Posts tagged ‘accidents’

27 November, 2013

Bunk beds – are your children sleeping safely?

New arrivals in the family are a joy, but they soon need their own bed. Often this will mean smaller rooms being turned into bedrooms or siblings sharing a room.  In this edition of my blog, I will look at how parents can safely use bunk beds for their children to sleep in.

ClimbingIt is estimated that there are seven bed-related fatalities a year in the UK, along with 1,000 children injured after falling from beds.

Unsurprisingly, most accidents involving bunk beds occur when children are playing on them and so they should be discouraged from doing so.

At the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), we recommend that no child under the age of six sleeps in the top bunk.

In one study of accidents involving bunk beds, the age group found to be most at risk was between two and six years (which represented 57 per cent of the accidents studied).

Of the accidents, 40 per cent resulted from “children playing”, but entrapment leading to strangulation has also been recognised as a particular hazard and is dealt with by the safety laws.

We want families to keep bedtime safe and happy.

We want families to keep bedtime safe and happy.

In fact, the harmonised European standard for bunk beds requires that the manufacturer’s instructions provided with new bunk beds contains the phrase “be aware of the danger of young children (under six) falling from the upper bunk”.

Sadly, it is not just the top bunk that can be dangerous. Earlier this year an eight-month-old girl accidentally hanged herself when she became wedged between a mattress and ladder while wriggling in her bunk bed.

She had been sleeping in the bottom bunk for two months after a health visitor said she should be given her own room.

Her parents fitted a bed brace to ensure the baby didn’t fall out, but somehow she managed to wriggle between the bars of the ladder leading to the top bunk and got stuck against the mattress.

Our advice here at RoSPA is very clear – bunk beds are perfectly safe for kids as long as safety checks are in place.

Children under six should not be allowed on the top bunk, although they may seem safe and be responsible. It can only take one awkward fall to sustain an injury.iStock_000012073096Large

Parents should consider very carefully whether allowing a child younger than six to sleep on the bottom bunk is safe for them.  Babies should always have their own cots, and toddlers can get trapped, as we have seen, so please don’t think that just because your child is under six, they will automatically be safe on the bottom bunk.

Another thing to consider is a thinner mattress for the top bunk as a standard single mattress may be too thick and will allow the child to roll over the safety barrier.

Importantly, do not allow any type of cord, rope, belt, scarf or anything similar to be hung from the top bunk. Also, do not place bunk beds near windows which have cord operated blinds – it is safer not to have this type of window covering in a child’s bedroom. This is because children can be strangled quickly and quietly by looped blind cords, sometimes with parents or carers in close proximity, potentially unaware of what is happening.

red_houseI know only too well from my own children that youngsters love to play on bunk beds, but climbing and bouncing around on the top bunk should not be permitted.

Every part to a bunk bed is important, so when assembling bunk beds, ensure that all safety barriers are in place, especially if buying a second-hand one.

Finally, when booking your holidays, please check what the sleeping arrangements for your children will be.  RoSPA has received reports in the past of holiday firms booking rooms for children under six with bunk beds.  My advice is to be very explicit at the point of booking whether or not bunk beds will be suitable for your children.

I hope this blog has been of use to you, so sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite!

Philip le Shirley, product safety consultant at RoSPA.

28 October, 2013

Making waves for RoSPA

Ten thousand people squeezed themselves into wetsuits to take part in the Great North Swim in beautiful Windermere recently – and I am proud to say that I was one of them.

SueMullarkey_fundraisingOpen water swimming events are becoming increasingly popular and this one is part of a series of five Great Swims held up and down the country from London’s Docklands to Loch Lomond. The participants range from elite open-water swimmers to complete novices (like me), many of whom take on the challenge of swimming a mile to raise money for their favourite charity.

When James, my brother-in-law and a seasoned triathlete, asked last Christmas if he could stay with us in the Lake District so he could do the Windermere swim, it got me thinking that I should enter too.  I have always enjoyed swimming, both in the pool and on those rare sunny days in Cumbria from the back of our sailing boat in Derwentwater. And one mile really didn’t sound that far.  A couple of sessions a week at the local leisure centre and I was soon able to crack the requisite number of lengths – 64.  But swimming any distance in a pool is, of course, very much easier than doing it in open water.

Whilst I was honing my front crawl, RoSPA had just started to carry out sponsored fundraising for the first time and so I was persuaded to become a guinea pig fundraiser.  As a mum, I have been shocked to learn that accidental death and injury is the biggest threat to children – far more than disease – and yet just about everybody is unaware of this.  Simple programmes can really help to educate parents on how to keep their kids safe and RoSPA does this, campaigning on a wide range of issues to change people’s perceptions.  Most people are happy to give to a charity which supports some quite obscure or rare disease but perhaps don’t know much about this more urgent way to use their donation.  So I was keen to do my bit to help get RoSPA noticed.

As sponsor money began to roll in from generous friends, family and supporters, the arrival of a slinky new wetsuit just a couple of weeks before the swim added another dimension to my training.  I tried it out in chilly Derwentwater and, although it kept me warmish, it felt tight and restrictive and made me so overly buoyant that I had to completely adjust my technique.  A mile was beginning to seem like a long way.

"As a mum, I have been shocked to learn that accidental death and injury is the biggest threat to children – far more than disease – and yet just about everybody is unaware of this." - Sue Mullarkey

“As a mum, I have been shocked to learn that accidental death and injury is the biggest threat to children – far more than disease – and yet just about everybody is unaware of this.” – Sue Mullarkey

The day of the swim was cool and breezy and, arriving at the lakeshore already a bundle of nerves, I was terrified to see how grey and choppy Windermere looked.  I’d fretted about water temperature, uncomfortable wetsuits, leaky goggles, getting kicked in the face by another swimmer (I could go on) but never even considered the possibility that the water might be rough. Neoprene-clad swimmers of all ages and shapes were limbering up or, if they had already completed the swim, posing for photos with their medals – and everyone was talking about how choppy the water was.  But if they could do it, I could too – besides I couldn’t let down all those people who were so generously supporting me and RoSPA.

Great North Swim participants are divided into ‘waves’ which start at half-hourly intervals over the weekend and each involve up to 300 people in colour-coded swimming hats.  James and I were sporting natty pink caps and, after taking part in the mass warm-up session, it was time for our wave to take to the water. The start was a melee of thrashing legs and arms, but heeding James’ advice and staying near the back of the pack I managed to avoid being kicked or swum over by the keen guys. If the water was cold, I really didn’t notice it – choppiness was the major problem.  It was impossible to get into a rhythm because every breath involved an unwelcome gulp of lake-water.  I soon abandoned my hard-practiced front crawl for a more defensive breaststroke/doggy paddle.  Progress was very slow.  But after 57 exhausting minutes, I had done a final flourish of crawl past the finish and was back on dry land – wobbly-legged but elated.  No matter that the fastest (elite) lady took just 19 minutes!

It was a great challenge, wonderful to have been able to raise over £1,000 for RoSPA and, what’s more, I am already training for next year.

Sue Mullarkey

27 September, 2013

Got a place in the London Marathon? Here are six reasons to run for RoSPA!


We would love it if you helped to support RoSPA’s mission to “save lives and reduce injuries” by running for us!

By now, runners around the world are finding out whether or not they have won a place in next year’s London Marathon. If you’re one of these lucky people, and don’t yet have a cause, we would love it if you ran for RoSPA! Here are six reasons why:


  1. Kill 14,000 people each year across the UK
  2. Seriously injure more than 700,000 per year in England alone
  3. Are the major cause of death up to the age of 39 and the leading cause of preventable, early death for most of our lives
  4. Are the main cause of death for children after infancy
  5. Are often violent and always untimely
  6. Destroy families and diminish communities.

Your support can save lives and prevent injuries. So why not give our fundraising team a call on 0121 248 2507 or email

23 August, 2013

Marathon man Michael is making big strides for safety

I remember the exact moment, nestled in an easy chair, dipping a custard cream into a cuppa, dreaming up ways of raising cash to tackle the UK’s biggest killer of young children…

RoSPA fundraising

Michael Corley, RoSPA’s head of campaigns and fundraising, prepares for his marathon challenge!

“I know, I’ll run a half-marathon”, I exclaimed, wiping the crumbs from my mouth. “After all, it’s only 13 and a bit miles, isn’t it?”

That was several months ago. Since then the tea and the biscuits have gone*, replaced by bottled water and fruit, the dreaming replaced with the waking realisation that 13 and a bit miles is a lot further than I’d thought**.

American author Mark Twain said the secret of getting ahead is getting started. Mercifully, the organisers of the BUPA Great Birmingham Run had made that bit simple for a flaky first-timer like me by providing a training schedule.

Printing it off and tacking it to the wall was the easy bit. Getting up at 7am on a Sunday and going out after a gruelling day at work is the not-so-easy bit.

With the main event on October 20, several more weeks of this self-inflicted punishment await me. But then when I’m wheezing through bronchial tubes and feeling twinges in my gammy knee something suddenly occurs to me: I’m doing this for a damn good reason.

If you haven’t already guessed (given the nature of this blog), the UK’s biggest killer of young children is…accidents.

Here’s another chilling thought. About 18,000 people will line up alongside me in the autumn. About the same number of people will be wiped out by an accident between the end of this year’s race and the start of next. And almost all of those deaths will be preventable…

I’m running to raise money for RoSPA – the UK’s biggest and best-known accident prevention charity. We conduct campaigns to protect people at every stage of their life. Our work is proven to be low cost and high impact and is welcomed by all those who benefit from it. You can find out more about our life-saving work by visiting our website.

To help, you can sponsor me – or join me. At the time of writing, places were still available for the Great Birmingham Run – and RoSPA would love to see other people pounding the streets on its behalf.

To support our charitable mission in other ways, please visit our fundraising webpage or email FUNDRAISING@RoSPA.COM. We’d love to hear from you.

Now, if you’ll forgive me, I have no time to lose – I must get back to my training *dips another biscuit into a big mug of coffee*.

Michael Corley, RoSPA’s head of campaigns and fundraising

*This is not strictly true. NB Some dramatic licence has been used in the making of this blog.

**This bit is true.

19 February, 2013

Getting to grips with an indoor mobility scooter – one man’s first-hand account

How many of you own a mobility scooter? RoSPA believes that outdoor mobility scooters fulfil a valuable and important function. However, as with all forms of transport, using mobility scooters create some risk, for both the users and for other people. We occasionally receive calls from people concerned about being nearly knocked down by mobility scooters in the street, and although these calls are relatively low in number, they do occur regularly.

mobility scooter injuries accidents

RoSPA believes that outdoor mobility scooters fulfil a valuable and important function. However, as with all forms of transport, using mobility scooters create some risk, for both the users and for other people.

There is little hard evidence about the extent of accidents and injuries involving outdoor mobility scooters, beyond occasional reports, and this makes it difficult to identify the most effective ways at preventing mobility scooter accidents. The Government recently committed to collecting more data and this is welcomed, as it will help to develop current initiatives to be more effective at preventing mobility scooter-related injuries and accidents.

We spoke to 87-year-old Dennis Brooks, who got in touch to share his experience of using indoor mobility scooters. This is his story:

“With the growing preponderance of elderly people in our population today, I would imagine statistics would show a matching increase in the number of accidents in the home.

Certainly I, an 87-year-old semi-invalid, now recognise the necessity for greater mental awareness in simple manoeuvres such as getting up from a chair, but many of us have also to consider various illnesses such as diabetes which can affect one’s balance or other abilities.

In recent years, this coming to terms with an ageing body has been accompanied with a desire to compensate: if I can’t move like I used to, let’s find some form of transport. And while we’re at it lets have some fun.

There are a wide range of scooters available today and the market is of course growing, especially in the second-hand section! I chose a lightweight model which enables me to get around the house as well as the garden and can be dismantled into four sections which can fit in the car boot. It cost £400 second-hand when new models were around £1,400. Today, I see it is available at £400 new. From the safety viewpoint, the first priority is to recognise that scooters, especially the lighter, nippier ones are more like a motorcycle to ride than a car: you have to be aware of your bodyweight, and there are no brakes, unless you have a class III which can be driven on the road under license, but those are not so suitable for home use.

Scooters are battery driven, and there is a very noticeable difference in handling them when the battery is freshly charged. The torque in the driving wheels can be quite surprising so that an unthinking driver might feel he’s had a good push in the back. This dissipates after a while, but it’s in a very dangerous state. More important I feel is the design of the forward/reverse controls. Looking along the handlebars from the side view of my scooter, these controls are around the ‘five o’clock’ position immediately in front of the user. When I want to reach a cupboard on the wall say, I sometimes stand up on the platform of my mobility scooter and l have been in a position many times when my clothing has touched the forward control. Yes, yes, of course. I should have switched off the controls, but as many people keep telling me: “You’re getting on a bit now, your memory’s going!” True. Which is why I feel the designers should take another look at this.”

Some guidance from our public health adviser Sheila Merrill:

It is important that professional advice is sought before buying any type of mobility scooter. If you intend to use an indoor mobility scooter, look around your home beforehand to make sure that you have the room to move around on it safely and that it will not be blocking any obvious escape routes. Walkways and main movement areas will need to be kept clear of clutter, it may also be best to remove rugs to allow for easier movement.

1 October, 2012

Disabled driver? Don’t sacrifice safety for independence

For many people, the worst thing about the idea of living with a disability is the perceived loss of independence, yet with advances in design and technology there are more disabled motorists on UK roads than ever. But are there additional risks for disabled drivers? What safety factors apply more to disabled drivers than their non-disabled counterparts?

Andrew Tipp, on behalf of Chartwell Insurance, offers some advice and tips on how to minimise the risk of accidents for disabled drivers.  

disabled driver car safety

“If you’ve developed a disability, tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and get yourself assessed by driving instructors. Whether it’s a stroke, epilepsy, or even a mental health disorder, any health problem that could affect your ability to drive is clearly dangerous” – Andrew Tipp.

The profile of disabled athletes in Britain at the moment has never been higher. This is obviously a good thing, but more importantly the Paralympics has started a national conversation over the visibility and contribution of disabled people to society.

Sport is clearly a powerful thing. It’s so powerful, in fact, it could be capable of redefining mainstream perceptions of what disabled individuals can do; whether that’s competing athletically, working autonomously or driving independently.

People with disabilities have, obviously, been able to do these things for many years, and the motor industry is well set up with assessments, learner courses and specialist car insurance for disabled drivers. But the success of the Paralympics will surely raise awareness among both recently disabled and non-disabled people of driving accessibility. Being disabled does not mean that you cannot drive and it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t drive – according to The Guardian, up to 10 per cent of the country’s 35million driving-licence holders are estimated to be disabled, including 2.3million Blue Badge holders.

But while many disabled drivers have a very clear line dividing the able-bodied and disabled stages of their life; this isn’t the case for everyone. Some people’s disability develops over time, so it’s important that if you’re suffering from a medical condition or impairment that you don’t simply ignore it. It sounds obvious, yet people do it every day. They’re afraid of losing their independence and try to carry on as normal, which puts lives in danger.

If you’ve developed a disability, tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and get yourself assessed by driving instructors. Whether it’s a stroke, epilepsy, a physical problem, a visual issue or even a mental health disorder, any health problem that could affect your ability to drive is clearly dangerous. Remember: disability is not necessarily the end of independence and you might still be able to continue driving; you simply need to find out what your requirements are, and adjust the car accordingly.

After being assessed and re-learning how to drive, including adjusting for your ability level, it is vital that your vehicle is customised to make it as usable as possible. The adjustments you make will, of course, depend on your specific requirements. There is no one-size-fits-all. There can be major amendments such as wheelchair hoists, ramps and tail lifts, or less visible adjustments like hand controls, automatic transmission, steering wheel knobs, adapted mirrors and rotating seats. These modifications can cost serious money, but are imperative to enable you to drive easily and safely.

The great news is that there’s evidence to support the idea that disabled drivers are no less safe behind the wheel than their non-disabled counterparts. In fact, there have been credible suggestions that deaf drivers, for example, are safer as they tend to be more visually alert and adopt a more conservative driving style. The same is true of mobility-impaired drivers, who are more alert to hazards of poor roads. This is quite intuitive, when you think about it; if you’ve lost any senses or ability it’s logical that you’d try and “compensate” by making maximum use of what senses you do have. Modern engineering designs and technology simply build upon this foundation.

However, while impressive customisations to allow for disabled drivers are a huge step forward, in recent years there have been concerns about basic safety issues for disabled drivers. The New York Times has reported that the mobility industry is promoting quality standards after years of improvements, but that safety standards for disabled drivers have lagged behind. The paper has highlighted that the same tests and regulations that apply to standard car usage have not necessarily been applied to disability modifications, such as the performance of chair lifts in an accident, and the result of air bag deployment on heavily modified steering wheels.

This isn’t a reason to panic. It just means that to achieve the necessary safety levels, disabled drivers need to ensure they cover some bases for their car. For a start, make sure you go to the right person. Find a seller that’s clued up on basic engineering and knows the consequences of modifications for safety and durability.

Ask the car dealer about the safety standards of the vehicle; has the safety of the car been compromised in any way? Has anything been sacrificed for usability? Be sure you cover any safety exemptions. This experience is not just about buying a piece of equipment. It’s not just about a car. This is about your life. Don’t avoid asking important questions because it feels awkward or confrontational.

Don’t be afraid to get into crash test records with a car seller. They’re selling a specialised type of vehicle, so they should be prepared for specialised questions. If you are mobility-impaired, ask about the systems that secure wheelchairs, ramps and lifts in the car. And what about the components mounted on the steering wheel, column and dashboard? How safe is the airbag? Has it been designed allowing for the disability adjustments?

The main difference between disabled and non-disabled drivers on safety – especially regarding drivers adjusting to their personal level of disability – is the acceptance of disability and the planning for it when it comes to driving. As responsible drivers, it’s important for all of us to contact our doctor and notify the DVLA as soon as we develop a physical or mental condition that will affect our driving. You might not need any tangible changes to your actual vehicle, but if you do, make sure you approach the buying and driving of your car with safety as your primary concern. Don’t take risks to be more independent. It’s just not worth it.

Andrew Tipp on behalf of Chartwell Insurance

27 September, 2012

Make the most of your RoSPA Award

RoSPA Awards WreathThe RoSPA Occupational Health & Safety Awards are one of the most prestigious safety awards schemes in the industry and are judged by some of the industry’s most influential experts ranging from IOSH, NEBOSH, various trade unions, Cadbury, The Skills Funding Agency and of course RoSPA itself, to name but a few.  Sponsored by one of the biggest names in safety, NEBOSH, receiving an award from us is no easy task, so it’s important that no opportunity is wasted to gain the all important return on the time and money invested in securing your award. To help, RoSPA’s Head of Marketing, Sue Brookes, has put together the following advice, outlining some of the opportunities winning a RoSPA Award can bring and how to make the most them.

First you must decide what your key objectives for entering the RoSPA Awards are. Organisations enter for many different reasons, including:

  • Benchmarking different areas/sites/divisions of their business
  • Raising awareness of health and safety throughout their organisation
  • Gaining a competitive edge
  • Rewarding staff efforts
  • Highlighting successful projects for future tenders
  • Marketing and PR opportunities
  • Gaining an overall perspective of safety maturity within their organisation and where improvements need to be made

Once you’ve decided, you can start to consider how to maximise your chances of success and how to plan to make the most of the opportunities winning an Award can present.

Get everyone on board!

Often it’s only the senior management and health and safety teams who are aware that an organisation is taking part in the safety awards scheme. It’s very important (especially if your objective is to raise the profile of safety across your organisation) to tell every employee what you are doing and get them involved from the start. Let them know your objectives, what you expect to receive and how they can help.

Competition is a good thing!

If you’re aiming to benchmark different areas of your business or different sites, don’t forget to inform all of the staff in each area that this is your intention. You could build up a little competition between them with incentives, or even hold your own awards day for the whole company to get them to understand the importance of safety, which in turn could instil a real sense of worker involvement.

Be transparent!

Even if you don’t get the level of award you’d expected, don’t see this as a negative. The comprehensive submission and judging process means winning any level of RoSPA Award is a real achievement and a fantastic PR opportunity. Be totally open by telling everyone where your weaknesses lie and put an action plan together on how you will deal with them. Let everyone know what your objectives are for the following year and as long as you ensure they’re met, this will give you further press opportunities year on year!

Shout about itDon’t wait to shout about it

PR opportunities should not be left until you have received the award. Tell all your customers and potential customers that you intend entering the Awards and your reasons for doing so. Write tailored press releases for each of your target markets, tweet about it, post it on Facebook, include it in your regular newsletter – using social media for publicity is a cheap and effective way of sharing your message.

Now you’re a winner

Once you have received your Award, use every avenue possible to inform your employees, customers and suppliers of your fantastic result, including:

  • Creating a webpage dedicated to your organisation’s commitment to safety and:
    • Display the Award Winners’ logo and any other logos you have e.g. RoSPA Member logo, professional institute membership logos etc.
    • Include photographs from the Awards ceremony and presentation day
    • Upload press releases about your Award achievement and link to any external websites which have picked up on your success
    • List your health and safety teams’ achievements e.g. training, qualifications etc
    • Add details of health and safety projects you are undertaking or have implemented in the past. Outline the difference it has made to your organisation’s health and safety management systems
    • Talk about any training programmes you have in place
  • Writing tailored press releases and sending them out to publications relevant to your target market.  Need help? Use the RoSPA PR template supplied to all Award winners to kick-start your PR campaign
  • Using all your social media channels, and remembering that Facebook and Twitter love images, so upload your official and unofficial photographs from the day and evening ceremonies
  • Use the official Twitter #RoSPAWinner every time you post about your success and benefit from being part of a lively Twitter community
  • Creating a blog post from your health and safety manager to outline ‘how success was achieved’
  • Including the Award Winners’ logo on printed and digital materials such as tenders, letterheads, catalogues, marketing emails, websites etc

Celebrate your success

Bring key clients or prospective clients to the prestigious gala dinner, so that they get first-hand experience of your organisation’s dedication to safety commitment and your resulting success. We’re sure they’ll be impressed with the fantastic night of fine dining and entertainment and will enjoy helping you celebrate your success.

Competetive advantage

Give your tenders the winning edge

You can enter your organisation as a whole into the awards scheme and/or a specific project you have been working on. Success in either case could give your tenders a winning edge over your competitors, demonstrating your excellent safety performance. The value that award-winning safety assurances can offer to prospective clients shouldn’t be underestimated.

And finally, personal development

As the co-ordinator of the Award entry submission, your organisation’s success is also a key personal achievement.  Add it to your C.V and your LinkedIn profile – let being an Award winner have a positive effect on your career.

Don’t limit your Award winning celebrations. Make sure the world knows about your safety record, as it’s certainly something to shout about!

Sue Brookes, Head of Marketing, RoSPA 

20 September, 2012

RoSPA Occupational Health & Safety Awards – A business case

Aiming for high standards of health and safety is the right thing to do and is not just about legal compliance. Achieving and proving excellence in the way health and safety risks are managed has massive business benefits.

A strong health & safety culture, demonstrated by being a RoSPA Occupational Health & Safety Award Winner, pays for itself many times over in preventing injuries and lost staff time.  According to HSE Key Annual figures 2010/2011:

  • 1.2 million working people were suffering from a work related illness
  • 175 workers were killed at work
  • 115, 000 injuries were reported under RIDDOR
  • 200, 000 reportable injuries (over 3 day absence) occurred (LFS)
  • 26.4 million working days were lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury
  • Workplace injuries and ill health (excluding cancer) cost society an estimated £14 billion (in 2009/10)

These figures alone demonstrate how reducing the incidences of accidents at work can benefit organisations in the most crucial way – their finances!

Because health and safety goes to the heart of the way a business is run, an ambitious approach to reducing accidents and safeguarding health speaks volumes about an organisation’s ethos and professionalism. This overt socially responsible attitude will not only act as a motivator internally amongst employees, reassured that their well-being is of paramount interest, but can also serve to win new business and tenders over competitors. At a time when adding value is key to procurement decisions, Award Winner assurances can be the winning indicator to potential clients.

If further persuasion is needed on the business case for entering the RoSPA Occupational Health & Safety Awards, then the enhanced safety culture that will undoubtedly be a consequence of entering the awards and the reduction in costly damage and business interruptions also need to be taken into account. Uninsured losses very often outweigh the cost of insurance premiums massively.
Uninsured costs can include:

  • Lost time
  • Sick pay
  • Damage or loss of product and raw materials
  • Repairs to plant and equipment
  • Extra wages, overtime working and temporary labour
  • Production delays
  • Investigation time
  • Fines
  • Loss of contracts
  • Legal costs.

Accident and ill-health costs are like an iceberg: costs that are recoverable are visible but those that are unrecoverable are hidden below the waterline and are many times greater. In recession, when sales and turnover are flat, saving money by avoiding accidents and ill health related absence makes a massive contribution to defending the bottom line.

High achievement in the RoSPA Awards will not only act as an internal benchmark for year on year performance but will identify your organisation as a beacon of success to competitors and clients alike.

David Rawlins, RoSPA Awards Manager

Make the most of your RoSPA Award success –  find out how!

2 July, 2012

Safety behind the wheel: don’t let tiredness put a full stop to your festival fun!

The summer festival has drawn to a close and you and your friends have had a great time enjoying the live music and electric atmosphere. As the designated driver, you are responsible for ferrying your fellow festival-goers home…safely! But you’re feeling shattered, worn out from the festivities and not looking forward to the long drive ahead. What do you do?

Young people car festival tired teenagers

Driving when tired is not a smart move. Not only are you gambling with your life, but also the lives of your passengers and potentially other road users.

You may feel you can risk it and get behind the wheel anyway. This is a bad idea, not only are you gambling with your life, but also the lives of your passengers and potentially other road users. Driving when tired reduces your reaction time, which is a key element of safe driving, and with your friends in the car with you, there is bound to be plenty of chatter which will only serve to distract you further.

Driver fatigue is no laughing matter; it is a serious problem which results in thousands of road accidents each year. Research shows that driver fatigue may be a contributory factor in up to 20 per cent of road accidents, and up to one quarter of fatal and serious accidents*. These types of crashes are about 50 per cent more likely to result in death or serious injury as they tend to be high speed impacts. A driver who has fallen asleep cannot brake or swerve to avoid or reduce the impact.

The first thing that may cross your mind to help you stay awake is to reach for an emergency cup of coffee. Drinking at least 150mg of caffeine and taking a nap of around 15 minutes are the only measures that help to reduce sleepiness. But even these are temporary measures; sleepiness will return if the driver does not stop driving within a fairly short period of time. By planning ahead, particularly when driving on motorways, you can work in a series of breaks to give you time to pull over in a safe place and have a rest. A minimum break is recommended of at least 15 minutes after every two hours of driving. Remember not to stop on the hard shoulder of a motorway. Alternatively, plan in advance an overnight stop, as this will then give you the welcome option of driving for a few hours, with a break, to a hotel, for example, before waking up fresh to complete the journey the following day.

You may decide that the chances of you falling asleep at the wheel are slim, but can you afford to take the risk? Driving whilst tired makes you less vigilant and alert. It also affects your concentration levels and the quality of your decision-making.

Crashes caused by tired drivers are most likely to happen:

  • On long journeys on monotonous roads, such as motorways
  • Between 2am and 6am
  • Between 2pm and 4pm (especially after eating)
  • After having less sleep than normal
  • After drinking alcohol
  • After taking medicines that cause drowsiness
  • After long working hours or on journeys home after long shifts, especially night shifts.

Here are RoSPA’s top tips on how to avoid the risk of falling asleep at the wheel:

  • Plan your journey. Write out a route that you can read easily and/or programme the SatNav to its destination prior to setting off
  • Check your vehicle is in a safe condition before heading out on the road. Check the tyres, lights, windscreen wipers and all fluid levels
  • Decide in advance where to stop for regular rest breaks
  • Consider having an overnight break so that you don’t get too tired, but plan this in advance
  • If possible, share the driving with a second driver
  • Try not to drink the night before a long car journey. Alcohol stays in the body for several hours and will make you more sleepy
  • If you are taking any medication, check whether it causes drowsiness. If it does, ask your doctor or pharmacist for an alternative that does not cause drowsiness.

Next time you are faced with the daunting task of driving home after a festival, take time out to make sure you are fully awake and prepared – try not to give into peer pressure if you are not feeling your best. One moment’s lapse in concentration while out on the roads could be your last, but by making changes to your driving behaviour the risk of an accident can be reduced.

For more information on road safety, visit

For other festival-related safety advice, visit

*Figures quoted by the Sleep Research Laboratory at Loughborough University (“Sleep Related Vehicle Accidents”, Jim Horne and Louise Reyner, 2000) and the Department for Transport’s Road Safety Research Report No. 52, October 2004 (“Sleep-Related Crashes on Sections of Different Road Types in the UK, 1995-2001).

Kevin Clinton, RoSPA’s head of road safety

1 May, 2012

A sense of proportion – exposing the myths

The endless drip, drip of silly stories about “elf ‘n’ safety”, particularly in the tabloid newspapers, is a problem that just does not seem to go away. Not only does it lend support to the general idea that efforts to prevent accidents have gone too far (when accidents are actually going up in areas like the home) but it gives legitimate safety a bad name.

"elf 'n' safety" banning conkers

Children being banned from playing conkers unless they are wearing goggles is just one of the many myths that have been highlighted as an example of health and safety misuse.

Too often the stories, most of which relate to safety rather than health (I wish people would not use these terms together unless they are actually talking about both), are about some quite trivial risk. Many are apocryphal and others turn out on closer investigation to be not quite as reported. Often it turns out that “elf ‘n’ safety” is being used as a convenient excuse to stop something quite innocent happening when other reasons cannot be found.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has continued to call for everyone to adopt a balanced approach to safety.  We stress that safety is not an absolute; it’s all about using good judgement. Our guiding mantra is that “life should be as safe as necessary, not necessarily as safe as possible”.

If a safety requirement looks daft and over-the-top, it probably is. But if there is a risk, even a small one, the basic challenge should be to find a consensus between what would be too much safety at one extreme and at the other what would be too little. Consensus about where these two points lie often enables both those who create such risks and those who are exposed to them to find the middle way.

In our recent submissions to Government reviews of health and safety by Lord Young and latterly by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt, we have called on everyone to have the right to challenge safety or health restrictions which they feel are unreasonable. The Government has given the right to citizens to challenge local authorities which restrict public events unnecessarily. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has set up a Regulatory Challenge Panel (RCP) to enable people to take issue with HSE advice which they think is either excessive or inadequate. And more recently the HSE has set up a Myth Busters Challenge Panel(MBCP) to enable organisations or members of the public to seek independent review of safety decisions by non-regulators which they consider are excessive or totally inappropriate. It will be serviced by the HSE and will draw on a pool of experienced professionals. HSE board chair Judith Hackitt will chair the panel and HSE board member Robin Dahlberg will be vice-chair.

Myth Busters Challenge Panel HSE

The HSE's new Myth Busters Challenge Panel has been given the thumbs up from RoSPA. Its aim is to enable organisations or members of the public to seek independent review of safety decisions by non-regulators which they consider are excessive or totally inappropriate.

The new panel has RoSPA’s full support, but it is still “early days”. How often the panel will be called upon to give rulings and on what sorts of issues is not yet clear. It could be argued that it might have been better if this new body had been set up entirely outside the HSE, in order to be seen as completely independent.

In our evidence to Löfstedt, we argued that any safety decision maker, not just the HSE, but any local authority, insurance company, client or even an event organiser, for example, should, where appropriate, have their own such panels or at least be prepared to explain the basis of their decisions if asked to do so.

A recent press release issued by the HSE about the MBCP states: “The panel will look into complaints regarding the advice given by non-regulators such as insurance companies, health and safety consultants and employers and, quickly assess if a sensible and proportionate decision has been made. They want to make it clear that ‘health and safety’ is about managing real risks properly, not being risk averse and stopping people getting on with their lives.”

If it is true that there really is a massive amount of risk averse behaviour out there (although no one has actually tried to measure this) then there is a danger that the panel will be flooded with requests for rulings. To avoid this we have argued that, like the RCP, they should ask complainants to first raise their concerns with the primary decision maker. That way the mere existence of the panel may bring some pressure to bear on hopelessly risk averse people and organisations who insist on precautions being taken to deal with trivial risks.

The difference between the MBCP and the RCP is that the latter will consider complaints about specific advice given by a health and safety regulator such as HSE or a local authority. Complainants are asked to try to challenge that advice locally before approaching the panel, just as they would under existing HSE and local authority complaints procedures. The MBCP on the other hand will be more flexible.

Interestingly, the proforma on the HSE website for making a challenge does indeed ask for complainants to state if they have made contact with the originator of the decision or advice, and what the outcome was. However the cases that are likely to come to this panel will often be where the issue is not as clear cut and where the name of health and safety is being misused. It may, of course, on occasions prove difficult for those doing the background work to track down exactly what has been said and in such cases, the panel will probably just have to pass their opinion on the facts of the case as known to them. They are also likely to consider cases that are received through press stories and correspondence coming into the HSE, but it will be important nevertheless for sufficient investigation to take place to establish the facts about these cases rather than just accepting press reports at face value.

A press release from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announcing the MBCP, listed the HSE’s top 10 silly stories:

  • Children being banned from playing conkers unless they are wearing goggles
  • Office workers being banned from putting up Christmas decorations
  • Trapeze artists being ordered to wear hard hats
  • Pin the tail on the donkey games being deemed a health and safety risk
  • Candy floss on a stick being banned in case people trip and impale themselves
  • Hanging baskets being banned in case people bump their heads on them
  • Schoolchildren being ordered to wear clip on ties in case they are choked by traditional neckwear
  • Park benches must be replaced because they are three inches too low
  • Flip flops being banned from the workplace
  • Graduates ordered not to throw their mortar boards in the air.

    The Department for Work and Pensions health and safety myths

    The DWP has listed the HSE's top silly health and safety myths. Graduates being ordered not to throw their mortar boards in the air in order to avoid risk of injury, is among them.

How this list was arrived at would be interesting to know as well as how many of these cases ever had any basis in fact. Perhaps as their first exercise the panel should say which of these stupidities were ever actually imposed, when and by whom and which are, as the title of the new body says, purely urban myths. Many, like the wearing of goggles to play conkers, never actually happened as reported but have taken on a viral life of their own, for example, as a result of being repeated uncritically by the popular press many times over.  

In contrast to ruling on these sorts of totally over-the–top cases, what is likely to be far more challenging for the panel will be addressing allegedly excessive requirements imposed by ‘semi regulators’ (insurers, clients, assurance bodies etc) to deal with small but nevertheless significant risks.

In the occupational safety setting there seem to be many examples of where clients and others demand more than one belt as well as several braces to deal with problems that can be solved by simple measures. Too many, for example, demand endless repetition of the same safety training when there is no obvious need or proven benefit. And then there are firms, for example, that insist on all staff, contractors and visitors holding the handrail at all times when walking up and down stairs at their premises. Holding the handrail is good practice to help prevent falls, but is not always absolutely essential and it is certainly not a statutory requirement, although what bearing not holding the handrail might have in any civil proceedings for damages for an injury sustained on stairs is hard to say. How will the panel judge between what is good practice from a civil litigation standpoint compared with minimum action needed to comply with statute?

Some of these sorts of issues at the margin between regulatory requirements and good (or best) practice may prove quite tricky and the devil is often in the detail. The MBCP might choose to be quite selective in deciding what sorts of things it rules on. It’ll be a case of suck it and see.

More generally though, the new challenge panel needs to be seen as only a small part of a whole series of steps required to create a more risk intelligent society, as advocated strongly in the Löfstedt review.

A sense of proportionality is key, especially when it comes to tackling the problem of excessive risk aversion itself. It may be giving legitimate action on safety and health a bad name, but it is actually quite a small problem compared with the massive amount of work that still needs to be done to tackle major risks that are not properly controlled in many areas.    

In short, a lot more work is still needed to improve understanding of safety and risk, from nursery school to business school.

Watch this space.

Readers’ comments are welcome and should be emailed to me at

Roger Bibbings, RoSPA’s occupational safety adviser.

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