13 November, 2015

My Happy Hour challenge – living one hour ahead of the rest of the UK

RoSPA fundraiser Peter Lowe has been raising awareness of our Lighter Evenings campaign by living an hour ahead of the country since the clocks went back in October. Here’s his story:

Peter 1So I have come to the official end of the Happy Hour challenge, but I intend to continue as much as possible throughout the winter. The challenge has been interesting, informative and I seem to have overcome most obstacles. I have pretty much done what I set out to do in terms of getting up earlier going/leaving work an hour earlier. I have tried to work around social events rather than pull out. From a PR point of view I’m in the wrong part of the country in London, but I think it’s important someone makes a stand. I would add however that with average commute times of 79 mins compared to 59 nationally for a round trip, arguably this puts us more on a par with other regions for usable winter daylight during weekdays.

I have certainly found that I can get more done during daylight at weekends, but even during the week with work finishing shortly after dusk, if found it physiologically beneficial with daylight for most of the day. I have also found that having my time pieces on GMT+1 is psychologically better for making events happen earlier as opposed to just getting up earlier – this also reduced the temptation to fall back an hour in the evening, as of course all the TV schedules are effectively later than usual.

My work colleagues have been either supportive of my experiment or have not expressed any opinion, but I have not received any negative comments. This is similar to members of my family, some of which have been very supportive. Some have also stated that they can get more done in the day. Some colleagues have expressed their dislike for the current time system. I may have persuaded a few people that the system needs to be changed, but going by Facebook comments, my blogs have also helped to inform many others who liked lighter evenings, that this policy is in fact serious and makes sense for safety, business, tourism, health, sport, energy and other sectors of society.

PEter 4In terms of a desire to change, some people preferred to stay on BST all year, to conserve daylight in winter and to end the inconvenience of changing clocks – (going by the latest e-petitions, year round BST is by far the most popular time system to change to). While BST all year would be a step forward, SDST would produce the best results for road safety as well as many of the above sectors. The benefits would far outweigh the inconvenience of retaining the twice yearly clock change. I was also surprised at how many people were unaware of the time system on the continent and that SDST would put us on the same time zone. If this was more widely known the e-petition results might be different.

In my blogs I have tried to lighten some of subject matter with catchphrases and photos to illustrate my points. I launched by talking about the history of timekeeping and photos from the Willett Memorial Sundial. As well as the advantages of SDST, I have also talked about objections regarding milk and postal deliveries and farming being less relevant, explained why just getting up earlier would not be very viable and mentioned some of RoSPA’s other work. I’ve taken photos of my watch against other clocks to try and prove the challenge is real and also of local road junctions at different times of day to illustrate traffic levels. Crucially I have also mentioned recent interest from the Republic of Ireland in lighter evenings. If Ireland were to participate in the trial period, this would further boost the case for safety and business and do away with any concerns regarding the land boundary with Northern Ireland.

PEter 3We may not be able to win the aesthetic arguments for this policy, but then again RoSPA campaigns for what will make us and our families safer, not what looks good – in the same manner seatbelts are hardly fashion accessories and may be a nuisance, but they have saved countless lives and injuries! It is concerning that in recent years attempts to introduce lighter evenings have been allowed to be derailed by relatively few aesthetic objectors and entrenched opponents who still claim lighter evenings will be more dangerous. They should look at the RoSPA website – the evidence in favour is all there! Yes casualties will rise in the morning, but this will be surpassed by the fall in evening casualties.

I have also learnt that motor insurance premiums would fall after a few years of lighter evenings – safety that saves you money – it’s not often you get that! Then there all the other countless benefits including business hours, tourism, energy saving, health and sport all for around £5m for advertising. Even this would quickly be re-cooped by the treasury. Therefore I would urge the government to stand up for safety with RoSPA on this issue!

You can still sponsor Peter at http://www.justgiving.com/P-LOWE1, and you can find out more about the RoSPA Lighter Evenings campaign at http://www.rospa.com/campaigns-fundraising/current/lighter-evenings/

23 October, 2015

Making the case for lighter evenings: tackling the concerns

The clock is ticking on the Daylight Saving Bill

RoSPA is campaigning for a change to the current daylight savings system, calling for the UK to be brought into Single/Double Summer Time (SDST) which would see us move one hour ahead throughout the year – to GMT+1 in the winter, and GMT+2 in the summer.

We understand the concerns that many people will have about this. In this blog, chief executive Tom Mullarkey answers the frequently asked questions and concerns.

What exactly are we asking for?

At the outset, we should explain what we and other campaigners are asking for: A UK-wide trial of at least two years in which we can gather unequivocal evidence on the benefits and disbenefits of a Single/Double Daylight Saving regime or SDST. This would effectively put our clocks one hour ahead of where we are now (to GMT+1 in the winter and GMT+2 in the summer). If the evidence is solid and shows that this idea doesn’t work, we would abide by it. But the vast majority of the current evidence already points to the fact that it would work – hence the need to make the first step – the trial.

Don’t like dark mornings/Prefer dark evenings.

Some people see the proposed change as inconvenient or believe that the current daylight regime is safer than SDST. The move could reduce road deaths by around 80 per year, and serious injuries by around 212 per year. If we can do that, and prevent the incredible heartache and suffering that these road accidents cause, the perceived inconvenience of darker mornings and lighter evenings would be a small price to pay. When we ask people if they think their preference should take priority over making a change which could help to save lives, they generally agree that the experiment would be justified.

lollipopI don’t want my kids going to school in the dark.

There are two peak times for casualty rates involving child pedestrians – during the school runs at 8am and 3.30p.m. However, the afternoon casualty peak is around four times higher. Casualty rates increase with the arrival of darker evenings, so ensuring children are walking home in daylight will help to reduce the number needlessly dying or being injured. But to be clear, there is a potential rise in morning road casualties to children, which is, however, more than offset by the evening reduction – the net figure is the key calculation.

People who say they don’t want their kids to go to school in darkness are expressing a preference, but an argument which surely trumps that is that we don’t want our children to be harmed – and SDST increases the opportunities for us to achieve this. And once again, wherever you live in the UK, children have to go to school in darkness in midwinter, though a change to SDST would make this less significant.

There’s nothing wrong with the current system.

The current system was established long ago – our work/life patterns have evolved considerably since then – and needs to be updated. We are no longer an agricultural economy and the dependence on morning daylight is much less important in the 21st century. Equally, nowadays our evenings are when we get free time, and these are ‘shortened’ by darkness, so we need to make the adjustment to account for modern lifestyles. Road casualty rates currently increase with the arrival of darker evenings and worsening weather conditions. Every autumn when the clocks go back, and sunset occurs earlier in the day, road casualties rise, and the effects are worse for the most vulnerable road users such as children, the elderly, cyclists and motorcyclists.

In 2012, pedestrian deaths rose from 32 in September to 40 in October, 38 in November and 61 in December. In 2013, this number jumped from 38 in September and October, to 53 in November and 51 in December. And in 2014, it rose from 39 in October to 66 in November and 73 in December. The effect of moving the clocks back in the autumn is immediate and obvious and we can easily see how to prevent these deaths. We are effectively allowing these people to die, and many others to receive serious, life-changing injuries, when we could intervene, and this gives me and many others, a real sense of moral frustration.

There’s no evidence this would work.

There is a mountain of evidence that this would work – and very little against the benefits of the change. For those old enough to remember, an experiment was actually carried out between 1968 and 1971. British Standard Time, which is GMT+1, was employed year-round for that period, and saved around 2,500 deaths and serious injuries for each year of the experiment. It was curtailed early because a (unknown) number of people wrote to their MPs and complained – this was hardly a democratic decision. Additionally, the final figures on casualty reduction were not collated until 1973, by which time it was all too late. With almost instant opinion polls and modern road accident data-gathering techniques, these issues would simply not arise today – which is why we need to repeat the experiment using SDST.

clock_alarmIt would be bad for farmers/builders/postmen.

From discussions with farming bodies, it is clear that working practices have changed so much since the 1968-71 experiment that the limitations on animal husbandry in the darker hours is no longer as significant as it was then. Practices with farm machinery have also changed significantly. The National Farmers’ Union in Scotland, formerly one of the strongest opponents of SDST, is no longer opposed to the change, and would not stand in the way of an experiment. Builders adjust their days to available daylight. Postmen deliver later in the day than in 1971.

If people want to change when they get up and go to bed, they can, without changing the clocks.

For any group, the option to adjust working hours to take available daylight into account exists now, as it would in the proposed regime. By the same token, this argument undermines the ‘status quo’ position. We’ve had interesting discussions around adjusting school hours in winter, to take available daylight into account, for example. As a society, we should be creative and flexible in the way we implement any regime – but the established rigidity of working/school hours greatly limits the opportunity to give our people access to the available daylight, particularly when it is in short supply in the winter.

It would be bad for people living in the North/West/Scotland.

This is not really a North-South debate as the majority of us broadly share the same longitudinal position and our country lies on a North-South axis. It could certainly be an East-West debate and people in Northern Ireland and the Western Isles make a good point – some aspects of SDST on them might prove negative – but again there are potential adjustments that could be made to working hours etc, which need to be explored. However, if we are to share one time zone (and most people think we should), then it would make sense to optimise time for the benefit of the vast majority and so there needs to be a balance of interests. But overall, as a society, we would gain a lot, even the people who live out west.

However, I would add a point regarding the North-South argument which is the principal stumbling block to change. The further north you live, the less your available winter daylight and so the more important it is to optimise that daylight – the current regime squanders morning daylight and limits winter evening daylight, so a move to SDST would benefit people in the north the most. The many other benefits of SDST (see below) would be felt more keenly in the north and so there is more to be gained for those living in the higher latitudes of the UK, by making the change. This is the reverse of what we are generally told, but it does make sense – the further north you live, the more precious is the optimisation of your winter daylight.

It would only be good for the English/We don’t want the English telling us what to do.

Actually, the English gain the least proportionately (but they still gain) because they already have slightly more winter daylight. But just to be clear, nobody in the UK has much winter daylight, particularly around the solstice. More people’s lives would be saved on English roads but that is because of the higher population. As a proportion of population, Scotland would gain more lives saved and injuries prevented, and achieve a greater proportion of the other benefits of SDST. Rather than couch the argument this way, why not change it around and ask why is it that the Westminster Parliament is preventing Scotland from achieving its proportionally greater gains?

Are there other potential benefits?

Apart from the life-saving argument we espouse (and surely that should be the weightiest), we believe that SDST would benefit the whole of the UK, in many other ways. Here are a few of the other benefits:

  • It has been estimated that the switch would reduce CO2 pollution by at least 447,000 tonnes each year, equivalent to the emissions of 50,000 cars driving around the world and roughly the same energy contribution as the city of Edinburgh. The CO2 reduction equates to about 80% of all renewable energy currently generated.
  • The additional use of fuel in the current regime increases costs for business and households. Estimates suggest that with SDST, those in southern England would save 1-2% of their fuel bills, while those on Scotland could save as much as 3%. Why are we burning energy unnecessarily, when there is a simple, no-cost alternative?
  • There would be a substantial boost to UK inbound tourism by an estimated £1billion per annum thanks to an extended tourism season, boosting overall tourism earnings by an estimated £3billion and increasing jobs by 60,000-80,000.
  • Our ageing population would be encouraged to leave their houses more often, take more exercise, have a better quality of life and retain their independence for longer – older people want to be home before dark and so effectively are curfewed by the morning rush hour and the evening darkness. Moving the evening darkness would be a great help to them.
  • Opportunistic crime facilitated by early evening darkness would be reduced (not just displaced) – more than half of criminal offences take place during the hours of darkness in the late afternoon or evening, coinciding with rush hour.   More of those exposure hours in daylight would limit criminal activity.
  • There would be an average gain of 55 minutes ‘accessible’ daylight every day across the UK, encouraging outdoor activity and increasing health. Studies have shown that winter darkness is the biggest inhibitor to children taking exercise after school (not that they are wedded to TV and game consoles) and extending this opportunity should help to increase child health, particularly reducing childhood obesity. Scotland would benefit disproportionally compared to England and Wales.
  • There have been quite a few studies on Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD) which have come out with contradictory results. There is some evidence that increased morning daylight would improve SAD the most. However, few people go outside in the morning (most people just commute to work and school) and so the best way to gain accessible daylight is to adjust it so that it is available during our leisure time in the evenings.
  • As well as SAD, there is a broad correlation between higher rates of obesity, heart disease and suicide, the further north you live. Although I don’t know of any specific studies on this, it just makes sense that these health issues would be improved by giving people more evening/accessible daylight in their daily routines.

It didn’t work in Portugal.

While all available evidence should be considered when making any decision on SDST, the Portugal experiment – when the time zone moved to align with the rest of Europe for four years from 1992 – is not relevant or comparable to the situation in the UK. In Portugal, on the ‘short’ winter days, darkness does not arrive until 5.30pm. In the UK children would reap the benefits of coming home during daylight – including reducing accidents – while that issue did not arise in Portugal. The issue of children not being able to get to sleep and being tired in class was a bit of a myth, as children in Portugal culturally go to bed much later than their British counterparts anyway.

We had to do it in wartime to save energy but the now the war’s over, there’s no need.

The nation does not now ‘need’ to save energy as it did during wartime, but with rising energy bills we are sure households and businesses would appreciate any help they could get to try to save money.  When budgets are tight and there is an easy saving waiting to be taken, why not take it?

euro_flagWe don’t want ‘Berlin time’.

This phrase was coined by one journalist, doing premeditated damage to a good idea, for his own reasons. During both World Wars, we advanced the clocks to save fuel, improve manufacturing productivity and increase efficiency – so why go back to wasteful ways? You might just as well say we don’t want ‘Winston Churchill’ time.

It would additionally be beneficial for businesses to align with Europe. At present, the UK market loses an hour of overlap in the morning with European markets and an hour overlap in the evening. Making the adjustment would increase working hour overlap by 25 per cent. Stock market hours would match Europe, and produce a greater overlap with Asia. Although overlap with North America would be reduced, the EU accounts for more than half of the UK’s foreign trade, much more than North America.

Don’t like changing the clocks twice a year/Why do we have to change the clocks at all?

Because we live 50degrees+ above the equator, we would have to adjust our clocks anyway. There are good arguments for advancing and retarding the clocks more than once a year each way, but for simplicity, most countries go for a one–change regime. In the UK, the only problem at present is that it’s not quite at the right time. If we left the clocks at GMT all year round, during the summer it would get light even earlier in the morning when most of us are asleep, and get dark an hour earlier in the evening, when most of us would want to be out and about. All we’re suggesting is making the annual changes more significant.

There is a multitude of alternative regimes, which could be ‘just as good’ as SDST.

Most campaigners such as RoSPA have agreed that SDST is by far the option which will achieve the greatest benefit for the UK and we work together for this option, which increases its chances of happening.

What do others think?

The most recent polls show that most people are in favour of the change. In Scotland, despite what is said vociferously by some, most people either support the change or are neutral about it.

Why won’t the politicians make the change?

In my view, this subject has simply become a political football, a hostage to the wider debate about Scottish independence. If a Westminster Government supports SDST, critics in Scotland are likely to use that as an illustration of Westminster ‘trying to impose unpopular decisions on the Scottish people’, or so it is feared. And in Scotland, the expectation is that Scottish politicians would actually use this argument. The terrible irony is that this change would benefit us all and the Scottish people the most, but we are all losers because of the wider politics. And we have to remember that since the 1968-71 experiment, over 5,000 people have died and 30,000 been seriously injured because of this intransigence. That is a terrible price to pay for political pragmatism.

Of course a bold move would be for Scotland to seek to make the change on its own – I’m pretty sure the rest of the country would follow in an instant. This elegant solution just needs vision and statesmanship – so please can we have some?

And by the way, there are many MPs, from all parties and all UK countries, who support the SDST proposal – nearly a quarter of all MPs stayed in Westminster on a cold, snowy Friday when most MPs were back in their constituencies and voted for the last Private Members’ Bill on SDST in 2012, tabled by Rebecca Harris, while only a handful voted against. And no progress was made because of a flawed political process – I gave Evidence to the House of Commons Procedure Committee on that – you can read the transcript here…

So what can people do now?

There are plenty of things you can do:

  • Join our campaign….?
  • Write to your MP, telling him or her about why you want them to support the call for a trial. (During Rebecca Harris’s Bill, this was the biggest postbag item for MPs).
  • Write to Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, urging her to find an elegant and intelligent way to break the deadlock.
  • Spread the word – there’s no better topic for a healthy debate!

Tom Mullarkey_RoSPA chief executive_head and shouldersConclusion

We’re not saying that our view is overwhelmingly correct and that those that disagree are overwhelmingly wrong. But we do believe that most of the evidence and information available points to this being a good idea and one which deserves to be put to the test – with an experiment. I can understand people being opposed to this idea but I can’t understand why anyone would want to stand in the way of actually finding out a truth.

Let’s work together to make this happen. Many lives and much heartache for families and communities depend upon it. If the experiment works, there is quite simply no other way to make us all safer, greener, healthier, wealthier and happier, at a stroke, at no cost.

Tom Mullarkey, RoSPA chief executive

21 September, 2015

Child car seats – It’s all about choosing…and fitting

The impending visit of my brother’s family – including one child aged 22 months and the other 34 months – gave me the opportunity to learn the modern ins and outs of choosing the right seat. Our visitors were coming by train and already had enough to carry…..

shutterstock_12193342 MediumIt’s been 28 years since our first son was born in Canada, where the quality of the car seat was inspected by the hospital staff before I was allowed to drive him home – a practice now more widespread in the UK. But that child car seat had sustained him all the way through to the point where he had traded up to a booster, so his newly arrived brother could take over the forward/backward facing, reclining and multi-adjustable hot seat. One child car seat and one booster seat spanned two children throughout their growth period.

But in 2015, returning to the subject, I found it had moved forward a long way in design and technology and I’m sure that there are many others like me, including new grandparents, who are having to learn the ropes all over again. My first point of call was the RoSPA Infocentre (free advice to members of the public on 0121 248 2130), where Anita Plumb neatly narrowed down the options to three weights I  needed to consider:


Anita Plumb

• Up to 13kg – rear facing
• 9-18kg – front facing or a combination seat that starts rearward-facing and then becomes forward-facing (better to keep children rear-facing as long as possible)
• 15kg upwards – high-backed booster seats and then, if necessary a booster cushion, but again much better to use a high-backed booster seat rather than a booster cushionn.

And these weight bands certainly were a help when I started to look into the details more fully e.g. on our own website www.childcarseats.org.uk/types-of-seat/ and www.childcarseats.org.uk/choosing-using/buying-child-car-seats-checklist/ where the full and glorious complexity of it all starts to come out. Here, to be precise, you will find up to 10 categories, which give all the weight/age permutations. It certainly isn’t easy to work out the options, so here’s my thinking:

  •  With a baby up to 13kg, you need a baby car seat (rearward facing) in category 0+ or a 0+ and 1 combination seat that converts from rearward to forward facing, or i-size , which is based on the child’s age and height.


  • After that, with a toddler or young child up to 36kg, you need to move up in size. The best option is a Group 1-2-3 adjustable seat, which will cover all of those initial years of growth, right up to the age of 12.
  • There are many other combinations (all subject to using the same car – see below) but this seems to be the simplest and most inexpensive sequence. Once the child is either 135cm tall or aged 12 years, they can use the adult seat belt, although if possible keep them in the booster seat until they are 150 cm tall.

So having decided that I needed Group 1-2-3 seats for my niece and nephew, I set off for Halfords in Shirley, pretty much as a mystery shopper, since RoSPA accredits Halfords’ car seat fitter training, and I wanted to experience what this meant first-hand.

shutterstock_173523590The first issue encountered was that although I had ordered two Halfords own-brand car seats online, that didn’t mean job done. CJ Ahmed, the fitter, explained that he first had to check that they fitted properly (the mind-boggling combinations of cars and car seats make this an imprecise art). So in my brand new Volvo V60, although it had the finest reputation for safety, these seats turned out to be unsuitable. The basic range seats (not Isofix) wouldn’t fit firmly and CJ showed me just how much play was involved. A sudden impact would whip the child forwards or sideways – we needed something much more solid, attached securely to the car with the seat belt.

So we started to move up the scale of seats and this involved moving up the price range too. We stopped when we had sourced a seat which was rock solid. CJ taught me to climb in, kneel on the seat and apply maximum pressure on the belt to get the tightest fit, and the design of this seat, with a clip to hold the belt in place, really did the job. As you go up the range, the adjustability, reclinability and comfort of the seats also improves and these are all important considerations if you’re going on a long journey. And having started at £35 for the basic range seat, we had actually reached £100 each by the time we found what was needed! Whether the less expensive car seat will fit your car seems more a matter of luck and you can see immediately why folks might baulk at this and try to pressurise the staff to fit something cheaper. But CJ was wedded to quality, certainly not for any commercial motive, and that was admirable.

The story wasn’t over yet. Unfortunately, there was only one such seat in stock but CJ, realising that I was on a tight timeframe, offered to drive over to another store in his own time and pick up a second one, to be installed in the morning. This was conduct well above and beyond the call of duty – I was truly impressed.

Talking to Halfords’ staff, I heard some pretty hair-raising stories of customers trying to cut corners – the couple who tried to buy a basic Group 1-2-3 seat for their baby; the people who insisted on buying seats which Halfords would not fit because they were too loose; the couple who argued about trying to fit their baby’s seat forward-facing in the front. I also learnt that at a recent customer advice event at the store, 80 per cent of car seats checked by the fitters turned out to be incorrectly fitted. Having learnt how to do it properly, from an expert, I can believe it.

This was an illuminating experience for me, and I had no hesitation in writing to Halfords’ CEO to commend CJ. My concern is that complexity and cost could conspire to encourage people to cut corners. The truth is that a good quality modern standard new seat (and we wouldn’t recommend a second-hand seat unless it’s from family or a friend you’re willing to trust your child’s life to) costs no more than a tank of fuel.

The weekend passed off fabulously and both children found their seats so comfortable, they fell asleep at the wrong times – I got into trouble a bit for that. But when you see them sleeping there in their innocence, you know that investing in quality for their safety and future happiness is a price well worth paying.


Tom Mullarkey_RoSPA chief executive_head and shoulders1 The new EU i-size standard is not based on the child’s weight, but requires children to be kept rearward-facing until they are at least 15 months old. They fit into the Isofix points that were built into the car when it was manufactured; see www.childcarseats.org.uk/types-of-seat/i-size-seats/

Tom Mullarkey, chief executive

2 September, 2015

Brave young mum supports RoSPA nappy sack campaign

Beth Amison with baby Maison

Beth Amison with baby Maison

Mum-of-two Beth Amison, aged 23, from Staffordshire, promotes nappy sack safety following the death of her seven-month-old son Maison in 2013. This is her story.

My world fell apart because of a nappy sack but how do I sum up the worst day of my life? How do I explain how empty I feel and how my heart hurts so much that I can’t breathe?

It was on March 7th 2013 that I went into my seven-month-old baby son Maison’s bedroom to wake him up – only it wasn’t his beautiful smile I was greeted with. Instead Maison was lying in his cot with a handful of nappy sacks scattered around him and one was covering his face.

From this moment on, it’s all a painful blur but I know that 999 was called and my house was full of paramedics desperately trying to save my baby’s life. I knew he was gone and that it was too late.

Our changing stand had been placed next to the cot, as many people’s are, and in the pockets of the stand, I had placed nappy sacks months and months before. To be honest, I had forgotten they were already there.

Our cot was on the highest setting because Maison had never crawled. He could sit, but only if you placed him that way. However, that day he must have learned to stand for the first time as that’s the only way he could have reached the changing stand.

Nappy sacks are usually brightly coloured and make a rustling sound so babies find them very attractive. They are made of thin plastic, which easily covers the face and can be sucked down the airways. As they are used to dispose of soiled nappies, these sacks also aren’t required by law to have safety holes like plastic carrier bags, so they are more dangerous to children.

Babies have a natural grabbing reflex and put things into their mouths, but then they cannot get them back out and as they get older, they start to become mobile and can find items that you thought were put away.

Baby Maison

Baby Maison

RoSPA records data on these tragedies and research has found that nappy sacks have claimed the lives of at least 16 babies, ranging from newborns to one-year-old. Since Maison died, I share the dangers of nappy sacks to other parents through my Facebook page called Maisons Memory and my advice to other parents and carers is to ask yourself some important questions.

Questions like how many of you have nappy sacks on the side, possibly in reach of a child? or are nappy sacks in the changing bag, zipped away, but the changing bag is within reach?
Do you assume because you haven’t seen your baby stand or crawl yet that they can’t?

Since Maison’s death, I have had two more children, who are currently 18-months-old and six-weeks-old, but I don’t use nappy sacks anymore.

I urge anyone who is around babies to think about the possible dangers before they become a problem. Don’t have the “it won’t happen to me” or “it didn’t do me any harm, so I’m not going to think about it” attitudes because when tragedy strikes, it leaves you heartbroken forever.

6 August, 2015

How safe is your home?

Tess Bowen and her brother Mat taking on the Wolf Run

Tess Bowen and her brother Mat taking on the Wolf Run

Cold, wet and soaking head to toe in mud, I jumped into the river to swim the final stretch before the finish line. I may have been tired and aching, but last month I completed the WolfRun in order to bring vital cash in for LifeForce.

RoSPA’s LifeForce is a community-based volunteer programme that empowers people and communities by giving them the skills, support and knowledge to stay safe in their homes.

I wanted to see just how much of a difference my muddy achievement would make, so I took part in one of LifeForce’s home-checks by visiting a family in Birmingham with Justin, its volunteer manager.

I got to see the programme in action with a family that included an older couple, their daughter and her young son. Once we were welcomed in, we made our way from room to room around the house highlighting potential risks to the family. While we were doing this, I was thinking about how some of the risks Justin was pointing out in this home, actually mirror some of those in my own house.

It dawned on me that I’m also guilty of having too many plugs attached to one extension lead; I often leave things near the stairs with the intention of moving them and then end up tripping over them when I’m in a rush. We think “it’s alright I’ve survived fine in my own home”, but all it takes is that one incident which can change your family’s life forever.


The bathroom was important in this home as it contains a gas boiler; Justin stressed the importance of having a carbon monoxide alarm in the house. A lot of us still have gas boilers and appliances and some even have coal fires in our homes, but how many of us are aware of their dangers and of the silent killer that is carbon monoxide? Part of LifeForce’s role is to inform and educate families on the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and offering solutions to prevent any tragedies.

reaching for the blindsBedrooms

Justin checked each of the windows. These windows had catches to restrict how far they could open, which we were happy to see, as it is easy for curious children to climb. What Justin was mainly looking for was the blind cord arrangement – whether they had any, how long they were and more importantly if there was a potential risk of strangulation for the young child. RoSPA is aware of at least 28 cases of death by blind cord strangulation amongst children under the age of five. Each case could have been prevented and LifeForce wants to ensure that this never happens to any of the families it visits. This particular family had two windows with blind cords and although there was a safety device attached to the first, it was broken and there was a piece missing. Justin noted to send them some cleats so that the cords could be tied up out of reach from an inquisitive child.


The kitchen can also be a dangerous place for children, as witnessed in this home. We noticed a few medications left on the side plus cleaning products on the window ledge and sharp knives left out both on the worktop and in the sink. We often leave harmful things out on surfaces and in easily accessible cupboards but children are curious and can be easily poisoned or cut. Knives in the sink are particularly dangerous as a child may innocently wash their hands and receive a nasty surprise. LifeForce is there to reiterate the importance of keeping harmful substances and objects locked away and out of sight from little hands.


Garden PondGarden

We ended the tour in their garden. At this stage the family shared their worries about the safety of the garden and how sad it is that they can’t let their little boy play outside without constant concern for his wellbeing. The pond, which the child had already fallen into twice, was still a potential risk. The pond itself had not been used for quite some time and Justin strongly advised that it could be removed as it remained a danger for the little boy. The other option would be to fit a pond mesh, grille or grid. Aside from the pond, there were large tools and gas canisters outside, which Justin said ought to be locked up carefully in the shed.


Real estateSo, from my visit I could see first hand the importance of LifeForce – its use in giving practical advice and resources to families that need it. After all, who wouldn’t want to keep their children safe? Who wouldn’t want to prevent a nasty injury or worse to their loved ones in their own home? As I walked away it left me thinking, I hope the family take on board some of Justin’s advice as it would be tragic for anything to happen to them. I also realised that I really need to get home and make some serious safety changes myself!

Tess Bowen, campaigns and fundraising assistant

4 August, 2015

RoSPA at The Royal Welsh Show

RoSPA House was an interesting sight at 5:30am on a Tuesday. We were at work at that unearthly hour because five staff had a journey to Powys to complete, so we could take part in this year’s Royal Welsh Show.

RoSPA stand at the Royal Welsh Show

RoSPA stand at the Royal Welsh Show

We were invited by Wales YFC, who have chosen us as their charity of the year. Safety is very important to their chairman Iwan and sadly Wales YFC has lost a number of young members in road accidents.

None of us had attended an agricultural show before, so you can imagine our delight when we were entertained by sheep shearing, herding and stock judging competitions (not to mention the interesting aromas coming from the food tent!).

At the show we provided advice and resources for young people and their parents;

Wales YFC members helping to judge one of the day's competitions

Wales YFC members helping to judge one of the day’s competitions

including leaflets, freebies, 50 free young driver profilers and a fun safety quiz with a Kindle prize! We also handed out luminous snap bands, which were extremely popular with passing children.

It was great to run a stall in the YFC area; we were able to witness how brilliant its

young members are. There were dozens of them wearing white coats and judging several of the competitions.

Wales YFC chairman Iwan

Wales YFC chairman Iwan

Members were also taking part in dancing and talent competitions or competing in different challenges. They were all working hard on something be it making milkshakes, teas and biscuits or providing information at stalls.

They were very welcoming and we thoroughly enjoyed the day. We would definitely return next year, perhaps we’ll bring some paper weights as it was extremely windy!

Tess Bowen

Tess Bowen

These young people were inspiring and we are proud to be their chosen charity. We

look forward to our continuing work with them to save lives and reduce accidents!

Tess Bowen, campaigns and fundraising assistant

28 April, 2015

April 28…a day like any other?

What is so important about April 28th? It’s the 118th day of the year or the 119th in any leap year. It also means there are only 247 days of 2015 remaining!

But it’s not a day like any other…over the decades significant numbers of people across the world have been killed, injured, disabled or made ill as a consequence of working for a living.

The 28th of April provides a single focus each year for those of us who can make a difference to reflect on the staggering number of people who are affected, not only those directly involved but their families and the impact that each accident or case of occupational disease has on the wider community.

The world of work has changed dramatically for some but not all of us. On  April 28, 1869 it is recorded that laborers for the Central Pacific Railroad working on the First Transcontinental Railroad laid 10 miles of track in one day, a feat which has never been matched.

I could find no detailed record of the impact that this “feat” had on the workers themselves, however with labor-saving devices in those days consisting primarily of wheelbarrows, horse or mule drawn carts, and a few railroad pulled gondolas. The impact of this immense amount of manual labor will undoubtably have taken its toll.

On  April 28, 1914 and 1924 mining disasters in Eccles and Benwood West Virginia claimed the lives of 300 miners.

There were no survivors in the Benwood Mining Disaster, caused by the ignition of methane gas and coal dust, the names of the 119 killed, remain a sombre reminder of the event.

On  April 28, 1986, high levels of radiation resulting from the Chernobyl disaster were detected at a nuclear power plant in Sweden, leading Soviet authorities to publicly announce the accident…the result of a flawed reactor design operated by inadequately trained personnel.

On  April 28, 2014, an HSE Press Release recorded the life-changing injuries suffered by Kevin Lowe, 48,

as a result of an incident at Tangerine Confectionery Ltd in Blackpool on  September 19, 2012, he is now only able to walk short distances with the use of a stick.

It goes without saying that the impact of each and every instance of harm as a consequence of working

Karen McDonnell

Karen McDonnell

for a living is significant to the sufferer.

The 28th of April encourages us all to stop and think about what has gone before, what lessons can be learned, how things can be done differently and what needs to change to tackle emerging health and safety issues within the world of work.

If like myself you have no direct experience (thankfully) of dealing with the outcomes of a work related accident or ill-health caused by work, take a few moments to reflect on the list of names linked to the Benwood Mining Disaster, or visit RoSPA’s Workers Memorial day web page.

Karen McDonnell, RoSPA’s occupational safety and health policy adviser

23 March, 2015

RoSPA taking on the Wolf Run for LifeForce

The daring members of RoSPA's Wolf Run team

The daring members of RoSPA’s Wolf Run team

On June 13th, 15 fearless RoSPA employees will be running, climbing, swimming, wading  and crawling around 10 kilometres of Leicestershire countryside, as they take part in a Wolf Run. The aim is to raise lots of money for RoSPA LifeForce and to increase awareness of the work we do. 

Simon Day, assistant product manager and one of the 15 brave souls, blogs about the start of his journey to the Wolf Run, to explain a bit about the event, as well as providing a few tips on how to run safely in all conditions…

Challenge YOURSELF!

First things first, I’m not looking for sympathy. We’re not attempting to scale a mountain, or to swim the Channel or to do one of those extreme challenges that the likes of Walliams and Izzard seem to specialise in. We’re just going to complete 10km around a very muddy obstacle course. It’s something that thousands of other people do and it’s something that many more would scoff at. Indeed, some of the other members of the “RoSPA 15” are regarding the event as little more than a stroll in the park. “10km? That’s nothing, I run that most days.”

Nonetheless, 10km of mud represents a decent-sized challenge for me. I’m not completely unfit, a few years ago I considered myself to be extremely fit. I played cricket, football and badminton, I was a regular at the gym and I was even a qualified cricket coach. But I got older, lazier and became unfit.  In fact, until this recent episode began I hadn’t broken into a trot for about 18 months.  I’m also a bit of a coward…so I definitely do not want to get hurt or injured.

Get prepared and have the right tools for the job

When the idea of the Wolfrun was mooted, I didn’t exactly jump at the chance to put my name down. But for some strange, inexplicable reason I decided to say “yes”. I’d love to come up with something more cathartic here, but I’d be lying, I just said “yes” without really thinking about it!

I paid my fee…and then gave some thought to exactly how I was going to build up my fitness in three short months! Luckily, the modern world makes life easier and I soon stumbled upon an excellent app that aimed to take me from couch to 10km in 12 weeks. There are three runs per week, with the length and intensity increasing week by week.

Of course, I needed some kit first – after much scrambling around spare room drawers I found a Portugal World Cup 2002 shirt that just about fitted and didn’t appear to have any holes in it.  It did however lack a key component for running around the English countryside…it wasn’t waterproof! A visit to the murky depths of my golf bag soon rectified the situation – a lightweight, breathable waterproof jacket may sound like something from Alan Partridge’s sports casual range, but for cross country running it’s perfect.

shoe printNow it was time to find some trainers, I unearthed a pair that were emitting a stench that told a story of neglect. But I didn’t care, I’d be running through mud so aesthetics and aroma were hardly key considerations. What was important was that they were comfortable and provided support for my ankles.

Make sure your training matches your challenge

Then came the running bit. My years of playing sport had taught me the importance of warming up before exercise. So some stretching exercises were followed by a brisk five minute walk to loosen the muscles. While I’m on the subject, it’s also vital to warm down after exercising. It’s tempting to just collapse in a heap after running, but a few minutes of walking and stretching will help prevent injuries.

I decided that road running wouldn’t cut it, I needed to go cross country in order to better prepare. Luckily, I live in a pretty remote spot, but one that I know well. here are plenty of ignored footpaths and bridleways within easy reach of my front door. What’s more, most of them involve steep inclines and uneven ground. Perfect! I had a clearly defined route planned and was going to stick to it.

My app is a combination of running and brisk walking for half an hour. Easy in theory, but in practice it meant I was breaking into runs during very steep muddy climbs. There’s also the problem of uneven ground. Run on a street and you know that the surface will be solid. Run on mud and every step is a gamble. Sometimes you land hard, sometimes you squelch and sometimes your foot moves at a funny angle. That’s why it’s important to run during daylight hours. Seeing where you’re going is imperative – I encountered a number of stray branches that would currently be protruding from my eye socket had I attempted the run during darkness. Regardless of light, I was finding it difficult to differentiate between mud and horse manure during certain sections of the run. A post-run inspection of my trainers revealed that my differentiating skills weren’t the best.

Simon Day, RoSPA assistant product manager

Simon Day, RoSPA assistant product manager

Nevertheless, I completed runs one and two and felt surprisingly fine. On run three it rained hard. By hard, I mean really hard;

the sky was reminiscent of the end of Ghostbusters and to make matters worse, I discovered a fresh problem. Namely that wet Portugal World Cup 2002 shirts lead to severe nipple itching! Now, the sight of a soaking wet, panting man, scratching his own nipples may be appealing to some, but when you’re the man in question it’s a particularly miserable experience.

But once again, I completed the circuit. And you know what; I do feel slightly better about the whole thing. I know I can run, and I have a clearer idea of what some of the challenges will be. I’m still dreading the actual run, but I’m happy that I’m on the right track.

You can donate by visiting our Just Giving page HERE

5 March, 2015

Cycling to work: thoughts from our man on two wheels

As part of RoSPA’s Family Safety Week, Matt Cryer, our awards and events development manager, blogs on his reflections as a part-time cycle-commuter in Birmingham. The views contained are Matt’s own.

I live five miles from RoSPA’s head office. I cycle in around three days a week, using a combination of roads and traffic-free cycle paths, depending on the time of year. Here are my top tips and observations about how to safely enjoy riding to work.

Bike white wall 2Know your bike, kit and route

First and foremost, get to know your bike, and make sure it’s well maintained. This not only makes your bike safer, but also quieter and easier to ride. I’ve not always been great at this – noisy gears or squeaky brakes don’t inspire confidence and can hamper your enjoyment of riding to work.

Before heading out, I always give my bike a visual check (see the M-check safety video for how to quickly carry this out), and make sure my tyres are correctly inflated, as under-inflation makes them more prone to puncture from on-road debris. Finally, I check that my lights are working, and that I have a spare set of batteries. I also choose to wear a helmet and a high-visibility reflective jacket to improve my visibility to other road users.

Before you head out, choose a route you are comfortable with. You can often avoid heavy traffic and tricky junctions without making your commute much longer. For example, during the darker winter months, I tend to commute primarily on the road, but in the lighter months, I have the alternative of combining this with unlit cycle paths, which reduces risk by letting me cycle away from other traffic.

Build your Confidence

It’s easy to feel vulnerable on city roads and to want to hug the gutter to stay away from traffic. However, this isn’t the safest place. Gutter debris, painted lines and drain covers all make this a risky position to take on the road – particularly when it’s wet. On roads with parked vehicles, you’re also putting yourself in the “door zone”, at risk of colliding with opening vehicle doors.

I found reading up on road positioning to be really helpful. Learning about the primary (centre of traffic lane) and secondary (approx 0.5m-1m from kerb) positions and when to use them will transform the way you ride. Good positioning, clear hand signals and regular looks over your shoulder will help make traffic aware of your direction and intentions, and much less likely to squeeze you with an overtake where there’s not really enough room.

Bounce back

Vehicles will occasionally squeeze you with an overtake where there’s not really enough room. Not everyone makes good decisions, but don’t let it knock your confidence, or make you unreasonably angry, as both these states of mind affect your own judgement and concentration as you continue to ride. Just carry on riding positively and positioning your bike carefully – or take time out to calm down.

Don’t get too confident

Having been a cycle commuter for some time, I often feel my biggest risk is over-confidence. I enjoy riding in traffic, and making faster progress than other vehicles can definitely give you a buzz. But it’s easy to want to make progress at all costs, which can sometimes go against good judgement.

Be particularly careful when moving past stationary traffic, which won’t always be looking out for you.

While it might feel safer, make sure you only ever filter on the left if there is no chance that the traffic will start flowing suddenly.

From experience, drivers are less likely to check their left-hand mirror in heavy traffic and you don’t want to be caught on the inside of a long vehicle if it starts moving – particularly if it chooses to turn left. This is one of the most common causes of fatal cycling accidents, due to vehicle blind-spots.

Matt cycle gear 2

Matt Cryer, RoSPA’s awards and events development manager, in his cycling gear.

In stationary traffic, also be extra aware of pedestrians, who may register that vehicle traffic has stopped and step into the road without looking out for cyclists. This one nearly caught me out just last week. I avoided the pedestrian, but ended up in an undignified heap on the floor.

Most of all, enjoy it!

With careful maintenance, thought-out road positioning and confidence, I find cycling to work extremely enjoyable and great for keeping fit.

Be sure to check out the Family Safety Week website for more advice on cycle safety for you and your family.

21 January, 2015

Make sure your sledging trip doesn’t end in A&E

David Walker, RoSPA’s leisure safety manager, writes on how to make the annual winter favourite safer for families to enjoy.

This month’s snow flurries have inevitably led to people dusting off their sledges, or creating makeshift ones, and getting out onto previously-grassy slopes. It’s a time-honoured tradition that allows the Great British public to enjoy the winter weather to the fullest – and compared to other winter-related incidents, it has a small accident rate.

RoSPA Copyright SledgersBut as with any activity, the increase in participants leads to an increase in the number of accidents, with those causing fatal or serious injuries tending to be those where the rider crashes into an object, or is hurt by their makeshift sled.

But this should not put off any would-be sledgers. The risk is obviously inherent, but no more so than any other sporting or physical activity.

RoSPA encourages people of all ages to get out onto the slopes, but as with everything else there are ways to reduce the chances of ending up in accident and emergency.

The best advice we can offer is to take time to consider your choice of sledging location. It is obviously better if the snow is deeper, and the run should be clear of obstacles such as trees, fences and rocks.  It is also best to avoid sledging near to roads, pavements and bodies of water, regardless of whether it is frozen.

If you walk up the slope first you will be able to get a feel for how safe the run will be, giving yourself time to spot hazards, finding out how steep the slope is (as standing at the top can give a false impression of the gradient), and checking for the amount of stopping distance at the bottom.

If the slope is particularly busy, be considerate to others using it as clashes can result in some nasty injuries, and only go

sledging in the daytime.  It’s also best to go down feet first!

David Walker, RoSPA leisure safety manager

David Walker, RoSPA leisure safety manager

And finally, if you are planning on taking a homemade sledge, think about what could happen if you crash with it, such as “are there sharp edges?”

Sledging is a fun way to enjoy the cold weather, and with a few simple steps you can ensure it doesn’t end with a trip to A&E.


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