Posts tagged ‘occupational safety’

21 November, 2014

Avoiding the dangers of asbestos

Guest blogger Clive Searle, sales director at Sussex-based BSW Heating, talks about what asbestos is, its history and dangers, and how to avoid harm if you work with the substance.

Asbestos TapeAsbestos is a material that was regularly used as a method of insulation for domestic and commercial properties as well as industrial buildings during the earlier 20th century. It was incapable of burning, making it the ideal material to stop households from suffering severe fire damage.

However, it was soon discovered that asbestos had potentially damaging effects on people’s lungs that could result in an unpleasant cough and noticeable shortness of breath. If someone was exposed to asbestos that was gradually deteriorating over a significant period of time or being broken up, drilled or chipped, they were at risk of a disease known as asbestosis.

The difficulty was that symptoms of asbestosis were not apparent until many years after exposure in most cases, so there were many tradesman working alongside the material that were completely unaware of the scarring taking place in their lungs.

Asbestos gained substantial media attention after it was linked to a form of cancer known as mesothelioma. Strict regulations were introduced to avoid workers being exposed to asbestos in the 1970s as a result of the findings.

Asbestos is the name given to a long strip of crystalline fibres that are resistant to heat, chemicals and electricity. With properties such as these, it was concluded that asbestos could potentially be used to great effect in various industries such as insulation, railway, shipbuilding, construction, electricity and more.

Three different types of asbestos were introduced into these industries, including crocidolite (blue asbestos), amosite (brown asbestos) and chrysotile (white asbestos). The most common of these was chrysotile, which was used up until 1999 when it was officially banned in the UK.

Blue and brown asbestos are far more dangerous than white asbestos and were banned in the 1980s. Neither blue nor brown asbestos could be imported into the UK after the asbestos regulations were introduced in 1970. People who have or may suffer in the future from asbestosis are entitled to compensation for working amongst the materials in the past.

The threat of asbestos has been widely reported across the UK since the regulations were first introduced. Around 4,000 workers a year die from past exposure to asbestos and asbestos-related diseases are by some distance the main cause of work-related deaths. Campaigns have been set up to support workers who have suffered from diseases associated with handling asbestos.Asbestos

Asbestosis and other serious asbestos-related conditions such as mesothelioma are not yet curable, meaning that almost all workers diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases will have to live with it for the rest of their lives. Asbestos is often referred to as “the hidden killer” due to the fact that so many workers are oblivious to the threat it poses to their health.

The most worrying fact of all is that many old buildings that require construction work still contain asbestos, meaning that there are still workers today being exposed to the dangerous material despite its ban. Thankfully, tradesmen are now given specialist training to identify asbestos and deal with it appropriately.

It is essential for anyone who believes they may be at risk from the presence of asbestos in their home or working environment to get in touch with a specialist asbestos removal team. You can also get in touch with campaign groups to receive detailed information and assistance regarding the steps you should take. By reading up on asbestos, what it looks like and where it may be present, you can make an informed, accurate assumption and realise when professional assistance may be necessary.

Workers who are at risk of being exposed to asbestos or believe they may have worked with it in the past will benefit from the following set of guidelines:

Avoid it

You should never be forced to work somewhere where asbestos may be present. You are fully entitled not to start working on a project you believe may be contaminated with asbestos-related materials.

Whoever assigned you the job, whether it’s the customer or your boss, should always make you aware of asbestos before you start a project. Ultimately, it is advised that you avoid asbestos wherever possible.

Be aware of its forms

There are different types of asbestos as mentioned above. Some of these types of asbestos were best suited to certain parts of a property, such as the plumbing and insulation areas.

You should not work on any asbestos materials at any time without the correct training but it is essential that you do not approach asbestos products that come in the form of spray coating, lagging or

Clive Searle, sales director at BSW Heating

Clive Searle, sales director at BSW Heating

boards. Some types of asbestos are more dangerous than others and require the attention of licensed contractors.

Asbestos training required

If you have asbestos training you can continue to work but it is vital that you do this only if you have the correct training. Simple advice or information is not enough as specialist training is required to identify certain materials and approach them in the correct way.

Always wear the correct clothing

You MUST wear the correct clothing and equipment when dealing with asbestos, which includes a specific asbestos protection mask and NOT a standard dust mask.

Hand tools instead of power tools

When working on asbestos, be sure to stick with hand tools rather than power tools to reduce the amount of asbestos dust produced. Use a specialist vacuum to clean as you go as well as asbestos waste bags that are properly labelled when disposing of the material.

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.

4 August, 2011

Turning obstacles into opportunities

When one door closes, another opens – or so says the old proverb. Finding a way to turn obstacles into opportunities when it comes to health and safety at work is vital in difficult economic times.

Scottish businesses will find help is at hand, however, at RoSPA’s Scotland Safety and Health Forum, entitled Finding opportunity amidst cuts and changes. Firms will have a chance to explore current and future safety and health issues, not just by sitting and listening, but by getting involved.

In difficult economic times you may need some help to make the business case for health and safety to your directors. This event, held at the Hilton Glasgow on September 21, will help you to do just that.

Although, thankfully, in the UK notifiable fatal and serious injuries in the workplace are reducing, there are still more than one million injuries to workers annually and more than two million cases of ill health caused or exacerbated by work. Many thousands are still dying prematurely as a result of conditions such as occupational cancer. The annual cost to the economy is in the region of £30billion.

Despite this scale of tragedy and loss, companies that are hard pressed, especially during tough economic conditions, may ask quite understandably why they should devote precious money – and even more precious time – to upgrading their health and safety management regimes.

Here’s one very good reason to keep on top of health and safety: the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has estimated that the ratio between insured and uninsured costs arising from accidents lies in the range of 1:8 to 1:36. That means that in the worst case, for every £100 recovered from the insurer, the business loses about £3,600 – yet very few businesses investigate accidents and incidents, to see what lessons can be learned.

And an accident in which the insurance covers, say, £3,000 could end up costing more than £100,000.

In the case of a very severe accident, such as a fire or loss of a key worker in a small firm, such an event could spell the end of the business altogether.

But perhaps the most important reason to maintain good standards of health and safety is the human factor. Accidents are expensive in financial terms, but the cost to families, friends and communities is incalculable. Grief, stress and the financial hardship that often follow an accident can tear families apart.

No business wants its people to be injured or wishes to be prosecuted or served with enforcement notices by inspectors. With an increasing focus on corporate social responsibility, every conscientious business owner or senior manager wants to know that they have done everything they reasonably can to ensure safe and healthy working. No one wants an accident or work-related health issue on their watch.

Built around interactive sessions such as workshops, discussion groups, and panel interviews, the Scotland Safety and Health Forum will provide opportunities to share and receive advice. Case studies, top tips and practical advice will be given by prominent health and safety professionals from the region, covering key topics such as: the real cost of accidents, communicating the safety business case to senior managers, and important changes to Scotland’s safety landscape. Good safety leadership and teamwork are also vital for excellent health and safety cultures.

We’ve made fantastic progress in the past few years, with serious accidents falling throughout the UK. But we can’t become complacent; and some sectors are beginning to fall behind – notably the agricultural and construction industries. People should be able to come home from work safe and sound, no matter what they do for a living – and there is plenty of help for those who want to make sure they do so.

Sign up now for our Scottish safety forum – if you do so before August 10, you’ll receive a 20 per cent discount.

What price the safety and good health of Scottish workers?

Roger Bibbings, RoSPA’s occupational safety adviser

27 July, 2011

An Olympic effort for health and safety at work

The Big Build is the first Olympic project of its kind in the world to have been completed without an accident-related fatality.

With one year to go until London 2012, we at RoSPA are delighted to congratulate all those who have worked on the Olympic Park and Village “Big Build” construction project for their outstanding health and safety performance.

With 12,500 workers on the Olympic Park and Athletes’ Village, and more than 60million hours worked, their safety record is particularly impressive.

Of those working hours, 24million of them have been “RIDDOR reportable accident-free”, meaning that no serious accidents, incidents or near-misses occurred.

The accident frequency rate achieved has been 0.17 accidents per million hours worked, which is lower than for the construction sector as a whole and more in line with the average across all UK employment sectors. Near-miss reporting has been equivalent to 100 reports for every RIDDOR event, giving confidence that reporting levels are very good.

RoSPA was particularly impressed with how the ODA, from its inception, declared that its aim was to be a leader in safety and health, integrating these objectives into planning, design and construction operations and enhancing workforce wellbeing. Among the features of the safety and health programme, there have been detailed inductions and further training for workers, plus leadership and communication training for supervisors.

The challenge now will be to maintain this excellent record during the next phases of the Olympics project, running up to and through “Games Time” and beyond. However, what has been achieved thus far is a highly commendable British achievement that is well worth celebrating, particularly in an international context.

Given the prestige and profile of the Big Build and the level of performance achieved, the lessons the project has generated for health and safety form an important part of the overall Olympic legacy – with enormous potential to influence health and safety in the UK as well as globally and to demonstrate further the contribution which high standards in this area make to overall business success.

The ODA and CLM have achieved an internationally-recognised certification of their health and safety management systems (OHSAS 18001) and the Olympic construction project’s occupational health function has won two awards, including the RoSPA Astor Trophy.

RoSPA is delighted that the Big Build project will be submitting an entry to the RoSPA Occupational Health and Safety Awards in 2012, through which its health and safety management systems and performance will be considered by an independent judging panel.

Tom Mullarkey, RoSPA’s chief executive

5 July, 2011

Goldilocks had the right idea about health and safety

Among the questions posed in his call for evidence which ends on July 29, Professor Löfstedt asked: “To what extent does the concept of ‘reasonably practicable’ help manage the burden of health and safety regulation?”

“Reasonable practicability” as a concept causes much confusion, particularly when it comes to its practical application. However, it is a cornerstone of the UK’s approach to regulation of work-related risk, which has proportionality at its heart.

As is widely recognised, the principle was originally established in the now famous common law judgement of Edwards versus the National Coal Board in 1949. Lord Justice Asquith said at the time:

“Reasonably practicable is a narrower term than ‘physically possible’ and implies that a computation must be made… in which the quantum of risk is placed in one scale and the sacrifice involved in the measures necessary for averting the risk (whether in time, trouble or money) is placed in the other and that, if it be shown that there is a great disproportion between them – the risk being insignificant in relation to the sacrifice – the person upon whom the obligation is imposed discharges the onus which is upon him.”

In other words, for things to be considered safe so far as is reasonably practicable you have to go on trying to make them safer until you reach a point where it is not worth doing more (a point of diminishing safety returns) – AND the risks which still remain must not be too great.

Making such safety judgements with confidence is often quite difficult. If the efficacy of safety measures is uncertain in reducing the likelihood of failure, particularly when the consequences of failure are serious, the result is more likely to be a precautionary “belt and braces” approach.

Critics say the concept of reasonable practicability allows too much flexibility and leads to weak or inadequate precautions being taken. Evidence suggests that, properly applied, reasonable practicability guarantees a high standard of safety. Investigations tend to confirm that few accidents occur where reasonably practicable safety measures have been taken.

The real importance of the concept is that it allows proportionality of response to risk, taking account of different variables. The alternative to this might be a rising scale of specific solutions laid down in law, but this would be cumbersome and might lead to both “under-hitting” and “over-hitting”. Reasonable practicability allows for fine tuning.

Making sound judgements about such risk/cost optimisation can pose real challenges for those firms lacking the necessary skills or access to professional expertise, particularly where options must be chosen from a range of solutions. For example, to take a case related to public safety, reasonably practicable water edge treatments to prevent drowning can vary from little or no action, to shelving and/or planting edges and erecting signage, through to extensive physical barriers at the extreme.

Factors such as population density and foreseeable behaviours can influence the scale of control measures. Those not in the know sometimes find it difficult to understand why maximum measures have been taken in one setting but not in another.

What is useful about reasonable practicability is that it provides a constant reminder to risk creators, risk takers and regulators that safety is not an absolute but always a matter of judgement. At RoSPA we try to express this simply by saying that things need to be as safe as necessary, not necessarily as safe as possible.

On the other hand the concept can give rise to conflicting responses. Firms tend to welcome the flexibility it provides; but when faced with lack of clarity they can then demand official advice about exactly what would constitute a minimal standard of compliance.

There is also confusion about costs. The affordability of specific measures does not relate to the financial circumstances of the individual duty holder. You cannot plead poverty and get away with a lower standard of safety but you can factor in opportunity costs, for example, the longer-term costs of restricting a particular activity or of unintended consequences such as risk transfer.

The fundamental ideas in our health and safety law about risk/cost optimisation originated in the philosophy and practice of radiological protection developed from the 1940s onwards. Here, the core doctrine was “justification, optimisation, risk limits”. In other words:

  1. If an exposure is tolerable, is it justified by sufficient benefits?
  2. Has exposure been optimised? (I.e. has a point of diminishing returns been reached in terms of further dose reduction?)
  3. Have upper bounds been set? (I.e. have suitable dose limits been established?)

This approach can be applied to all kinds of risk decision-making in health and safety.

In practice the workability of a reasonably practicable approach to safety depends on skill in undertaking suitable and sufficient risk assessments. Initially this means establishing if risks are trivial, moderate or high and, if they fall into the last two categories, deciding if control measures are adequate or if more needs to be done. Assessments also enable duty holders to prioritise risks for attention and they can be generic, specific and/or dynamic.

In many cases, those managing risk may carry out very little actual assessment. Much of what is called “risk assessment” is really little more than hazard identification and involves minimal exercise of judgement as to the probability or consequences of failure. If this simple approach enables standard but quite satisfactory solutions to be selected from the overall health and safety guidance lexicon then this does not necessarily matter, particularly if it leads to people adopting sufficiently safe systems of work. On the other hand, there is always a danger of “over-hitting” if the level of risk actually presented by the hazard is trivial and the standard solution selected is substantially more than is really required.

A simple approach to finding the right balance is what I have called “iterative triage” or “the Goldilocks Principle”. (In her search for beds and porridge Goldilocks found beds that were too hard or too soft, and porridge that was too cold or too hot – and this enabled her to find the ones that were “just right”.)

What all this demonstrates are two awkward truths:

  1. There is probably no practical regulatory alternative to a goal-setting approach supported by reasonable practicability, especially in the complex risk environment of our contemporary world of work
  2. If this approach is to be successful in practice, duty holders need to be suitably informed and competent or have access to suitably competent advice.

Those daunted by the challenges posed by this approach to work-related safety and health often demand regulatory simplification or a return to common sense. The reality is, though, that the risk profile of even apparently benign settings such as shops, office and schools can often be quite varied and complex; the devil is always in the detail and the right solutions are sometimes counter-intuitive.

An approach to regulating and managing risks based on what is reasonably practicable is undoubtedly a more mature approach than one based on prescription, but it only works in practice if the challenges are matched by necessary competence.

Getting health and safety judgements right is not always easy, but if they help to save lives, reduce injuries and safeguard health without wasting scarce resources, then the effort involved is surely worthwhile.

As ever, readers’ comments are invited below.

Roger Bibbings, RoSPA’s occupational safety adviser

24 June, 2011

Further thoughts on the Löfstedt Review

Following my previous blog post, it’s time to further develop some thoughts on the Löfstedt Review and the issues surrounding it.

What made the HSW Act and the post-Robens architecture different from the earlier Factories Act law was not just its goal setting nature, bounded by “reasonable practicability”, but its attempt to describe the essential ingredients for arriving at and sustaining safe systems of work in an organisational setting.

In other words, it was not just a long list of dos and don’ts related to particular hazards. In a suitably general way, it set out the people/policy/procedures needed to ensure that hazards were routinely identified, risks assessed, appropriate controls applied and refined – taking into account advances in knowledge and lessons from operational experience.

Thus, where earlier law had sought only to prescribe measures to be taken in various (actually quite limited) settings, the 1974 Act – later augmented by the Management of Health and Safety at Work (MHSW) Regulations – tried to indicate what employers needed to do to be able to work this out for themselves, using risk assessment and supported by competent people/advice, consultation with workers and so on.

In theory, regulations and guidance introduced later to regulate specific risks and activities were designed to support this underlying core. In reality, however, what we now have is architecture of law that is actually quite untidy, incomplete and is not easy to understand in detail without going on a training course and/or reading quite a lot of guidance! (This is just as true, of course, of law relating to other aspects of business such as employment, tax, planning, environment etc. Most business owners/managers do not read raw, undigested health and safety law but refer to guidance or seek professional advice.)

And, of course, law and guidance on their own provide only part of the answer since legally-required systems and risk control measures alone (even when supported by detailed requirements) are not enough to guarantee desired outcomes.

To ensure the “fine fit” between systems/standards and operational reality you also need an effective health and safety culture. We also need effective systems of promotion, education, training, advice, and support to enable smaller businesses particularly to respond effectively. And we also need enforcement to deal with the criminally non-compliant. Good law is clearly necessary but it is far from sufficient to deliver safe and healthy working conditions.

The challenge I believe Professor Löfstedt faces in conducting his review is not only to show how we can return to the essence of the Robens vision, stripping out a lot of the confusing duplication and overlap of duties in the different sets of regulations (without reducing essential protections), but how – in practical terms – we can deal with the challenges smaller firms in particular face in responding to goal-setting law.

For example, it is just as important that his team looks at other issues like the overall health and safety support system for SMEs in the UK and what can be done to make this more effective and coherent. He may also like to look at the role of third party semi-regulators such as clients, main contractors, insurers, assurers etc., and perhaps take a look at the case for some sort of rapid, independent appeal process to deal with any incidences of over-the-top requirements that they might impose.

The Government will insist, with justification, that any proposals pass what is called “the small firms test”. There is continuing debate about whether there really is some sort of size threshold in today’s business below which ideas about formal risk management have no meaning in practice. It is often said that small firms “run” their businesses, whereas large firms “manage” them – and small firms are not just large ones that haven’t got big yet!

What we and most other stakeholders in the health and safety system continue to argue is that it is the level of risk to workers (and others) and not the organisation’s size that must be the guiding principle. So Prof. Löfstedt and his advisers need to begin at the beginning and consider if we do indeed have a clear set of goal-setting risk duties in law which reflect the different elements in the risk management challenge, and which are applicable to all organisations. At present these are scattered across the top of the legal structure and do not flow logically downwards and outwards in other subsidiary law and guidance. Some, like risk assessment, are repeated at several levels. Other really important ones like investigation and organisational learning from incidents are not very clear at all.

So if they are to approach their commission professionally, what Professor Löfstedt and his colleagues will need to consider at the outset is whether current risk management duties in law are both understandable and truly “scalable” in different settings. If there are gaps, then these need to be identified, together with ideas as to how they might be filled in the most appropriate way.

Only then will it be meaningful to look at how to brigade more effectively the large amount of regulatory detail that has accumulated since 1974, and after 1992 in particular. Anything else, such as just trying to return to the letter of particular directives (often unworkable in a UK setting) runs the risk of just tinkering at the edges for political effect and creating even less clarity.

The same breadth of vision and depth of understanding are needed to deal with the final part of the review about the legal position of employers in cases where employees act in a grossly irresponsible manner. Nobody sets out to have an accident but on occasion some employees do, for various reasons, act with disregard for their own or others’ health and safety. Professor Löfstedt and his panel members will need to do their homework here too, avoiding crude behaviourist models of safety management which see accidents as being caused mainly by “unsafe workers” and immerse themselves in excellent HSE publications such as HSG48 Reducing error and influencing behaviour to help get causation factors in perspective.

I would urge all readers to watch this space and feed in their ideas to the review as it proceeds. Email:

Roger Bibbings, RoSPA’s occupational safety adviser

10 June, 2011

Untangling the terms of the Löfstedt Review

Following on from my previous blog – Hazard and risk: understanding the difference – in which I talked about the Lord Young Review, the time is about right to look at what is happening next.

Chris Grayling, employment minister for the Department for Work and Pensions, has commissioned Professor Ragnar Löfstedt, director of the King’s Centre for Risk Management at King’s College London to chair a team of six people to consider the opportunities “for reducing the burden of health and safety legislation on UK businesses while maintaining the progress made in improving health and safety outcomes” and to report by this autumn. The team will comprise politicians, business people and employee representatives.

Professor Löfstedt’s review will be supported by a small team of DWP officials and will focus primarily on the approximately 200 statutory instruments and associated approved codes of practice rather than the Health and Safety at Work (HSW) Act itself or other primary legislation.

The professor has called for evidence from a range of stakeholders including government bodies; employers’ organisations; employees’ organisations; professional health and safety bodies; and academics. They will consider:

  • The scope for consolidating, simplifying or abolishing regulations
  • Whether the requirements of EU Directives are being unnecessarily enhanced (“gold-plated”) on translation into UK law
  • If lessons can be learned from comparison with health and safety regimes in other countries
  • Whether there is a clear link between regulation and positive health and safety outcomes
  • If there is evidence of inappropriate litigation and compensation arising from health and safety legislation
  • Whether changes to legislation are needed to clarify the legal position of employers in cases where employees act in an irresponsible manner.

RoSPA is feeding ideas into the review, but it is my opinion that the professor and his colleagues will need to commit to doing a lot of homework if they are to understand fully the background to what they have been asked to do. And if they do not co-ordinate closely with other “simplification” initiatives that are underway there is a real danger of confusion.

These initiatives include a wider project by the HSE looking at how it organises its overall range of guidance, including on health and safety management, as well as another Government initiative asking the public for ideas on how to cut so-called “red tape”, including in health and safety. Logically any attempt to revise and restructure the HSE guidance lexicon should perhaps await the outcome of the Löfstedt review.

Health and safety law is important. People’s lives and health depend on it. Any review needs to be undertaken professionally and carefully, without being rushed. It needs to be strategic, evidence-based and must carefully consider previous reviews of regulation and the results of consultation on particular regulations.

In particular Professor Löfstedt, members of his panel and DWP officials will need to go back and understand in some detail the history and evolution of our system of health and safety law and guidance, as the past and present are intimately connected. Core ideas in our law and guidance system about health and safety management go back a long way – to before the Robens Committee including, for example, the report of the Joint Industrial Council on Accident Prevention of 1956! Ideas about how to regulate and manage health and safety issues have an enduring DNA.

In theory there is supposed to be a logical flow from the general duties of care in the HSW Act, through the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR) to other specific hazard and sector related regulations. Guidance documents (which are what people actually read) then support all this. But, as everyone now admits, the elegance and logic that were envisioned in the 1972 Robens Report have been corrupted over time by adaptations to implement EC directives, and so on. Key duties like risk assessment, training and information are repeated at number of levels but others like monitoring and learning from incidents are weak if not missing altogether.

In terms of transparency and proportionality, health and safety law and supporting guidance needs to be focused on the “big” issues. In some hazard areas like chemicals and physical hazards, where the impact of an accident or incidence of ill health is immediate and visible, the law is well developed. However, in other areas such as those involving psychosocial risks (ergonomics, stress, violence etc. which affect millions of workers) it is still quite vague.

And, worryingly, huge areas of hazard like work-related road safety (more people are killed while at work on the road than in all other workplace accidents) are addressed only by the most generic guidance.

Arguably the balance between what is covered in regulation and what is addressed in guidance could be readjusted. On the other hand, options here have been limited. Much of the problem, in my view, has been due to our inability in the UK to use Approved Codes of Practice (ACoPs) to transpose EC directives. Robens had high hopes for ACoPs since they were intended to provide both authoritative advice and flexibility; but this vision was not shared.

On one side the TUC always thought ACoPs were too weak. The CBI on the other has always tended to view them as prescriptive regulation by the back door. And the European Commission refused to accept them as a vehicle for transposition of directives into national law anyway.

This whole debate ought to be revisited, and Professor Löfstedt’s review is the ideal time to do so.

This topic is too big and too important to squeeze into one short blog post – so stay tuned for part two. And don’t forget to join the debate – open and honest discourse on all sides is the best way to produce a national health and safety culture that the UK can be proud of.

Roger Bibbings, RoSPA’s occupational safety adviser

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


8 April, 2011

Safety-related news stories from this week


Blind cord death – A toddler has died after becoming tangled in the looped cord of a vertical blind in a bedroom of his home in Plymouth. The youngster, aged 21 months, was found strangled early on Friday evening. It is thought he had reached the window space after climbing on to a chest of drawers. (Plymouth Herald). Meanwhile, RoSPA’s blind cord safety campaign is featured in the Sunday Mercury – encouraging more parents to apply for free Make it Safe packs.

The Sunday Mercury reported several house fires at the weekend. Two men died at their home near Nottingham on Saturday morning, while a woman suffered the effects of smoke inhalation after a fire ripped through her farmhouse in Ross-on-Wye. In addition, a disabled pensioner was saved by her dog after it woke her up as flames spread through her Nottingham home. They both escaped unharmed. A 33-year-old man and his six-year-old daughter have died after a fire in the kitchen of their family home in Telford. It is thought the fire started in the kitchen and may have burnt itself out. An investigation is underway. (D. Telegraph / Metro)

Boy, 14, choked on memory stick cover – RoSPA is quoted in the Yorkshire Post, which reports on the death of a 14-year-old boy in Beverley last December. He choked on a memory stick cover, Hull Coroner’s Court heard. Verdict: accident.


Football star banned from the road – Birmingham City footballer, Marcus Bent, has been banned from driving after he was caught speeding at 110mph on the M5, near Oldbury. He was banned for 56 days and ordered to pay £1,210. (Sunday Mercury)

Coach in nine-vehicle crash on motorway – The M11 motorway was brought to a standstill yesterday after a crash involving four lorries, four cars and a coach near Stansted Airport. An elderly coach passenger is in a life-threatening condition, and there were several minor injuries. (Nationals)

The Daily Express reports that Jon Snow was knocked off his bicycle in central London last week when a driver opened his car door without looking, sending him crashing to the ground. He escaped with a sore elbow and sore ego; but was much cheered a few days later, saying: “The chap who knocked me off my bike has sent me an exceptionally good bottle of wine. I could build quite a cellar this way.”

Elderly driver’s wrong turn causes panic on motorway – An 87-year-old man from Lockerbie caused panic on the M6 in Cumbria after driving for six miles down the fast lane in the wrong direction. When police eventually managed to make him pull over and off the road, somewhat surprisingly they released him without further action. (D. Telegraph)


In nuclear news – The Daily Telegraph reports that Japanese school playgrounds in the Fukushima area are to be tested for radiation as children return to classes in the aftermath of the nuclear crisis. The Independent says that the Japanese government has set its first radiation safety standards for fish after contaminated water was released into the sea. The Guardian reports that the UK Government’s plans to build new nuclear power stations will be delayed by at least three months so that lessons can be learned from Fukushima.

Fire engines stop attending some alarms – The Daily Telegraph reports that Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service has stopped sending its engines to investigate some alarms in order to cut costs. It will test a new procedure which will see a fire safety officer alone responding to some automatic alarms to cut the “significant drain on resources” caused by false alerts. This seems reasonable when you read:

25 firemen sent to save cat – When a cat became stranded on a roof, the local fire service dispatched five appliances and 25 firemen to rescue it. The decision, apparently driven by rules for “working at height” is thought to have cost £10,000 – although Suffolk Fire Service says it was no more than £250. Suffolk County Council defended the action, claiming it was in line with health and safety rules. (D. Telegraph / Metro)

Graduate left brain damaged after 999 crew waited two hours – A 33-year-old woman was left with severe brain damage after she was forced to wait nearly two hours for paramedics, who were parked just 100 yards away. Because the address had been red-flagged as “high risk”, a crew just seconds away was ordered to wait for a police escort before attending. (D. Mail)

Hero boys defy 999 operator to rescue man from icy canal – Two friends, aged 19 and 20, saved a drowning man by ignoring the health and safety advice of the ambulance service and jumping into a freezing canal in Bristol. They called 999, and attempted to reach him with a stick, but the man was too far away and kept going under, so they boys jumped in and saved him. (D. Express)

M&S “exposed shoppers to deadly asbestos” – Marks and Spencer failed to protect customers completely from asbestos during the refurbishment of branches in Plymouth, Reading and Bournemouth, Winchester Crown Court heard. M&S denies six charges of failing to ensure the health and safety of its staff and others. The trial is expected to last up to 15 weeks. (D. Telegraph)

Battle over £100,000 trip – Tower Hamlets Council, which is being sued for up to £100,000 by a woman who tripped over an uneven paving stone, is fighting the case, insisting it is not obliged to keep the pavement “like a bowling green”. The 31-year-old woman from east London tripped over in 2005, injuring her knee, and has apparently “endured disability”. (D. Telegraph)


Woman dies after blading fall – A woman died after suffering brain injuries in a roller blading accident. The 44-year-old fell backwards during her first outing on in-line skates, striking her head on a footpath in Darlington. She was not wearing a helmet. Though she had two emergency operations to remove clots from her brain, her family made the difficult decision to turn off her life-support machine at the weekend. (Times)

Surfers’ paradise lost as “danger reef” shuts – An artificial reef that cost more than £3million and was supposed to turn Bournemouth into a surfers’ paradise has been declared unsafe and closed after inspectors found it was producing dangerous undercurrents. The reef, which was constructed in 2009, is made of 55 submerged sand-filled bags, which are believed to have been displaced and need to be repositioned. Remedial works are expected to be carried out soon. (D Telegraph)

Mountain rescue teams condemn iPhone navigators – Ramblers who use their smart phones to navigate and have no idea how to read a map are causing the number of emergency call-outs to rise by 50 per cent, mountain rescuers claim. Lake District rescue teams said younger walkers relied too heavily on phones equipped with navigational “apps” and satnav technology. (D. Telegraph / D. Mail)

Have a safe and FUN weekend in the sun!

Vicky Fraser

RoSPA’s Press Officer, Web Editor and Resident Blogger

31 March, 2011

Hazard and risk: understanding the difference

In the wake of Lord Young’s Review, and DWP Minister Chris Grayling’s speech saying that from now on the HSE was going to concentrate on “high hazard” industries, it occurred to me that perhaps the minister might have conflated use of the terms “hazard” and “risk”; many people still don’t get the difference.

Hazards: All human activity exposes people to hazards. Hazards are activities or “things” with the potential to cause harm. They can physical, chemical, biological, or even psychological.

Risk: Risk can be understood as the chance that exposure to a hazard will result in harm at some specified level. Hazards with major potential for harm that are well controlled can actually present low levels of risk, because they are well managed and consequently the chances of harm occurring are low. But moderate hazards that are poorly controlled can present significant risks because of the high probability that being exposed to them will result in harm.

So levels of risk (high, medium, low or trivial) can be assessed by looking at the hazard and the probability that it will cause harm.

An example: a circular saw is a hazardous piece of machinery. However, in the hands of a properly-trained operative, the risk of harm would be low (making the activity high hazard but low risk). In the hands of an untrained person, the risk of harm could be very high (making the activity high hazard and high risk).

When allocating resources, decision makers have to consider small numbers of people exposed to high potential hazards and larger numbers of people exposed to lesser hazards – but which can actually result in a greater burden of injury.

In practice, political judgements tend to be skewed towards high hazards with the potential for activities to result in death or life-changing injury, rather than longer-term and more chronic forms of harm.

Lord Young’s Review

RoSPA has been keen to try and make some sense out of Lord Young’s ideas about managing health and safety in what he terms “low hazard” workplaces such as “offices, shops and schools”. They may not have the obvious kinds of harmful energies found in manufacturing, extractive, transport or construction settings but there are obviously still health and safety issues in these environments that need to be addressed.

For example, even small, service-based firms which might at first glance seem quite safe will certainly have significant issues such as fire, occupational road risk, etc. – not to mention issues such as slips, trips and falls, stress and the possibility manual handling injury as well as the potential for threats and violence.

On top of that, there are likely to be facilities management issues such as safe access and egress, safe cleaning, safe storage, safe vehicle parking, lifts, gas and electrical safety, and possibly asbestos and legionnaires’ disease problems. There may be building maintenance and construction, design and management activities too. All these issues need to be addressed and managed safely.

If health and safety is built into an organisation’s ethos, from the boardroom to the shop floor, this kind of safety management should come naturally, and will be relatively straightforward. There should be no burdensome red tape: health and safety is not synonymous with bureaucracy, contrary to the beliefs of the tabloid press.

When asked to define “non-hazardous” at a meeting of the CBI Health and Safety Panel, Lord Young accepted there was a need in schools, for example, to deal appropriately with safety in chemistry labs, workshops and other hazardous activities such as outdoor adventure activities. Obviously all these issues need to be addressed adequately but in a proportionate way.

The inescapable fact is that the distribution of the workforce has continued to change dramatically over the last three and a half decades since the Health and Safety at Work Act was introduced. More people than ever work in offices, call centres, shops and so on. There may be fewer fatal and major RIDDOR events in these settings but troublesome minor injury events still happen, and ill health and wellbeing issues have now become more important than accidents. Absence due to work-related ill health is now almost twice that due to accidental injury.

What we have got to help get across to ministers is that it is the risk profile of jobs and not necessarily the hazard profile of work environments that is critical. (After all, low hazard can still mean high risk and vice versa.)

For example, if you work in an office but suddenly have to do a lot of work-related driving your risk profile increases dramatically. Car and van drivers who cover 25,000 miles annually for work face the same risk of being killed at work as someone employed on a fishing trawler. If you are in a customer-facing role you are likely to face threats or even assault. If you work long hours in a call centre you may face stress and ergonomic problems such as musculoskeletal disorders. If you work next to poorly maintained air-conditioning equipment there is a danger of legionnaire’s disease and so on.

So it is not just a question of your proximity to the traditional forms of “high hazard” found in manufacturing, agricultural or construction settings. Many of the issues which cause accidents at work are in fact common to both industrial and non-industrial environments, particularly slips and trips, and manual handling injuries.

We need to be clear that health and safety management is not just relevant to traditional industries. Almost every kind of work has its issues and if they are not properly managed and regulated, people will be hurt and resources and business opportunities will be squandered.

Roger Bibbings

RoSPA’s Occupational Safety Adviser

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