Archive for May, 2011

31 May, 2011

Winning Awards at the Home of Health and Safety

Safety & Health Expo

On May 17-19, the annual Safety and Health Expo took place at Birmingham’s NEC – and as usual, RoSPA was present with a superb stand (even if we do say so ourselves!). This year, our theme was, “RoSPA: The Home of Health and Safety”, and the stand was modelled on our new headquarters in Edgbaston, Birmingham.

As well as meeting, greeting and talking to the many people

RoSPA's Expo stand: the home of health and safety

who came by to say hello, we also hosted Stocksigns, our safety signs partner, and DBDA, the new home of RoSPA’s products.

Visitors to the stand were invited to enter a prize draw to win a place on the prestigious NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety, or an MORR Review for their organisation.

Additionally – and extremely successfully – we had a cyclone game on-stand. Participants had 30 seconds to catch as many red balls as they could and put them in a box, with the winner taking home an iPad2. Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? I have it on good authority that it was much more difficult than it looks or sounds!

Tom Mullarkey scrabbles around in our on-stand cyclone game

The winner put away 11 red balls – while RoSPA’s deputy chief executive Errol Taylor, and Andreas Nicoli, one of our stand hosts, managed to put away 13 red balls while squashed into the box together – but as it was a joint venture, they were jointly disqualified!

Tom Mullarkey, RoSPA’s chief executive, said: “RoSPA was once again proud to be a part of this year’s Safety and Health Expo success story. The RoSPA stand was a real triumph, with the cyclone game attracting a huge number of willing participants all keen to enter our competition.

“Expo is always a great opportunity to meet our colleagues and fellow professionals, and hear about the good work they’re doing on the ground. This year was no exception; we were able to meet and talk to a great many people – old friends and new. Our stand saw an excellent level of footfall, and we established plenty of new relationships with event-goers.

“The calibre of stands and exhibitions was extremely high, and everyone involved can be very proud of their contributions to an excellent event.”

As far as other stands went, the favourite of this intrepid Expo explorer was The Explosion Stand – otherwise known as Denios. They demonstrated what could happen when reactive substances come together in an unplanned manner – with extremely loud results. It was all great fun – and had a serious message at its heart, which was communicated to the audience impressively.

The explosions could be heard from the other end of the NEC – and the NEC is a BIG place!

The RoSPA Occupational Health and Safety Awards

Every year, RoSPA seems to break records with its award entries. This fact flies in the face of what the popular media would have you believe – that “elf ‘n’ safety” is nothing more than a bothersome irritant, something to be given lip service and complained about.

Guests enjoying Wednesday night's gala dinner

However, our awards ceremonies tell a different tale. More than 1,800 organisations entered this year’s awards; the majority of awards are non-competitive, and are a prestigious way of celebrating and publicising commitment to continuous improvement in accident and ill health prevention. RoSPA’s awards scheme encourages firms to adopt a sound health and safety culture from the top to the bottom of their organisation – and instil a sense of pride and enthusiasm.

At the gala dinners which took place each evening after the presentations, the major awards were announced – and the feeling of pride was palpable from the hundreds of dinner guests. It isn’t just a good night out on the company dime; winners genuinely look forward to these events, and see them as an opportunity to show off their skills, good reputation, and commitment to their workers. And, not only do our awards provide well-deserved recognition for the winners, but they also encourage other organisations to raise their standards of accident and ill health prevention. We look forward to seeing all our winners again next year!

Tom Stade: a funny man

After the evening meal, we were treated to entertainment by Canadian comedian Tom Stade, who has written for Tramadol Nights and appeared on One Night Stand, and Stand Up For The Week.

He was extremely funny, waxing lyrical on the joys of Primark, Argos’s ordering system, and the local meat seller from Wolverhampton – as well as handing out marriage guidance advice to all and sundry.

All in all, the three days of Expo and Awards went with a bang and a fanfare – a roaring success enjoyed by all.


Vicky Fraser – Press Officer/Web Editor for RoSPA


13 May, 2011

Road safety education – are we getting it right?

Professor Frank McKenna

In September 2010 Professor Frank McKenna wrote a “think piece” for the RAC on road safety education, called: Education in road safety: are we getting it right? I recently had the opportunity to discuss the issues raised by the paper with Professor McKenna.

Frank McKenna is well known to RoSPA – he is a member of the road safety committee and a regular speaker at RoSPA road safety congresses. He is also known professionally for his work on hazard perception, which led ultimately to the implementation of the hazard perception test as part of initial driver testing.

As a psychologist Frank began working on road safety almost 30 years ago. He recalls, with some irony, that his interest arose “by accident” when he was offered a job at the Applied Psychology Unit at the University of Cambridge, for which he had no previous experience. It seems that that lack of experience was the best possible start as he began his research with no prior assumptions about what individual factors influenced road accident involvement. A review of the literature at the time revealed a lack of evidence for what works in preventing road accidents and that interventions were based on “little more than superstition”.

Professor McKenna had two other advantages at this early stage in his career: regular contact with road safety practitioners to whom he is often asked to speak, and communication with victims and families of victims with whom he has often shared conference platforms.

“It is profoundly unnatural to outlive one’s own children, and yet this is what happens in families where a young person is killed in a road accident,” he said.

Throughout his career these two motivations – scientific curiosity and the desire to reduce road casualties, especially amongst the young – have sustained him and made him one of the most influential figures in road safety in the UK today.

The RAC “think piece” focuses on road safety education. Frank defines education as “the communication of knowledge from one to many” and distinguishes this from training, which is skills based. This distinction may seem odd to teachers of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) which aims to develop young people’s knowledge, skills and attitudes. Frank acknowledges this dilemma and suggests that educators need to be clearer about their aims and objectives when planning an intervention. This would make it much easier to establish if we are “getting it right”. He also stresses that much of what he says about road safety education applies to other health concerns such as drug education and to public health interventions in general.

So what are Frank’s key messages for road safety practitioners?

“First do no harm.”

This is an important ethical principle in medicine as well as public health, but also has practical and financial implications. We can’t afford to waste resources on interventions which do not work, or which may make matters worse, for example one which contributes to a misperception of the social norm. Interventions which highlight the frequency of unsafe driving by young people can lead to the perception that most young people drive recklessly, speed, drink and drive and do not wear their seat belts. A moment’s reflection will reveal that this is not the case.

Rather, Frank says, we should focus on the outcomes for victims and their families. Even a minor collision can have serious health and financial consequences which, if they could be prevented, would benefit individuals and society as a whole.

The next key message relates to planning interventions. It is not enough to want the world to be a safer place; we need to plan our interventions on the best possible evidence available. Currently that evidence is very sparse (across the whole of public health, not just road safety). In the absence of evidence we need to focus on theory; unfortunately, however, too few practitioners (e.g. road safety officers, fire and rescue officers, teachers) have the opportunity to study public health theory in any depth.

Most road safety practitioners are professionals in their own sphere: fire and rescue officers are experts in saving lives, and teachers are experts in their subject and in understanding how children learn at different ages and stages. However, Frank points out that “expertise does not generalise”. We can be experts in one area but well-meaning amateurs in another. However, it can be difficult to acknowledge this when we are fired up with emotion generated by the death of a young person in a road accident.

It is also important to recognise that power is not the same as expertise. Seniority, in an organisation or politically, does not automatically confer an understanding of how to prevent road injuries. Having an understanding of public health theory would help policy makers, funders, managers and practitioners plan more effective interventions.

This leads Frank to his next key message: we need to be clear about what we are trying to achieve. The overall goal of road casualty reduction may not be achievable through road safety education, so we should not claim that it is. Rather, we should focus education interventions on education outcomes.

While we may not have much evidence that road safety education works, this is not the same as saying that road safety education does not work. Theory suggests that under some circumstances road safety education can work, so we should be looking for interventions which have this potential and which describe their aims and objectives as clearly as possible.

In these times of austerity the next key message may be the most important – and the most difficult to communicate. We must evaluate what we do, to find out of it is effective – and of course we must learn from the evaluation which means publishing our findings as widely as possible, even if those reveal that we did not get it right. Frank admits that his own work has not always been rigorously evaluated, with the introduction of the hazard perception test being a good example.

When asked what would be needed to prove that the introduction of this test would help new drivers to be safe, his proposals were not followed up. “We need to change the culture so that interventions are properly planned and so that evaluation is included in that planning,” he said. Again, policy makers, funders and managers need to lead the way by expecting evaluation.

So what is the answer to the big question: can road safety education work? Here Professor McKenna is at his most hopeful. Road safety education can work in two possible ways:

  • Directly, from knowledge gain and/or attitude shift. This is theoretically possible but we don’t yet have good enough evidence to support this.
  • Indirectly, as a way of enabling other approaches, such as legislation or the use of engineering solutions. There may be better grounds for pursuing this approach; it is possible that this could have been the means by which education has contributed to the changes in our behaviour with respect to a wide range of health improvements in recent years (including reductions in smoking, increased use of seat belts and installation of smoke alarms). Perhaps the aim of road safety education should be to contribute to long term cultural change, rather than road casualty reduction.

What is clear is that we can’t go on as we are, relying on outdated beliefs, poorly articulated aims and objectives and overly ambitious outcomes. Frank McKenna’s paper should make us all stop and think – can we get it right?

Dr Jenny McWhirter

RoSPA’s Risk Education Adviser

Go to the RAC Foundation’s website for Professor McKenna’s paper.

3 May, 2011

Jenny Spink: an inspiration

Every now and then, you get to meet someone who really opens your eyes. Someone who makes you realise that, however bad life may look at times, things CAN get better – and those with the will to change their world can do so.

RoSPA takes work experience students from all walks of life, and they all have something special to offer. But Jenny made a real impression when I met her at the recent CSEC/LASER meeting. Despite her nerves (or mild terror, as I’m sure she would correct me) she gave a first-class presentation about her work with Fairbridge and the project she undertook while working with us at RoSPA.

I asked Jenny if she would write me a short article for the blog about her life, how Fairbridge helped her, and what she did while she was working with us. Here is part of her story:

My name is Jenny Marie Spink. I am 24 years old. I was born in Birmingham and I have now moved to West Brom.

I have been through a rough lifestyle with mental health issues and had no confidence or self motivation. I was then put into contact with Fairbridge by my CPN [community psychiatric nurse] in 2009. I wasn’t sure whether this would work for me as it involved mixing with groups my own age.

I was bullied at school and was afraid to face other people in case it happened again. I had developed a stammer aged 18 due to past experiences and I was scared that people would take the piss out of the way I spoke.

During my access course I felt safe because I was in a safe environment and with people with similar issues that I could relate to. I realised we were all in the same boat and made some good friends that I still speak to, to this day, even though they have now moved on from Fairbridge. The whole experience pushed me out of my comfort zone, doing things I’ve never done before like mountain climbing and rock climbing. At the end of my access course I felt that I had achieved something and faced my fear of meeting new people.

Through my time at Fairbridge I have built up confidence and self esteem. I also faced a fear of sailing on open water when I sailed on Spirit for six days. It was an amazing experience and a once in a lifetime opportunity. I have also had opportunities in training to be a youth worker, working with people from all backgrounds.

I was first introduced to an organisation called RoSPA when Fairbridge young people, including me, wanted to put on a talent show event and awards evening. We went to RoSPA to find out about risk assessments and how it takes place on venues.

The Youth Liaison Worker, Cassius, asked me about my interests and I told him that I was interested in sport and leisure. He said that he offers placements in the leisure department and asked if I wanted to do a work placement to gain more experience. I applied for the position mentioning that I had a particular interest in water safety due to an incident that happened when I was younger involving a friend who nearly drowned.

I had a formal interview for the placement and had to wear a suit. I didn’t sleep the night before as I was too nervous. I was interviewed by Cassius and Nathan, who was to be my direct line manager. I had to prepare and give a five-minute presentation on water safety. I was nervous as I had never had to do one before. It went really well and I got full marks for my presentation.

In October 2010, I completed a two week, full-time work placement at RoSPA researching child drowning abroad. I really enjoyed it, it was a great experience being back in a work environment and it made me more aware of how parents and young people are unaware of how many drownings occur. I was the first person in Europe to carry out this research. The research is now being used in schools making children aware of how to stay safe in and around water.

Now I have a different outlook on life and have pushed myself out of the world I was in when I thought life couldn’t go on anymore.

I am now currently a youth worker at Fairbridge and a volunteer at Safeside and I am hoping to become a full time, paid youth worker in the future.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for Fairbridge and the opportunities I have had to put my life back on track.

Jenny Spink

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