Issue 17: July 2001


The Strategic Research Outlook is due to be published for the first time in February 2002. It will offer a guide to HSC/E's research activities and will replace the Mainstream Research Market Document which has been published since 1996.

The document's layout will reflect that of the HSC/E Strategic Plan and will set out HSC/E's strategic science and innovation aims. This represents a significant shift from the technical subject based approach used previously and it is intended that this will make more transparent the link between HSC/E's research activity and its business aims and objectives.

Before the document is published next year, HSE's Research Strategy Unit (RSU) is opening up the current draft document to consultation. In the first instance, the draft has been made available to HSE staff on the intranet via the RSU S&I Management Bulletin Board. HSE Staff are invited to consider the document and any comments should then be fed back to Dr P Ellwood, Head of Planning in RSU by 31 August 2001.

The document will then be considered by HSC before being placed on HSE's website for open consultation. A deadline will be given by which comments on the document need to be fed back to RSU.

The Strategic Research Outlook will continue to feature the Competition of Ideas exercise. This exercise has been run annually in the Mainstream Research Market Document since 1997. A number of broad issues are presented and research submissions in response to the broad issues are invited from the research community. The draft document does not yet contain information on the Competition of Ideas exercise or the broad issues. These will be added to the document prior to its publication.



(Contractor: Institute of Occupational Medicine)

Occupational dermatitis is a wide spread problem affecting about 85000 workers in the UK at any one time. In heavy engineering environments using metal working fluids (MWF) prevalence rates can be as high as 30%. Factors influencing the irritancy of MWFs and the mechanisms of worker exposure are poorly understood. Using a combined laboratory and workplace study this work will examine the causative factors of dermatitis both in terms of MWF composition and how dermal exposure to MWF takes place. Health-based guidance values for a range of MWF variables will be developed using objective measures of skin condition to examine the irritant effects of MWF exposure. Based on these findings, control strategies will be developed and implemented in a number of workplaces and the effectiveness of these control strategies in reducing dermal exposure and MWF irritancy will be assessed.


(Contractor: National Centre for Social Research)

HSE requires information on the broader health and safety culture in order to interpret and add to the health and safety outcome data which will be used to inform policy and enforcement activity and measure progress against the Revitalising Health and Safety and Securing Health Together targets.

This work aims to provide a picture of people's awareness of risks in the workplace, their attitudes to health and safety, and their adoption of appropriate behaviours, including compliance with regulations. The work will analyse how awareness, attitudes and behaviours vary with other factors, including experience of occupational ill health and injury and exposure to risk.

The British Social Attitudes Survey (BSAS), conducted by the National Centre for Social Research, is a well respected annual survey which has been running since 1983. It provides an ideal vehicle for collecting additional information on cultural factors related to health and safety.


(Contractor: International Mining Consultants Ltd)

There has long been a requirement in health and safety law for owners of coal mines to provide rescue arrangements to deal with fire and other emergency incidents at their mines. The key requirement is a capability to respond rapidly to emergency call outs, to attend at incidents and sustain recovery operations over extended periods, particularly for those incidents requiring breathing apparatus, with people trained to work safely in the special hazards of the mine environment. National organisation of the rescue service, which is seen as important to deliver these capabilities safely, was retained through changes introduced in 1995 to reflect the diverse mine ownership which followed privatisation of the industry. While the legal requirements are robust, HSE is conscious that the present mine rescue arrangements will be increasingly difficult to sustain if the industry continues to contract in size, with little associated reduction in the geographic spread of mine locations.

This work aims to review alternative structures for the provision of mine rescue arrangements, capable of meeting the key capabilities set out in Regulation 12(2) of the Escape and Rescue from Mines Regulations 1995. The relative merits of each structure will be assessed against credible scenarios for the future size and geographical spread of the British coal mining industry. Recommendations will be made on the basis of the effectiveness of the arrangements in securing safety at mines and whether the costs to mine owners would be reasonable.


(Contractor: University of Surrey)

The health and safety problems of shift workers on offshore oil rigs are unique to this population as complete biological adaptation to night shift is seen with some schedules. The advice of the European Work Directive is not appropriate in this case as it is based on the premise that night shift workers do not adapt, as is usually the case onshore. Previous work by Surrey University has indicated that adaptation to shift work offshore is possible, but rate and extent vary between subjects/shift schedules. This project will continue to collect the necessary physiological and performance data from a number of shift patterns and provide the level of information required to optimise working patterns for performance, safety and long-term health. The work will: determine which schedules and hours worked lead to adaptation, and in which direction; assess the impact of these rotations and/or adaptation on fasting and postprandial risk factors for cardiovascular disease; and trial strategies to minimise these risk factors and assess the efficacy of intervention.


(Contractor: Heriot-Watt University)

Studies of accidents and near misses involving falls and working at height often show that more than one contributory factor leads to an accident. This implies that adequate levels of safety can be obtained by managing the various risk factors to ensure that their risk profile reduces the probability of an accident. If knowledge of the criticality of the components of the risk profile were available it would be possible to concentrate on these to ensure a safe and cost effective work system. A methodology which allows the user to balance out the risk profile could minimise the cost of work and provide the means to aim for a target of zero health effects and safety incidents. It is proposed to systematically evaluate work system components and model the interaction of failure modes to develop a decision aid for onsite determination of risks of work systems and to provide options to minimise risks.


(Contractor: University of Leeds)

The incidence of brain cancers in Britain is rising at a rate not wholly explicable by improved detection methods; they now account for 10% of all registered cancer deaths in those under 45. In 1995, the Scottish Cancer Intelligence Unit reported a ten year percentage change in European age-standardised incidence rates over the period 1986 to 1995 for brain and central nervous system cancer of +20% for males and +29% for females. Little is known of the aetiology of adult brain tumours. However, there are numerous tentative hypotheses founded on relatively weak evidence associating brain cancers with particular occupational exposures.

This large UK case-control investigation and associated International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) initiative should provide a powerful study that will refine, test and develop such hypotheses on possible occupational causes of brain cancer. HSE is contributing funds to two parts of the study: i) to develop and use the US computer-assisted personal interviews (CAPI) protocol for UK studies to collect industrial exposure data for a number of risk factors; and ii) to collect electromagnetic field exposure data, particularly for low frequencies, for which researchers will use instruments evaluated in previous HSE research (as detailed in HSE's Contract Research Report 128/1997, available on HSE's website at Exposure data will be utilised in the case control study to test hypothesised associations between brain cancer and exposure to a number of potential risk factors.


(Contractor: York Consulting)

In 1999, HSC published a discussion document in response to Ministers' requests to review current arrangements for employee consultation on health and safety and to explore ways of enhancing the role of safety representatives. The document sought views on a number of options, including whether the law should permit a wider system of roving safety representatives (Workers Safety Advisors). The law already provides for roving safety representatives to be appointed to represent groups of members in the British Actors' Equity Association, the Musicians' Union and in the quarrying industry. Roving safety representatives also exist in other countries. Sweden has had them for over 50 years, funded by a levy on employers until 1995 and by state funding thereafter.

The discussion document resulted in 850 responses from the TUC and other trade unions, employers, the CBI and other employers' organisations, Government Departments, Local Authorities and various other parties. Of those that responded to the question "should the law permit a wider system of roving safety representatives", 55% said yes; 30% no; and 15 % had no opinion. All the major employers' associations opposed the introduction of roving safety representatives, while it was supported by the TUC and major trade unions.

This study will investigate an innovative approach to engaging worker involvement in improving health and safety. It will assess the effectiveness of voluntary workers' safety advisors in: raising health and safety standards; promoting better consultation on health and safety; and broadening and increasing the knowledge of employers and employees on health and safety matters.


(Contractor: Health and Safety Laboratory)

Runaway (out of control) chemical reactions can be a particular problem in batch chemical reactors and other equipment used in such processes. These are ubiquitous in the chemical industry because of their convenience and flexibility, and they predominate in the fine and speciality chemical industries. The consequences of runaway reactions can be severe, as the major industrial disasters at Seveso and Bhopal have shown.

HSE is responsible for regulation of the safety of chemical reaction processes, many of which are operated within sites covered by the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations. HSE has produced guidance on the assessment of exothermic processes and the sizing of pressure relief systems for runaway reactions. However, pressure release systems are likely to need to incorporate disposal systems, such as quench or catch tanks, to protect people and the environment from discharged material. The inadequate specification and design of such systems could prevent the safe operation of the pressure release system. Only limited guidance is currently available on this topic. Further research is needed to support such guidance because experience of current methods used to predict the flow of vented material from these reactions suggests that they may be unreliable in some cases.

This work aims to develop and experimentally validate improved sizing methods for the disposal systems which form part of pressure relief systems for runaway chemical reactions. The work will also produce a guide, suitable for small and medium sized enterprises, on the sizing of relief disposal systems.

This project is part of a European-funded project entitled AWARD (Advanced Warning and Runaway Disposal) under the Competitive and Sustainable Growth Programme. It involves joint funding with the European Commission and with industry. There are two parts to the project:

1) early warning of runaway; and 2) relief system disposal. This project covers the second part and has the EU subtitle heading DISPOSE.


(Contractor: Hu-Tech Associates Ltd)

The majority of personal injuries in the offshore environment are caused by relatively minor accidents or incidents involving slips, trips, falls or manual handling. Poor ergonomics in the design of equipment, the working environment or job design can contribute to these injuries through fatigue, human error and high workloads. Many such injuries could be prevented by simple ergonomic interventions in the workplace, identified and implemented at the local level. Basic examples include the colour coding of equipment parts to aid usability and safety, and the organisation of tasks to take account of personal performance limitations to reduce fatigue. There is a need to encourage Operators to improve the ergonomics of the offshore working environment. This projects aims to provide a means to encourage direct, practical ergonomic improvements at the workplace level. A resource pack for safety personnel will be developed to facilitate the provision of training, support and supervision in workplace ergonomic improvement. It is intended that the resource pack will provide training materials and tools to help identify ergonomic risks and to find simple practical solutions.


(Contractor: University of Cardiff)

HSE is increasingly interested 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, etc. This includes risks relating to gender, ethnic origin or region.

The aim of this project is to investigate the prevalence of reported occupational stress among Afro-Caribbean, Asian and White workers. It will determine whether different ethnic groups report similar work characteristics/levels of stress and whether such groups show similar or different associations between work characteristics, reporting of occupational stress and subjective health. Further analyses will consider demographic and job characteristics (eg. salary, occupation, etc.) and reported stress in the different ethnic groups studied. The research will examine workers based in two separate areas of the country. One sample will be based in London and the other in Cardiff.

Overall, the results of this study will determine whether certain ethnic groups require special attention or guidance concerning psychological work characteristics.


(Contractor: Deloitte and Touche)

Following the Government's Quinquennial review of HSC/E, HSC/E were asked to implement charging schemes to recover the cost of HSE's work on permissioning regimes in the gas transportation, offshore and railway industries and for the UK competent authority's work on the European Directive on the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH). The charging regime for COMAH was introduced on 1 April 1999, and for the other three industries on 7 October 1999.

The Government agreed with HSC that a review of these charging schemes should be undertaken after two years of operation. This evaluation will establish: the effectiveness of the financial and administrative arrangements for the COMAH, gas, offshore and rail charging schemes; the effects of the introduction of charging on HSE's relationship with industry; and the impact of charging on the gas transportation, offshore and rail industries and, in the case of COMAH, the effectiveness of HSE, the Environment Agency and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.


The HSC/E S&I Strategy will shortly be published on the HSE Internet site ( High quality science and technology (S&T) provide an essential contribution to the formulation of UK and international policy and regulatory decisions in the sensitive area of people's health and safety. The S&I Strategy describes how HSC/E will apply S&T in support of our mission to ensure that such risks from work activities are properly controlled.

HSE annually spends about 15% of our gross grant in aid on commissioned S&T (£37m in 1999/2000), around half on research and the other half on reactive work, including the investigation of incidents and the assembly and analysis of evidence to support enforcement action, which often requires a rapid multidisciplinary response. A key aim in developing the S&I Strategy has been to capitalise on existing strengths in terms of flexibility in response to operational needs, whilst making more transparent and direct the links with HSC/E's high level targets.

High Level Targets

HSC/E's Strategic Plan for 2001-2004 sets out the following targets for improving health and safety performance over the next ten years:

S&T Programmes

The high level targets are for the health and safety system as a whole but they will be a major factor in determining HSC/E's future programmes of activity. Our work to achieve these targets will include taking action in priority areas where significant improvements in health and safety are needed now if they are to be met. The current priority programmes, which will be accorded top priority for resource allocation to meet identified future S&T needs, are:

Other important areas which will continue to require S&T resources to deliver key strategic outcomes are:

Programmes will be defined to identify and take forward the contribution S&T can make to achieving these targets and outcomes. All HSE business will be included within this programme structure, which will provide flexibility in the ready access to and provision of scientific support. These dedicated S&T programmes will offer improved coherence and clearer lines of accountability than the current S&T subject based approach. HSE's research management structure and S&T funding arrangements are being revised to align with the programme based approach.

Working with Others

HSE already has a number of formal and informal national and international links and we will build on these to identify gaps in scientific understanding, to share knowledge and to undertake collaborative projects. We will also extend our work with other departments to identify and foster co-operation on issues of common interest. In formulating our research programmes, we will place an even higher priority on collaborative partnerships where they offer better use of resources and better outcomes from our research activities.

Strategic Research Outlook

HSC/E will publish an annual Strategic Research Outlook, starting in February 2002, which will reflect the programme structure described above. This will replace the Mainstream Research Market document that has been published since 1996. Consistent with our commitment to work more closely with stakeholders, a draft of the Strategic Research Outlook will be posted on the HSE Internet site for comment in the Autumn.

Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL)

HSL, which became an internal agency of HSE in 1995, will continue to play a key role in the provision of investigative work and other scientific services, which spring from HSE's day-to-day operations and which often require a rapid multidisciplinary response. Research placed with HSL is subject to competition in a similar way to that placed with external suppliers.

Scientific Advice

HSC/E are committed to ensuring that our policies are based on the best available scientific advice in line with the Chief Scientific Adviser's Guidelines 2000 and that we learn the lessons from the Phillips BSE Inquiry report. HSE's own scientific staff, who provide considerable in-house expertise and wider links to the national and international scientific community, are the key advisers to HSE policy makers. HSC's Subject and Industry Advisory Committees provide integrated scientific and technical policy advice. HSE is developing a Quality Statement to ensure that we adopt a quality approach to the use of scientific advice in policy making, including operational policy.


HSE undertakes evaluation of research at two levels; individual post-project evaluation and the evaluation of portfolios of research. Individual post-project evaluation will continue but evaluation of the S&T programmes will be carried out in future in the context of an integrated evaluation of the HSC/E programmes to which they contribute.

Intellectual Property Policy including Dissemination of Research Information and Commercialisation

HSE seeks to achieve maximum openness and transparency in our funded research in accordance with best scientific practice. All research results will be placed in full and free of charge on our Internet site. As a regulator, our research rarely produces commercially exploitable IP. However, within this context, HSE will comply fully with Government policy to maximise exploitation as set out in the White Paper Excellence and Opportunity.



(Contractor: Entec UK Ltd)

A number of chemical sites are taking steps to reduce staffing levels in their operating teams. There is concern that such reductions could impact on the ability of a site to control abnormal and emergency conditions and may also have a negative effect on staff performance through workload, fatigue, etc. HSE identified the need for a practical method that organisations could use to justify appropriate levels of operations staff through suitable and sufficient assessment. Such a method could also be used by HSE during inspections to ensure consistent staffing level standards are applied.

A method has been developed which considers staffing requirements to respond to hazardous incidents. Specifically, it is concerned with how staffing arrangements affect the reliability and timeliness of detecting incidents, diagnosing them and recovering plant to a safe state. The method flags up when too few staff are used to control a process. However, it does not calculate minimum or optimum staff levels. If a site finds that its staffing arrangements 'fail' the assessment, it is not necessarily the case that staff numbers must be increased, other options may be available. The method is in two parts: a physical assessment of staffing arrangements by testing them against six principles; and a ladder assessment of individual and organisational factors using 'anchored descriptive rating scales'. The individual and organisational factors have been expanded to a total of eleven elements. For each, a ladder with qualitative and descriptive anchors has been produced, creating a scale from best to poor practice. An analyst can then place plant on the ladder by comparing its arrangements to the description in the anchors.

The method has been trialled and from the experience of those participating it is considered that it: brings staff issues into the open; enables the adequacy of staffing arrangements to be gauged and the impact of staffing changes to be assessed; is practical, usable and intelligible to duty holders and inspectors; and it is robust and resistant to manipulation or the massaging of its output. It is anticipated that the method will bring benefits in terms of: reinforcing the regulatory framework; providing greater transparency and thereby facilitate dialogue between duty holders and inspectors; enabling benchmarking across organisations; and stimulating enhancements in duty holders' safety management systems. The report from this work has been published as CRR 348/2001, available for free download or as a priced publication from HSE Books.


(Contractor: Human Reliability Associates)

The aim of this research was to investigate current industry practice in accident investigation, with particular emphasis on the resources expended and the quality of the investigation. The study was initiated to provide background information for proposed new legislation requiring employers to investigate the causes of work-related accidents and ill health, and to provide guidance for HSE on the type and level of practical support which industry may need to successfully implement the new requirements.

A large scale telephone survey (1500 cases) aimed at obtaining a comprehensive and nationally representative overview of accident investigation practice and procedure was carried out. This was followed by a smaller, face-to-face survey of 100 companies. This second phase was designed to: provide general verification of the information received in the initial survey; provide further details of typical investigation processes and procedures being used; and, lastly, to generate exemplar case studies to illustrate processes and procedures in action.

A full report of this study has been published as CRR 344/2001. The report can be downloaded from the internet or a hard copy can be purchased from HSE books


(Contractor: Health and Safety Laboratory)

The woodworking industry is large (employing over 200,000 people), diverse (producing a wide range of products), exists in all regions of the UK and is dominated by small companies. The hazards of working with woodworking machinery and the means of safeguarding against them are well known and documented in a comprehensive series of free information sheets produced by HSE's Agriculture and Wood Sector. Nevertheless, the accident rate in the industry remains high and the provisional figures for the sector for 1999/00 show that there were 2840 reported injuries, of which 4 were fatal and 633 were classified as major. Furthermore, HSE statistics show that the industry has the highest machinery accident rate. Employees regularly have to use cutting tools or blades that are exposed. There is also a significant potential in the industry for ill-health caused by poor manual handling and exposure to dust. The proper use of guards and safe working practices are essential in reducing the risk of serious accidents and incidence of ill health. Training and good supervision are therefore fundamental to ensuring good health and safety in the industry, and the purpose of this research project was to: identify the training available to operators of woodworking machinery and their supervisors; assess the suitability of this training in terms of quality and standards, with reference to the nature of the industry; and to identify existing barriers and propose measures to improve the take-up of suitable training.

A comprehensive report of the findings from this work is available and been published as CRR339/2001, available for free download from the internet or as a priced publication from HSE books.


CRR and OT Reports are being made available for free download The most recent reports may not be uploaded yet. HSE staff may obtain copies via their FOU reps. Those outside HSE may purchase copies from HSE Books.

Added to HSE web site 6 August 2001

Updated 2021-03-30