Issue 13: July 2000


For many years, HSE's research was organised and managed as three discrete blocks: the Mainstream Programme, a general portfolio of safety, hygiene and health research; the Offshore Safety Research Programme; and the Nuclear Safety Research Programme. In April 1998, the Mainstream and Offshore Safety Programmes merged to form a single research budget, for which the 'Mainstream' title was retained. The Nuclear Safety Programme kept its separate arrangements due to its close co-ordination with the nuclear industry's own research programme.

HSE's Offshore Research is documented and publicised in its own publication, Offshore Research Focus (ORF), produced quarterly by the Steel Construction Institute. The journal was founded in 1977 and has since reported on Government-funded research and development work associated with offshore oil and gas exploration and production. ORF has its own website -, through which the past and present editions of the journal can be accessed.

This issue of Mainstream Research News is the first in which information on HSE's Offshore research has been provided. Offshore research will in future be included in this newsletter, so that Mainstream Research News covers the full cross-section of work now encompassed by the Mainstream Programme. Also, because ORF features only some of those newly commissioned, recently completed and publications arising from Offshore research (albeit in greater depth), it was felt that a more comprehensive listing, as found in this newsletter, would complement that information already provided in ORF.



(Contractor: University of Nottingham)

In common with other developed nations, the UK has an ageing workforce. This trend has implications for workplace health and safety. Provided that job demands are well matched to individual capabilities, there are no grounds for excluding older workers from the workplace, but achievement of this goal requires identification of best practice in job design and work organisation.

Previous work in Finland and Japan has shown that it is possible to assess the effects of ageing on individual capabilities and to modify job and environmental demands accordingly. Management strategies also have an important role in maintaining the employability and health and safety of older workers. Further research is needed to explore the applicability of these approaches within the UK.

HSE is to fund a multidisciplinary workshop to consider the occupational health and safety implications of an ageing workforce. The research needs and priorities will be considered and an outline research strategy for wider discussion by stakeholders will be formulated. It is expected that up to 50 delegates will attend the event, representing the views and interests of researchers, policy-makers and practitioners. An important feature of the workshop will be the participation of experts from Finland, Germany and Japan. A research agenda and a report on the workshop will be published on the Government's AgeNet website.


(Contractor: The Welding Institute)

Localised corrosion of carbon and carbon/manganese steel weld regions of flowlines and topside pipework has been reported in recent years occurring in the UK North Sea and in onshore gas reception facilities. This has safety implications for maintaining integrity and containment of hydrocarbons. From currently available information, it is not possible to predict the rate of corrosion that may be experienced, the location of attack, or the effectiveness of corrosion inhibitors.

The cause of corrosion is not well understood, but attack (once initiated) appears to continue; and in the case of weldments, corrosion propagates through the weld fill run. Replacement with a corrosion-resistant alloy is not economic for existing facilities, and specification of such alloys may adversely impact upon the cost of development of new facilities.

The aim of this project is to produce data, of practical benefit, on the behaviour of weldments in such environments by focusing on the mechanism of corrosion attack, the effect of weld metal composition and the evaluation of corrosion inhibitor performance


(Contractor: Systems Concepts Ltd)

The food and drink industries have many noisy processes, such as bottling halls, canning lines, pasteurisation machinery, etc, all of which have the potential to expose workers to noise levels in excess of 90dB(A)Leq.

Previous HSE-funded research on noise exposure in these industries has highlighted those industries/processes that are of most concern, and on which published HSE guidance on noise reduction would be appropriate. This project is aimed at identifying, collecting and producing suitable case study material to accompany published guidance.

Those industries/processes that have already been identified as being of concern will be further investigated. In collaboration with the industry, a range of food and drink factories will be visited and relevant information on proven methods of reducing the noise and of reducing exposure to noise (other then by personal protective equipment) from these processes will be collected and collated. The information will be written up to provide a set of up to fifty case studies in support of guidance.


(Contractor: Firebrand International Ltd)

Following the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988, the last 10+ years have seen extensive research into offshore gas explosions. Much of this work has focused on large scale experimental studies and the validation of predictive models. HSE itself has funded a large number of explosion-related research projects, many as Joint Industry Projects (JIPs) with participation from across the oil industry. Results from this programme of work have been widely disseminated as research reports, conference papers, etc., and have influenced industry guidance and the development of modern goal setting legislation.

The research has now reached a degree of maturity and there is a need for an authoritative summary to establish the 'state of the art'. This project intends to critically review existing research in this area to: identify any significant remaining gaps in scientific understanding; assess the degree to which current knowledge is utilised by engineers and designers, and identify any barriers to its wider use.


(Contractor: Mott MacDonald)

HSE advises on structural integrity issues that affect health and safety. Concrete is often used for the main structures of industrial and chemical plants, and for transport, water and energy-related infrastructures. Thus, the integrity of structural concrete plays an important role in the control of risks to people's health and safety. The capital costs of these assets is such that their replacement is expensive, and not a valid option in many circumstances. Thus, the UK's ageing stock of important and safety critical concrete structures includes an increasing number that have been repaired using a variety of methods. The continued integrity of these structures, and their role in controlling risks to the health and safety of workers and the public, is dependent upon the effectiveness of the concrete repair. This project aims to evaluate the effectiveness of a range of systems for concrete repair and to develop generic guidance for the repair of important and safety critical structures.


(Contractor: Transport Research Laboratory)

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 require an employer to fit seat restraints to tractors where there is a risk to the operator of being crushed between the machine and the ground if the vehicle should overturn. For such vehicles, lap straps are the only logical means of restraint. From existing knowledge of operator injury following tractor rollover, it is unclear what the comparative levels of injury would be if the operator were to be unrestrained (head and other injuries), or as a result of the operator being secured below the waist by a lap strap (lower spine injuries).

The aim of this work is to develop a computer model to simulate tractor overturn. The model will be designed to enable data on the movement and potential injury of an operator to be predicted in an overturn scenario. It is then intended to evaluate the comparative injury rates, and types of injury incurred, by an unrestrained operator or an operator restrained via a lap strap.


(Contractor: HSL)

Dermal exposure to dusts can be a significant factor to consider in the risk assessment of regulated products such as pesticides and biocides, and for other chemicals and pharmaceuticals where dermal exposure, leading to systemic dose, is an issue. Current risk assessment models are poor and have little scientific base. It is thought there may be a relationship between airborne dust concentrations and dermal exposure but the factors that influence this require investigation.

The aim of this research is to identify and investigate the physio-chemical parameters and other factors that are important in determining the deposition and retention of dusts on those who work with dusty substances or near dusty processes. The work will investigate and develop sampling and analytical methods for the realistic determination of occupational dermal exposure to dusts which will then be applied to a range of occupational tasks in order to provide quantitative data to characterise the range and distribution of dermal exposures.


HSE has, over many years, used its research budget primarily to address an understanding of work related risk and the means of controlling such risks. However, in recent years there has been increased interest in addressing the relationship between health and safety at work policies and a range of other related social and economic policies, such as public health, social equality, employability, sustainable development and competitiveness. Strategic Themes 3 and 4 in the Health and Safety Commission's (HSC's) Strategic Plan for 1999-20001 are particularly relevant in this context.

In addition, on 7 June 2000 the HSC, jointly with Ministers, published a document entitled "Revitalising Health and Safety", following up the consultative document launched in July 1999. This document, broad in scope, sets out a range of ideas and actions to give new impetus to work in our field. The programme of work involved in taking forward the ideas in this document has implications for related social and economic policies and requires underpinning research.

In the light of these developments, HSE has published a supplement to this year's Mainstream Market Research Document, to stimulate a Competition of Ideas on the key emerging economic and social issues arising from these developments. Paragraph 24 of the original document gave notice of this.

HSE is keen to encourage a flow of ideas from others to take forward identified issues, and is receptive to considering alternative approaches to address a broader problem. Outline proposals are invited for projects against the broad areas identified in this document. HSE is particularly interested in innovative thinking to take forward the identified issues rather than full technical solutions which will be more appropriate to a detailed specification and procurement approach.

The Issue reference number refers to the code given at the beginning of each of the issues described under the section headed 'Competition of Ideas'. Proposals must address one issue only. HSE will respect the confidentiality of all proposals submitted. The exercise will remain a competitive one within limited resources and HSE will consider proposals against the following selection criteria for support:

Proposals not clearly linked to an issue or above £100k in value are less likely to succeed. This is not a cost ceiling but indicates the scale of proposals most likely to be accepted. Decisions on whether to accept a proposal in principle, subject to further negotiation to work up a detailed specification and costings, will be taken and notified within a period of twelve weeks following the closing date of 6th September. Due to the nature of the competition, it will not be possible to offer debriefing on unsuccessful proposals. The start dates for supported projects will be determined as part of the post exercise negotiations.

Competition of Ideas

We are interested in proposals for theoretical and empirical work examining the interrelationship between enterprises' approaches to health and safety, and their implementation of regulations, and company performance. Other areas of interest relate to companys' provision of health and safety information, their exposure to compensation claims, and problems of social exclusion in relation to the health and safety system. HSE therefore invites proposals to address the following broad issues:

Reference Z1

The impact of health and safety regulation on:

  1. changes in technology leading to reductions in costs for the affected sectors;
  2. improvements in labour productivity.

Reference Z2

Innovative uses of economic instruments, including:

  1. recovery of costs imposed on society following health and safety failures;
  2. closer relationship of insurance costs to health and safety performance.

Reference Z3

Current trends in the establishment of and provision of compensation for civil liability and their impact on businesses and the health and safety system.

Reference Z4

The provision of information on health and safety in company reports.

Reference Z5

The role, training and effectiveness of safety representatives (including those not trade union representatives).

Reference Z6

Socially excluded groups and the importance of the health and safety system in influencing their health safety and welfare. In particular workers in the first 6 months of employment, young male workers between the ages of 16-24, those working less than 16 hour a week, workers who are less well qualified and any particular risks relating to gender, ethnic origin or region.

This information is posted on HSE's website at:

1. The Health and Safety Commission's (HSC's) Strategic Plan for 1999-2000. Strategic Theme 3 - To develop health and safety aspects of the competitiveness and social equality agenda. Strategic Theme 4 - To increase the engagement of others and promote full participation in improving health and safety. The Strategic Plan is available from HSE Books Price £20.00 ISBN 0-7176-2438-2. Back



(Contractor: Institute of Occupational of Medicine)

The effectiveness of three different types of protective overall, when spraying pesticides for timber preservation, was investigated both in the laboratory and in the field. The overalls studied were: Type 1- hooded overalls, 65% polyester/35% cotton; Type 2-a disposable garment made from low air permeability nonwoven fabric; and Type 3-a disposable garment made from high air permeability non-woven fabric.

The overalls were tested in the laboratory in accordance with a number of European Standards to evaluate penetration and permeation. Following a pilot survey, a total of twelve field surveys were carried out (with each of the three types of protective overall being worn in four different surveys). Two different pesticides were used; half the surveys were carried out with a permethrin-based product whilst the other half used a boron-based product. The potential exposure was estimated from the amount of pesticide collected on patches placed on the outer protective overall. The amount of pesticide on each patch was extrapolated to provide an estimate of the pesticide on the section of suit it represented. The amount of pesticide penetrating the protective suit was assessed from the mass of pesticide collected on sampling suits worn underneath the protective clothing. Penetration factors for the whole suit and for individual sections were also estimated. Contamination to the hands was assessed from the mass of pesticide collected on cotton sampling gloves worn underneath protective nitrile rubber gloves.

From the laboratory tests, Type 2 and 3 overalls performed more effectively than Type 1, but field trials indicated that there was very little difference between all three types, with pesticide being detected underneath all types of protective overall, even when the surveys were of very short duration. Wide ranges of both potential exposure (mass of pesticide collected on patches) and the mass of pesticide penetrating the protective overalls were observed. The penetration factors for the whole suits showed wide variation as did the penetration factors calculated for individual suit sections. With all three types of overall, the amount of pesticide on the inner suit section increased as the estimated amount of pesticide on the outer suit section increased. Contamination was observed beneath the protective gloves in most cases. this is likely to have occurred when gloves were removed to adjust equipment, etc, rather than from penetration of the protective gloves.

The study showed that pesticide penetration of protective overalls occurred in field situations regardless of the type of overalls worn and that this may occur after very short periods of time. It is important to ensure that where protective overalls are intended to be reused, they are replaced at frequent intervals; and where overalls are disposable, that they are changed frequently. Safe working practices need to be promoted regardless of the type of overall worn.


(Contractor: Rock Mechanics Technology Ltd)

Since the establishment of rockbolting for roadway support in UK coal mines in the 1980's, the requirement has grown for a method of monitoring the continued effectiveness of these support systems. The aim of this work was to develop a Non-Destructive Testing system to detect broken or defective rockbolts in-situ, based on the application of guided ultrasonic waves. The main conclusion of the project was that instrumentation was available to measure reflected signals for the far end of resin encapsulated rockbolts, installed in an underground rock mass, provided that they were reasonably straight. Reflected signals from the far end of rockbolts have been measured from 3m long, fully encapsulated bolts with flat reflecting ends; and from 2.4m long, fully encapsulated bolts with chamfered reflecting ends. Guided ultrasonic waves also detected: fracture defects (simulated in underground tests by saw cuts made in the bolt prior to installation; reduced bolt cross section, which often occurs prior to bolt failure; and significant loss of bolt encapsulation. Variability in the quality of signal from bolt to bolt were found to be due to: the degree of resin encapsulation; straightness of the bolt; coupling quality between the reflecting surface and the resin at the bolt end; and the angle of the chamfered end of chamfered bolts.


(Contractor: Nottingham University)

Osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee is common and is a major contributor to morbidity in the community. The aim of this project was to examine constitutional and lifestyle factors that may act to modify the risk of developing structural knee OA. In particular, the hypotheses that: specific occupational physical activities act as risk factors for structural knee OA; conditioning exercise may act to protect the knees whereas high impact activities act as risk factors for structural knee OA; and that antioxidants may protect against knee OA progression, were investigated.

A community-based case control study of knee OA was carried out in which 304 men and women with painful, radiologically-confirmed knee OA were compared with 445 age and sex matched controls who were free from knee pain and had normal radiographs. Subjects were identified from a postal questionnaire. Following this, a structured questionnaire-based interview was carried out in the subject's home. Information collected established the systemic factors ie obesity, Herberden's nodes, hormones, diet and smoking and local mechanical factors, such as occupational loading, leisure and sport activities which may act to increase the risk of knee OA.

After adjustment for body mass index (BMI), the risk of knee OA was significantly elevated in subjects whose main job entailed more than one hour per day squatting, kneeling or regular heavy lifting. The increase in risk associated with regular knee flexion was more marked in subjects whose main job also entailed regular lifting and there was significant evidence of interaction between regular stair climbing and heavy lifting. The activity results suggested that conditioning exercise had a protective effect on the knees. The diet results indicated a difference between the diets of OA sufferers and the controls, with OA sufferers having a significantly greater consumption of vitamins E, B1 and folate than the controls.

The findings of this study confirm earlier findings that prolonged or repeated knee bending is a risk factor for knee OA. Furthermore, there is risk associated with regular heavy lifting. Risk is higher in jobs that entail both knee bending and heavy lifting. Conditioning exercise through leisure time activities seemed to offer moderate protection of the knees. The recent diets of the OA sufferers appeared to be healthier than the controls. However, past diet was more similar.

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(Contractor: Entec UK Ltd)

HSE's GHGB campaign is due to run until March 2001, with the purpose of raising awareness of occupational health and improving employers' competence in managing health risks in the workplace. This project sought to evaluate the impact to date of the campaign on the attitudes and behaviours of organisations and to provide information on what factors influence employers' attitudes towards the control of work-related health risks. The study comprised a telephone survey of 1900 employers and 120 face to face interviews. Comparisons were made between the attitudes and behaviours of employers who were and who were not aware of the GHGB campaign and between small, medium and large organisations. The telephone survey indicated that 'aware' organisations do display a more positive attitude towards occupational health and adopt a more comprehensive approach using risk assessment, changes to health risk management systems and auditing. The campaign had so far educated employers about occupational health, rather than by persuading them of a business case for health risk management. The face to face interviews confirmed these results and provided many suggestions on how to improve such campaigns and how to complement them through other educational or enforcement strategies.

From this exercise it was concluded that campaigns such as GHGB have the potential to make significant contributions to achieving further improvements in occupational health risk management in the UK. Such campaigns would usefully be augmented by initiatives which were aimed at integrating education on occupational health into general schooling, college and professional training, and by inspection initiatives aimed at increasing the possibility of prosecution of individuals.


CRR and OT Reports are being made available on HSE's website

The most recent reports identified above may not be uploaded onto the website yet, as work is still ongoing to get the back-catalogue on to the site. HSE staff should contact DIAS about titles of interest. Those outside HSE should contact HSE Books.

Published on the Web Site 8 August 2000

Updated 2021-03-30