such as Safety Information Centres, which help small businesses to set up and maintain their health and safety management systems. Safety Information Centres are operated through the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA)-affiliated Health and Safety Groups. This research seeks to evaluate the effectiveness of the 'minimalist' approach adopted by some Centres, which provides assistance at a very basic level by explaining how a simple health and safety management system can be set up using (as a basis) the health and safety policy statement and risk assessment documents. The research will assess the health and safety system and the effectiveness of the management system introduced in each workplace, and will identify the improvements in health and safety as a result of intervention.

Diseases seen by gps: preliminary study of reporting schemes

(Contractor: Institute of Occupational Medicine)

In order to quantify the extent of work-related illness in the British population and identify the occupations and industries that are most affected, many types of data are used; HSE currently uses data from: self-report surveys of members of the public; specialist doctors; Department of Social Security compensation assessments; RIDDOR reports; and death certificates. Currently, there is no systematic use of information about illness seen by general practitioners. This project intends to look at the feasibility of assembling information nationally on the frequency/distribution of ill-health presenting to the general population, based on recording the following information for each patient: age; sex; occupation and industry (previous major occupation if unemployed or retired); time lost from work; diagnosis; and whether this is a new problem, a continuation of one seen previously, or a reoccurrence of an old problem. The project will also identify the work required and the benefits, limitations and cost to compile this information.

Development of a multi-skilling life cycle model

(Contractor: Greenstreet Berman)

Multi-skilling is increasingly being used by organisations to increase efficiency through a more flexible workforce. However, there can be negative impacts on human factors and safety if the implementation of such changes is not properly planned. The aim of this project is to examine current multi-skilling research and guidance and to produce a life cycle model for the development and incorporation of multi-skilling in the chemical industry which will include consideration of normal, abnormal and emergency situations. The impact of multi-skilling on health and safety will be assessed and recommendations made to ensure that health and safety is not degraded as a result.

Health and safety management in business schools

(Contractor: University of Aston)

HSE aims to promote good management of health and safety so as to reduce the number of injuries and ill-health. In addition to direct approaches to managers through inspection, indirect approaches to training providers and educators is another means of influencing the competence of managers in the skills of health and safety management. Through its Training Initiative, HSE has sought to influence many parts of the training and education system. Business schools are one target which have the potential to influence a large number of managers over a wide range of industry and commerce. The aim of this research is to develop case study materials which: demonstrate the relevance of health and safety to the business agenda; illustrate the academic content of the subject; and develop the skills required to manage the subject in context.

Evaluation of 'back in work' pilot projects

(Contractor: Corporate Solutions Consulting)

HSE and the Department of Health are running a joint initiative, 'Back in Work', to raise awareness of the human and financial costs of back pain. The initiative will sponsor 19 pilot projects to demonstrate good practice in some or all of the following: prevention; access to medical assessment and treatment; and rehabilitation and return to work. It is anticipated that the projects will involve local partnerships between employers and/or employees, primary care groups, trade associations, etc., and will take a holistic approach to the problem. The results of the pilot projects will be used in a National Good Practice Guide on tackling back pain at work to help improve workplace health and to raise its status in the organisation.

Each pilot project will have its own measure of effectiveness, but there is also a need for independent evaluation - which is the aim of this project. The pilot projects funded under the Back to Work initiative will be evaluated in terms of their costs and benefits. The success and effectiveness of the initiative as a whole will also be considered. The evaluation will also determine the extent to which the outcomes of the pilot projects could be transferred to other situations.

Stagnant regions in naturally ventilated offshore modules

(Contractor: HSL)

Most offshore installations rely on natural, wind driven ventilation to disperse flammable gas in the event of a leak. Where natural ventilation is employed, the goal is to achieve 12 air changes per hour for 95% of the time. To minimise costs offshore utilisation of space is maximised, which can lead to areas congested by equipment, etc. This may lead to the creation of stagnant areas which pose a potential explosion hazard in the event of a gas leak, particularly at times of low wind speeds.

The aims of this project are to quantify the extent of the problem and to propose and test potential solutions. This will involve identification of areas of stagnant air flow; measurement of the flow velocity in these areas - correlated with atmospheric conditions, such as wind speed and direction; and the investigation and application of tracer gas methods to quantify the ventilation effectiveness. Practical measures which can be taken to improve ventilation will then be investigated and optimised using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) modelling .

Probabilistic methods - uses and abuses in structural integrity

(Contractor: BOMEL)

The design of containment structures, such as pressure systems, storage tanks, and pipelines are based on deterministic permissible stress approaches, used in conjunction with appropriate safety factors. However, probabilistic limit state methods are increasingly being used as an alternative means for the design or assessment of containment structures. This project will provide objective information to HSE and industry about the theory and application of probabilistic methods in the context of structural integrity management and to provide a generic framework for assessing the validity of probabilistic arguments to ensure adequate safety.

Pedestrian slipping - real workplace contaminants

(Contractor: HSL)

Slip, trip and fall accidents are the leading cause of non-fatal major injuries and the second highest cause of over-3-day injuries in the UK workplace.

Past HSE-funded research has shown that the traction experienced by a pedestrian results from a combination of shoe sole and floor surface properties and the characteristics of any contaminant which comes between shoe and floor. The aim of this work will be to assess the influence of real workplace contaminants on the slip resistance of floors. The relationship between floor surface characteristics (for a range of workplace floor materials) and the pedestrian slip resistance offered by such floors when soiled with typical workplace contaminants will be investigated.

Details of some completed projects

Balance of risk between weight of load and frequency of lift

(Contractor: HSL)

The aim of this research was to investigate whether lightening the weight of a lifted load helped to reduce the risk of injury, given that reducing the load might substantially increase the frequency of the handling operation and so the risk to the worker. The project was set up to provide information on the balance of risk between the weight of a lifted load and the frequency of lift. The information produced has been used in the revision of HSE's manual handling guidance and to help HSE answer enquiries from the public.

There were a number of stages to the project: a review of the literature and data on manual handling incidents and problems reported to HSE; a series of site visits to investigate the practical difficulties of manual handling tasks in industry and the usefulness of ergonomic interventions; and a laboratory study to investigate lifting behaviour/technique with changes to a number of variables, and assessment of the risks to the individual.

The review of the literature and data produced two main findings. Physiologically, and provided that the overall workload did not cause excessive fatigue, it did not matter whether a worker handled lighter loads more frequently or heavier loads less frequently. Also, as long as the loads handled were acceptable, more work would be carried out if small loads were handled more frequently than if large loads were handled less frequently. From the site visits it was found that, although many companies had reduced the weight of the unit load carried by half (from 50kg to 25kg), in some cases this had had an adverse effect on manual handling practices. Pallets were still loaded to the original weight creating loads at a greater height. This caused more moves above shoulder height for the workers. It was also found that workers tended to carry two 25kg items thereby negating the beneficial effects of reducing the unit weight. Packaging from overseas suppliers were often bulky and difficult to handle. Packaging and weights tended to be driven by customer preference rather than manufacturer's handling needs. During the laboratory tests, two primary variables were investigated. These were frequency of task (one lift every 5, 14 and 60 seconds) and the shape of the weight to be lifted (box, sack or roll). Subjects were asked to select their Maximum Acceptable Weight of Lift (MAWL) for each lift condition, and changes in mechanical, physiological and postural parameters were measured and analysed. The results indicated that reducing the weight of lift in favour of increased frequency of handling was desirable, particularly when the lifts were occurring at a rate of 3 or less per minute and the load was close to the MAWL. However, these benefits diminished as physiological limits were reached. The shape of the weight affected the relative effort required and the MAWL but these effects were small compared with those seen as a result of changing the handling frequency.

The scale of occupational stress

(Contractor: University of Bristol)

This research had three main aims: to determine the scale and severity of occupational stress in a random population sample; to distinguish the effects of stress at work from those of general life stress; and to determine whether objective indicators of health status and performance efficiency were related to perceived occupational stress. These aims were investigated by conducting an epidemiological survey of 17000 randomly selected people from the Bristol electoral register. A 32-page questionnaire was sent out, eliciting a final response rate of 49%. A follow-up survey was conducted 12 months later on 4673 of the original participants who had agreed to be contacted again. The response rate from this group was 69%. A detailed laboratory investigation of a cohort from the original sample (200 participants) was then carried out.

The results revealed that approximately 20% of the sample reported that they had very high or extremely high levels of stress at work. This effect was reliable over time, related to potentially stressful working conditions and associated with impaired physical and mental health. The effects of occupational stress could not be attributed to life stress or negative affectivity. The cohort studied also suggested that high levels of occupational stress may also influence physiological and mental performance. The report from this work will be published in HSE's CRR series.

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

Updated 2021-04-21