Posts tagged ‘Tom Mullarkey’

5 April, 2013

Safety on the slopes: do you wear a ski helmet?

Having booked a skiing holiday for the first time in 10 years, I started to wonder what has changed since I last flexed my supple limbs on the slopes (apart from the suppleness of the limbs themselves) and it became clear that ski helmets are now quite common and a consideration. A natural reaction might be to think that the RoSPA CEO would immediately decide to wear one (it is an inevitable implication of this job that I don’t want to set a bad example), but it’s not quite as simple as that.

skiing ski helmets Austria Tom Mullarkey

RoSPA’s chief executive Tom Mullarkey on the Olympic downhill run in Axamer-Lizum, Austria.

At RoSPA, we invite people to make informed and reasoned safety decisions, we believe that ‘life should be as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible’ and we extol the virtues of a ‘risk assessment’ (jargon for thinking the issues through) – so we should ourselves take a measured and balanced perspective. And if there’s no need to wear a helmet, it would be daft to do so. But I don’t want to set a bad example there either.

Let’s look at the evidence ‘for’ wearing a helmet. According to various sources, around 5,000 people suffered a ‘serious’ head injury on the ski slopes in France last year. In Austria, it was estimated that around 150 people (per week during the skiing season) needed hospital attention and in the same country, 27 people have died this season in skiing accidents. What constitutes ‘serious’ was one unanswered question. Whether they were or were not wearing a helmet (and indeed what protection it provided), were missing pieces of the jigsaw.

Tellingly, in many countries (including Austria where we went), it is now compulsory for children to wear a helmet and doing a straw poll around the office, it seems that most snowboarders have opted in too. So even if the safety case for a helmet isn’t clear, people are translating the perceived risk into a decision to put one on. A trawl of web advice suggests that professionals such as ski patrols, ski schools etc are generally encouraging the wearing of a helmet (they would inevitably see the consequences of not wearing one more often than the rest of us) and if you’re going to wear one for riding a horse, a bike, rock-climbing, kayaking etc, the potential for head injuries whilst skiing are every bit as high. The friends we were going with, who are not in the safety business, had already acquired theirs and this created a bit of peer pressure. And if you’ve ever seen me skiing… well, I’m at least as dangerous to myself as any snowboarder (snowboarders – please don’t write in).

skiing Austria ski helmets Tom Mullarkey

Skiers wearing helmets in the Axamer Lizum Funicular Railway, Austria.

On the evidence ‘against’, the clarity is not there either. There’s no compulsion to wear a helmet (although at least one insurer requires it) and it’s also hard to know what value a helmet might bring to you in a collision. Like any head protection, it will probably reduce the severity of an injury up to a certain point. If you hit a tree when going flat out, you may well suffer a serious head injury every bit as drastic as if you were not wearing one.

There is also the question of reduced visibility/hearing which might make you less safe. There are practical issues like carrying the helmet out on the plane (although it is possible to rent one in most resorts, if you don’t mind the sweaty liner).  And, of course, there is the cost. A low-end helmet costs around £15-£20 but the high end is £60-£200, not inconsiderable for something you might not wear again for another 10 years! But skiing is an expensive business and when a lift-pass costs €150-€250 for the week, and renting the skis and boots in the region of €100-€200, the price of a helmet is ultimately not that significant.

Making the judgement entailed a bit more research. There are, I discovered, three standards for ski helmets: CEN1077 (EU variant), ASTM F2040 (US) or arguably the more stringent Snell RS-98. The precise construction and testing regimes of these standards are mind-boggling and overly complex (not really surprising – that’s why we have standards as a shorthand), but having given about as much time to this issue as I willingly would (30 minutes on the web), I decided to treat them all the same. That opened up the whole price range and this, I think, made the decision a bit easier.

Balancing up the pros and cons of any safety decision is a matter of taste – how much risk is tolerable. In truth, I was conditioned some years ago in Courchevel by seeing an air ambulance coming in to take away a woman who had been hit by a metal roller from an overhead lift wire. Remembering the bloodstained snow all around her head pretty much made the decision for me: a helmet might not save your life or prevent a massive trauma in the worst circumstances, but it will be likely to reduce the effect of a head injury in most others. I don’t know what my family would think if I had to spend time in a brain injury unit, when the alternative was within easy reach and I just hadn’t used it for some perverse reason. A ski helmet is probably like shin pads. You might not need them very often, but when you do, you’re glad that you had them.

And so my wife and I bought our ski helmets (CEN 1077) for £25 each in the end-of-season sale on the night before departure…

skiing Austria ski helmets Tom Mullarkey

“I am persuaded that wearing a ski helmet is a good move, a step forward in personal protection, with people taking responsibility for their own safety…” – Tom Mullarkey.

In Austria, we were amazed to find that most people were wearing a helmet – perhaps 80-90 per cent. They could be rented from the ski shop for €15 for the week (but these helmets did not pass the ‘sniff test’) and when I asked the owner of the shop for her thoughts, she said that nearly everyone wears a helmet these days, particularly the locals. Her theory was that modern ‘carver’ skis can flip a skier head-over-heels down the slope much more easily than the longer, straighter ones of yesteryear and this has caused more head injuries, an antidote to which is the helmet. Be that as it may, it is now clear that if there is a clash of heads on the slopes, the person without the helmet will come off worst – perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy? I do wonder whether once the majority have chosen to wear one, the minority are forced to conform, just to protect themselves.

I am persuaded that wearing a ski helmet is a good move, a step forward in personal protection, with people taking responsibility for their own safety, rather than just relying on chance, the prompt arrival of the ‘bloodwagon’ and their health insurance.

But these considerations aside, snow conditions were perfect, the weather was superb and if anything, a 10-year gap has made the whole thing a bit less of a competition and a little more about style and relaxation. It’s like riding a bike – you don’t forget how to do it.  Oh, and you wear a helmet!

Tom Mullarkey, RoSPA’s chief executive

4 October, 2012

Motivated by tragedy, campaigning dad launches student road safety campaign

There are many honourable people who when faced with tragedy and heartbreak, endeavour to make a safer world for future generations.

Jon-Paul Kerr car accident Peugeot Student Road Safety Awards 2012

Jon-Paul Kerr was tragically killed in a traffic accident 20 years ago. His father Paul hopes the Peugeot Student Road Safety Awards will educate schoolchildren about danger on the roads.

At the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), we cross paths with many of these admirable characters, such as Paul Kerr, 68, who has just launched the UK’s first ever student road safety campaign with parliamentary backing.

Driven by the untimely death of his 17-year-old son, Jon-Paul, in a traffic accident 20 years ago, Mr Kerr was spurred into action to raise awareness of driving safety among young people, because the driver involved in the crash was an 18-year-old who had passed his driving test just a fortnight earlier.

RoSPA and car company Peugeot are both sponsoring the Peugeot Student Road Safety Awards and RoSPA’s chief executive Tom Mullarkey headed down to Westminster for the official launch with Mr Kerr on September 25.

For the first time, 11 to 18-year-olds nationally are being asked to create unique road safety projects that will raise awareness of this life-saving issue to their peers – a generation of future drivers.

The winning projects will even be considered by the Department for Transport (DfT) as future road safety campaigns.

Road Safety Minister Stephen Hammond, parliamentary under-secretary at the DfT, is also backing the awards, along with MPs Chris White (Leamington and Warwick) and Jeremy White (Kenilworth), plus road safety and youth organisations.

Paul Kerr Jon-Paul Kerr Peugeot Student Road Safety Awards

Paul Kerr, pictured left, with Tom Mullarkey, RoSPA’s chief executive, MP Chris White (front, middle), Road Safety Minister Stephen Hammond and Tim Zimmerman, managing director of Peugeot UK. Photo: Anthony Upton.

The Minister said he believed that empowering young people with a sense of responsibility from an early age would help drive down fatalities and serious injuries on UK roads.

Five people a day died on British roads last year, so Mr Kerr’s motivation and creativity to save lives and prevent injuries is a welcome and much-needed asset to the country.

Each fatality costs £1.78m and, sadly, 16 to 19-year-old drivers are the most at risk.

These awards were born out of Mr Kerr’s realisation that there is a lack of education for schoolchildren about danger on the roads.

Mr Kerr, from Warwick, said that there were over 25,000 people killed or seriously injured on UK roads last year, which was the first annual increase since 1994, and added that he “hoped and prayed” this initiative would help to bring this unacceptable figure down.

He added that developing the Student Road Safety Awards had in some way been a way of “coping with my loss”.

The awards start with competitions based on the 38 BBC local radio station areas across England, giving students an opportunity to “think outside the box” and come up with creative projects which will then be judged by a panel in each region.

Winners of the area heats will then go forward to the final in London, where students will present their projects to a panel of road safety experts from the DfT, road safety units and professional bodies.

For more details on the awards and how to enter, go to

Alison Brinkworth, RoSPA’s communications officer

11 October, 2011

Lighting Up Time

Since I started to learn about the daylight saving issue some five years ago, I have racked my brain to think of any other government measure that would improve the lives of everyone in the UK, at no cost, and I just can’t think of one. It would make us:

  • Healthier – because we would have more evening daylight to take exercise and be outside
  • Wealthier – because we would save money on electricity, inject £3billion into the economy through tourism and create 60,000 new jobs (if ever we needed that fillip, now is the time)
  • More secure – because our elderly would have an hour shorter winter “curfew” and evening crime would fall
  • Safer – because 80 lives would be saved on the roads per year and 212 serious injuries avoided
  • Greener – because we would reduce our carbon emissions by 450,000 tons per year, equivalent to 85 per cent of all the renewable energy we currently generate, enough to power two-thirds of Glasgow
  • Happier – because it is uplifting to have more evening daylight, just as it is depressing to have less.

Never has an idea offered so much potential to benefit so many and yet been repeatedly stifled by so few. Even in Scotland, where opposition is traditionally strongest, public opinion is no longer against it – and yet it still does not happen.

Lighter evenings are good for all

At a time of extraordinary government spending cuts, you would think that politicians would read the 2009 Department for Transport report which showed that the implementation of this measure would cost the department £5million but save £138million that year and every year thereafter. Multiplied across government departments and local authorities, we could surely be shaving billions off the public budget, and saving many jobs.

And yet Rebecca Harris’s (MP for Castle Point) Private Members’ Bill, which seeks to define that impact (just measure the costs and benefits within government and only implement the changes, on a trial basis, if the evidence supports it), is grinding through Parliament as though the machinery of the state is deliberately thwarting its progress.

The truth is that no UK party seems willing to risk its Scottish vote by promoting this issue, not least because there is clearly some goading from north of the border. Try to impose this on Scotland, they imagine, and the nationalists will whip up anti-English/Union fervour such that the three “main” parties would have an unwelcome fight on their hands, which may weaken their share of the vote, especially while talk of a referendum is rife. Leave well alone, they assess, and their political foes will have one less divisive issue to trumpet.

So we may as well say it for what it is: A political calculation at a senior level taking away these potential benefits from 60million people, so that party electoral stability, and the (notional) strength of the Union, can be protected, or at least not put to the test.

For us in the 60million and for the 128 MPs who voted for this Bill at its second reading (bravo to them and if it ever came to a truly “free” vote, that number would probably quadruple), it is just shameful evidence of a hidden hand of manipulative control at the top.

And if I read angry, it’s because that deliberate obfuscation has cost the lives of more than 5,000 people and resulted in the serious injury of more than 30,000 people in our country, since the 1968-71 experiment proved that it would work. The word “shameful” seems incredibly measured and desperately inadequate.

Surely the cohesion of the Union, a far more strategic issue, should be decoupled from this simple, straightforward attempt to improve the quality of life of everyone in the UK? The Prime Minister laudably argued in Manchester last week that the most important quality in politics is leadership. Here is an opportunity for him to show us what it looks like.

Tom Mullarkey, RoSPA’s chief executive

For more information about our lighter evenings campaign, visit our campaign website – and please sign up to support the cause!

26 August, 2011

Gone wild swimmin’

One of the many pleasures of moving to Cumbria last year was the opportunity to go completely wild a bit more often. I’ve been enjoying weekends and holidays up there for more than thirty years, so I’d already sussed out some great swimming spots (which will remain top secret!).

There’s nothing better after a day on the fells than to rejuvenate tired limbs in cold water, and with a sailing boat and a canoe in the inventory, to complement shanks’s pony and the (t)rusty bike, it’s easy to get into some remote spots where others might fear to tread water.

Our CEO takes a dip

With RoSPA having taken more than a bit of flak from open water swimmers in the past, it is now time to disclose that the CEO and quite a few others of us RoSPA folk often go wet and wild. To be even more honest, I have swum in some uncommon places, including all of the Great Lakes (some kind of bet), Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan (seriously, painfully cold) and the Ganges at Varanasi (spiritually uplifting but bacterially soupy). Also, if you take to cold water with all the happy, panting enthusiasm of a Newfoundland dog, you might as well swim there too, and I have.

Of course at RoSPA, we know only too well that people should never swim where it is prohibited (e.g. some parks, rivers, reservoirs and gravel pits), should never be impaired by alcohol and should not swim directly after a meal.  There are plenty of websites devoted to the joys of wild swimming, containing advice, information and recommending places to get wet.

And despite the image of bohemian freedom conjured up by wild swimming, there are quite a few pointers that I have learnt along the way, to suit my own appetite for “wild”. In Cumbria, my greatest fear is being swept away, so in a river if the current looks too fast, it is too fast and I look for somewhere more benign.

I also do a quick recce around the spot in case anything looks dangerous or has changed since the last visit – a boulder likely to tumble, a fallen tree or a jumble of rocks to get your foot trapped in – all need to be scoped out.

Swimming shoes are must-haves (light and easy to pack in a rucksack) to protect the feet and give some kind of grip on slimy rocks, as are trunks (middle-aged man alert!) because the alternative, though DH Lawrence-esque, could easily spook any passing walkers. Mountain Rescue has enough on its plate!

Not everybody was enamoured of the cold...!

Submerged, waterlogged trees are as rigid as iron and very painful if a sharp branch hits a vital part. So I go in slowly and get my breath before swimming and if the water is really cold (I’m a wimpy April-October type), I aim to stay within my depth, swimming parallel to the shore, in case of cramp in those tired, fell-worn limbs.

Most importantly, I have never, ever gone alone, tempting though the solitude is, and whether my wife, one of my sons or a friend is with me, we always have a brief chat about the hazards and what to do in an emergency.

But taking these precautions is only a tiny impediment to the feeling that soon follows once the body settles down and the “hit” of that peaty, cold water washes over the soul, the pleasure heightened by the glorious Lakeland surroundings. It is pure magic, a cleansing, invigorating antidote to all the cares of the world.

When you emerge, reborn and renewed, everything in your life looks that little bit sharper and brighter, there is a tiny, involuntary smile on your lips and, for the rest of the day, you walk, springy with joy, on a soft cushion of fresh mountain air.

Tom Mullarkey, RoSPA’s Chief Executive


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


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