Posts tagged ‘risk’

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.

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

%d bloggers like this: