Issue 6: October 1998
DETAILS OF SOME COMPLETED PROJECTS
LABORATORY-ACQUIRED INFECTIONS (Contractor: Scottish Centre for Infection and
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations (1994) and the
European Community Directive on the Protection of Workers from Exposure to Biological
Agents at Work (1990) both require assessment of the risks resulting from exposure to
hazardous substances and micro-organisms due to working practice or accidental exposure.
Previous surveys have identified the trends in the incidence of laboratory-acquired
infections within NHS laboratories and have been useful in highlighting a number of areas
of concern. However, the lack of follow-up on non-responders to such surveys and the
emphasis on NHS clinical laboratories has restricted the usefulness of the data for
quantifying the risk of infection experienced by workers potentially exposed to pathogens
in different types of laboratory. HSE therefore commissioned this retrospective survey,
covering the period 1994 to 1995, to provide information about the risk and incidence of
infection in a wide range of clinical laboratories.
Questionnaires were sent out to 659 organisations thought to have laboratories. A total
of 557 responses were received, of which 397 were from organisations with laboratories.
Only nine cases of possible or probable occupationally-acquired infections were reported
by these laboratories. The survey covered over 55000 person-years of occupational
exposure. The overall infection incidence rate found was 16.2 per 100000 person-years
compared with 82.7 per 100000 person-years found in a similar, previously reported, survey
covering 1988 and 1989.
Infections were found to be most common in females, in relatively young staff, in
microbiological laboratory workers and in scientific/technical employees. Gastrointestinal
infections predominated, particularly shigellosis, but few specific aetiological factors
relating to work practice were identified. No hepatitis B cases were reported.
The results of this survey are encouraging, and whilst there remains room for
improvement, the findings reflect well on standards of infection control in UK
DISPLAY SCREEN EQUIPMENT (DSE) - HEALTH PROBLEMS (Contractor: System Concepts Ltd.)
In order to investigate the problems associated with DSE use, a questionnaire survey of
DSE users was carried out. The questionnaire was designed to collect information relating
to: the symptoms of discomfort associated with DSE use; problems associated with the DSE
work environment; and general information about the DSE user. The responses of 968
individual DSE users from 27 companies were received and analysed.
A key finding of the study was that DSE work lead to frequent complaints of discomfort.
Around 1 in 3 users complained of general fatigue, whilst around 1 in 5 complained of
headaches or of neck, shoulder, hand, arm or eye discomfort. The research showed that the
amount of time spent using DSE was a good predictor of discomfort, and users who spend
more than 75% of their work time using DSE were significantly more likely to complain of
wrist, hand and finger discomfort than lighter users. DSE-critical users (such as data
entry clerks) were significantly more likely to complain of headaches, focussing
difficulties and discomfort in the legs, shoulders and wrists than discretionary users
(such as managers).
Users who had attended DSE training were less likely to complain about discomfort
symptoms, particularly users who felt the training had been appropriate and who had
subsequently applied the training in the workplace. For the group of DSE users surveyed,
work breaks appeared to have no effect on reports of discomfort, even when DSE users who
worked for 3 hours without a break were compared to those who worked for less than 1 hour
before having a break. Users provided with spectacles for DSE use were significantly more
likely to complain about a range of visual discomfort symptoms. Over half of the users
were critical of the air quality and ambient temperatures in their offices and 1 in 3 of
users were dissatisfied with reflections, glare and the overall light levels in their
THE EFFECTS OF SHIFT WORK ON HEALTH AND PERFORMANCE (Contractor:
University of Wales Swansea)
Although there would appear to be a wide variety of shift systems in operation in the
UK, there is a strong bias towards the use of rotating rather than permanent systems to
cover the 24-hour day. Approximately 75% of rotating shift systems involve 8-hour rather
than 12-hour shifts. Literature suggests that the use of 12-hour shifts is increasing,
mainly due to pressures from the workforce who see advantages in the potentially increased
proportion of rest days.
The beneficial effects of 12-hour shift systems reported in the literature and obtained
from this study are largely limited to subjective measures such as improved mood and
family and social life and reduced psychological health problems, including stress.
However, some objective benefits include reduced commuting costs and time, and a reduction
in the number of shift handovers. The disadvantages of 12-hour shift systems centre
largely on fatigue and safety problems, although this study did find some evidence of
reduced physical health. In line with previous research, the study also confirmed the
inferiority of performance and mood of workers on 12-hour shifts during the early hours of
the morning. A similar inferiority of response was also found in the early afternoon,
another time at which the 12-hour workers had been on duty for rather longer than their
8-hour shift counterparts.
These effects are probably due to the combined effects of the
length of time the individuals had been working for and the circadian rhythm known to
exist in sleep propensity. The results of this study also indicated that a shift
changeover at 07:00 caused considerably fewer problems than one at 06:00. Little evidence
was found to support the view that forward rotating 8-hour systems were preferable to
backward rotating ones. Neither was any strong evidence found to support the inclusion of
a break of more than 24-hours when changing from day shifts to night shifts on a 12-hour
system, although there was evidence of a culmative detrimental effect caused by successive
12-hour night shifts.
The results concur with other published research, that the use of
12-hour shift systems should be avoided where there is risk to the public. The popular
12-hour system of two-days and two-nights on and four-off (which requires four teams
averaging a 42-hour week to provide continuous cover), would appear to have much to
commend it in many work situations. However, the advantages of this type of shift system
should not be negated by the increased use of overtime. Many of the advantages of the
12-hour shift system stem from the increased number of rest days and allowing these to be
worked as overtime may turn this strength into a weakness.
Research Reports: Title
of blast injury data and models
models for the prediction of dermal absorption of chemicals
motivating proactive health and safety management
factors in oesophageal cancer
and safety in the workplace
of methods to assess the significance of domino effects from major hazard sites
hazards caused by the sulphidation of copper
proposals on how to work with intermediaries
of predictive tests for chemical respiratory allergens
study to determine the extent of musculoskeletal disorders in forestry chainsaw operators
referenced population data for land use planning advice
application of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to hazardous area classification
cancer and occupation
of blast injury data and models
All these titles are available as priced publications from HSE books or from
DIAS for HSE staff.
All these titles are available as priced publications from
HSE Books, TSO Customer Services, PO Box 29, Norwich, NR3 1GN, England
Tel (0)1787 881165
Fax (0)1787 313995
Published on internet on 6/1/99