The need for speed

The need for speed

Top Gun – what a film! Yes, I know it was a bit corny, but it was also enjoyable, with some memorable moments. If you don’t believe me, watch it again (or for the first time, for that matter).

What was that line – something like ‘I have the need, the need for speed’?  I think it was Iceman but no doubt I’ve got it wrong and someone will be able to correct me. Speed thrills – it’s why so many people are fans of Formula 1, or other motor sports – and most of us like that thrill at times, though the speed needed to achieve it differs from one to the other, of course, as do the circumstances of achieving it!  The thrill comes from that element of danger that speed presents, the exhilaration.

As well as being exhilarated by some degree of speed, we all also know that speed kills. If I’m going to stick with Formula 1 then there is quite a list of fatalities that have occurred over the years to illustrate the point, and many more that have occurred in other walks of life. It’s why there’s so much publicity about decreasing speed on the public roads. On construction sites, controlling speed is an important part of reducing the risks from moving vehicles and is covered in Element 3 of the NEBOSH Construction Certificate.  However, when it comes to construction traffic, sometimes it’s not the speed that matters.

A number of years ago, I had the unpleasant experience of being involved in a fatal-accident investigation. The accident occurred on a construction site where vehicle movements were occurring all the time. This accident involved a very slow-moving forklift truck. As a result of the accident, and some others, the HSE produced a DVD to highlight the dangers from slow moving vehicles, titled ‘Dead Slow’.

One of the key problems, I think, is perception. We are regularly, and rightly, bombarded with messages about the dangers of speed, be they in the form of public-safety adverts on TV, or the latest drive (excuse the pun) to decrease accidents on site. This regular bombardment heightens our awareness of the risks from fast-moving vehicles and plant. However, I believe it may also have the effect of dulling our awareness of risks from moving vehicles when speed isn’t a factor. Let’s face it, it doesn’t matter what speed a 360° excavator is travelling at, you’re always going to come off second best.

On many occasions I have seen people on site working in close proximity to a slow-moving vehicle. Is it that the possible dulling of the perception of risk means they feel comfortable working in such circumstances, possibly oblivious to the danger?  The accident I referred to earlier occurred when an operative was walking adjacent to the moving forklift truck. In fact, he was steadying a load suspended from the forks as the vehicle moved forward. The vehicle was therefore moving at walking pace. It was never established why, but the operative fell in front of the vehicle and wasn’t seen by the driver. No need to explain the rest.

It is my view that the industry still has a long way to go to ensure that everyone working on site, no matter what their role, is fully aware of the dangers from vehicles and plant, whatever speed they are moving at. The HSE DVD re-enacts some genuine accidents, the one I mentioned being one of them. The family of the deceased agreed to its inclusion, as they wanted some benefit to come from the loss of their loved one. Spreading this message has been something of a personal mission of mine ever since.

Operatives must never work in close proximity to vehicles and plant, if it can be avoided, and, in my experience, it usually can. If it can’t, then additional precautions are needed, including the operative being in full view of the driver at all times, and never being within the safe stopping distance of the vehicle.

The message is simple: construction vehicles and plant can kill no matter what speed they are travelling at, and working in close proximity to a moving vehicle must be avoided if possible. Without carefully controlling all the risks from moving vehicles on site, the task facing the construction industry of reducing the annual number of fatalities could be more like one of Tom Cruise’s other films, Mission Impossible!


Rodger Hope CMIOSH, IIRSM

Rodger Hope

Rodger Hope

Rodger has been involved in health and safety for over 15 years and has been particularly involved in construction health and safety for over 10 years. He really enjoys tutoring because of the opportunity it provides to influence peoples’ attitude towards health and safety. In his spare time Rodger enjoys sailing and boat maintenance.

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Going With The Flow – cheaper in the long run?

Going With The Flow – cheaper in the long run?

I often travel to London from the West Country by train and always enjoy passing through the Somerset Levels. I look at the farmsteads and churches perched on hillocks surrounded by miles of flat, green farmland and try to imagine what it must have been like when King Alfred was hiding from the Danes in the 9th century and these were island refuges in an inland sea.

Well, travelling at the tail-end of Winter 2014 I felt transported back in in time, as my train sailed across mile after mile of water and the hillocks really were islands! This was a glimpse of what the Levels were like in a more natural condition, before the fens were drained, first by the monasteries and then the Dutch engineers in the 17th century.

After the wettest winter on record, images of the flooded Levels and the miseries endured by the residents dominated our TV screens, followed by more of the same as the deluge affected the prosperous Thames-side suburbs of London, and other areas of the country.

Politicians were desperate to show their concern and demonstrate that they were in control. The prime minister said that “money is no object in this relief effort” and the Government came up with a raft of short-term measures, including grants for affected properties, business-rate reliefs, and a fund for farmers trying to cope with water-logged fields.

But once the weather started to improve and the sun to appear, the debate shifted from short-term clean-up measures to the question of how we should better protect ourselves from flooding in the future. A £100-million plan has been formulated to protect the Somerset Levels from flooding and involves some serious engineering, including a tidal barrage across the River Parrett, which will cost £30 million alone.

This got me thinking: a hundred million quid is an impressive sum but will it really be money well spent? I’m sure if you’re one of the unfortunate people who has been directly affected, no price will seem too high. But this raises three questions in my mind.

First: does it make any sense to carry on, Canute-like, fighting nature on the Somerset Levels and many other places that are subject to flooding, as climate change kicks in and sea levels rise? Element 1 of the NEBOSH Certificate in Environmental Management discusses how we might be affected by climate change. In the face of these impacts, many now argue that we should adopt more natural methods of flood management – for example, by allowing reclaimed farm land to revert to salt marsh so that flood water can be absorbed.

Second: who pays? When you look at the hard facts, despite the dramatic TV pictures, just over 150 properties were directly affected on the Somerset Levels, of which only 40 actually flooded. Does it really make economic sense to spend £100 million on fancy engineering schemes to protect a relatively small number of people and a score of subsidised farms? An alternative would be to simply stop protecting the Levels from flooding. This idea would be locally unpopular, to say the least – even if the residents were handsomely compensated! But it might be the best economic option, and would create a wonderful wildlife habitat.

There’s no denying that economic reality always kicks in. Soon after the initial spending announcement the Government clarified that only £20 million of the proposed £100 million would go towards the Somerset Levels scheme. Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary,  announced in relation to funding flood protection: “The challenge for the coming months will be to identify which of several longer-term priorities to take forward, and their specific funding streams. Detailed assessments and business cases will be produced for different investment choices, including how they compare to other projects across the country’.

So, “money is no object”?  Of course it is, and always will be!

In fact, the idea of a ‘managed retreat’ from nature has already been adopted as the best policy option in other situations. This week, the National Trust outlined its strategy for dealing with coastal erosion, which recognises that it is simply impossible to continue to protect the coast from erosion in certain locations. (Mind the Gap – Living with coastal change –  http://ntpressoffice.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/mind-the-gap-living-with-coastal-change/)

Gwynedd County Council’s most recent Shoreline Management Plan also acknowledges that at least one low-lying coastal village cannot be defended from the sea indefinitely. http://www.gwynedd.gov.uk

And so to my final question: who’s taking the long-term view? We really do need to think long-term if we are going to find the best approaches to flood management and other challenges that are linked to climate change. But if the recent flooding episodes have taught us anything at all, it is that our society really isn’t geared for long-term planning, and that both Government and Opposition are actually thinking no further ahead than the next General Election in May 2015!


Richard Dalley

Richard Dalley

Richard Dalley

Dr Richard Dalley is a Director of the sustainability consultancy Fairport(International) Ltd.

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Pain and Pleasure

Pain and Pleasure

Resistance is futile” is the catchy battle cry of the Borg Collective – an alien cyborg race bent on galactic domination. While they have some redeeming qualities (the Borg Queen is strangely attractive) they do have an attitude to resistance that is not shared by their invaded planetary systems.­­­­­­­

Friction – as covered in Element 1 of Unit C, NEBOSH Diploma – is all about resistance. Most parents of young children and teenagers will be very familiar with resistance.  Sometimes it delivers pain, sometimes pleasure. Sometimes it is inconvenient, but it can be a wonderful thing.  Many of the machines in our world, like cars and Arnold Schwarzenegger (think Terminator), depend on this resisting force to bring things to a halt. Friction between us and the floor helps stop us from slipping over. Friction between rubber tyres and the road helps stop cars from skidding off the road. Not everyone likes dressing in rubber (unless you happen to be a wheel) but thankfully there are lots of alternatives.

On horizontal hard surfaces, at least, friction (that resisting force) is directly related to the weight of the object. The weight of an object is the force due to gravity and it is measured in newtons, after Sir Isaac Newton. Perhaps it should be measured in apples because, quite honestly, they knew about it first and they took all the risk of the fall; Newton just watched and took the credit. The ratio between the two forces is called the coefficient of friction (COF).  Sounds fancy, I know, but no one is seriously fooled here; it’s just a number that describes how the two forces are related. A smaller coefficient means less friction (easier to slide).  For many common combinations of surface materials, COF is typically around 0.3 – 0.5.

But you already know the physics of this: the heavier something is, the harder it is to push. If you’ve ever wondered why you are less inclined to move after a heavy meal, you can blame gravity. Fat people (and the wealthy) are more difficult to push around than thin people (and the poor). You may have noticed, too, that, very often, you have to put a different amount of effort into overcoming resistance to getting things started than to keep them moving.  We call the former static friction and the latter dynamic (or kinetic) friction. You can easily estimate this resistance by attaching a set of baggage weighing scales (the springy kind) to some object (not an animal or person, please) and pulling it. You can read off how hard you have to pull to get the object to move and to keep it moving.  Isn’t physics wonderful?

Now, it’s not cool for scientists to use a cheap baggage spring balance, so they’ve invented lots of complicated ways to measure friction very accurately. Indeed, scientists who measure this sort of thing have even invented a swanky name for themselves – tribologists.

But that’s not all. Friction also depends on the materials themselves, the contact surface characteristics (rough vs smooth, for example) and the presence of lubricants between them (think oil spills and banana skins). Because surfaces wear when they rub together, the friction between them changes over time, too. Dragging one object across another also generates a bit of heat, which is bound to change things. Add to this the effect of a full moon and the presence of gremlins (aka the experimental physicist) and you see why it is not as simple as it seems.

Some kind (but probably misguided) person has gone to the trouble of measuring and publishing coefficients of friction for different pairs of materials and under different conditions (like dry vs wet).  I’m sure that was rewarding in itself but it does have a practical health and safety application.  Especially in wet or greasy areas, you need to choose floor coverings that  sufficient anti-slip properties when people walk over them in everyday shoes. That means having a high COF. Yes, you could measure the COF after you’ve laid the flooring and had the slip but, quite honestly, that’s probably a little late and you obviously know already that it’s slippery.  Better to get it right to start with.

It is generally considered that the COF must be at least 0.5 for safety. That is all very well but is probably a little simplistic. We all know that slipping over is more complicated than that (and certainly more embarrassing). Most people can quite easily walk in icy conditions (where the COF is considerably less than 0.5) because we adjust our walking style depending on those conditions – provided we know what they are.  If we don’t expect a slippery surface to be slippery, or the conditions are highly variable (a drip of spilt oil here and there), then we walk normally (expecting normal grip) and so are likely to slip.  I say ‘we’ but I mean ‘you’.  I am a health and safety professional and I wouldn’t dream of slipping – get a grip, for goodness sake!


Dr David Towlson

Dr David Towlson

Dr David Towlson (AKA Dr T) BSc, PhD, CMIOSH, AIEMA, Cert Ed (PCET), MIfL

RRC’s Director of Training and Quality, ensuring excellence across RRC’s courses and services. Also a NEBOSH Chief Examiner, Associate Tutor on the Loughborough MSc and international ambassador for RRC.

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System addict

System addict

What is risk and why do we assess it – subjects that sit at the very heart of the NEBOSH General Certificate, and the health and safety sphere in general.

Risk is the likelihood (the ‘chance’, the ‘probability’) that harm will occur – TOGETHER with the consequences (the ‘severity’ or ‘outcome’) of it if it does. But you knew that, right?

Risk assessment is done so we don’t break the law, isn’t it? No! Risk assessment is done to keep directors and business-owners out of jail! Well, I guess they are one and the same thing, and these are the main objectives of some. . .

The RRC Certificate course notes tell us that the aim of risk assessment is to ensure that hazards are eliminated, or risks minimised by the correct application of relevant standards. but that doesn’t tell us why we want to eliminate the hazards or minimise the risks, does it? We’re getting there but I’m still not 100-per-cent happy, so listen to this: risk assessment is done to keep workers safe and in good health!

That’s what I reckon, anyway and it’s what I’ve been aiming for since 1988 (COSHH was born then, and we’ve grown up together) and what I’ve been trying to get companies I have worked for and clients of mine to believe in, so I hope I haven’t wasted the last 25 years!

Strangely, the first thing we learn about in risk assessment is not risk but hazards. Step one in the assessment process is to identify the hazards – those things we said could cause harm. (So, your test now is to note at least five ‘harms’ that could befall a business – answers provided later).

How many of you start the risk assessment process with a blank bit of paper? Had much success with that? The HSE tells us in its “5 Steps to Risk Assessment” leaflet that risk assessment “is nothing more than a careful look in our workplace at what can cause harm. . .” etc. so, on your blank bit of paper I bet you listed all the hazards? Now I’m going to hazard a guess (no pun intended!) you did NOT assess the risks of ALL of the hazards you identified? Did you really?

Most risk assessors at the basic stage would list only those things they see that they think WILL cause harm, not those that possibly COULD (remember the word ‘potential’?)

So, unless you do list all of the things that actually could cause harm, you’re missing the point. You’re not being ‘systematic’.

So, forget the blank bit of paper. Make up a form with a list of as many ‘hazards’ you can think of. Look at the physical hazards, the chemical and biological things, ergonomics issues, and even psychological ones (these are all explained in your course notes). Now you’re beginning to get a list!

Did you write down ‘slips, trips and falls’? How about ‘chemicals’? And ‘manual handling’? What about ‘fire’? Did you write down ‘stress’? Did you consider sickness absence? Come on, keep up!

Are you beginning to see what I mean by ‘systematic’? We have a system – a system that gets us to look at ALL of the things that COULD cause harm (come on – at least five) – a system that does not leave hazard identification to chance (!) and therefore gives risk assessment a better chance, too.

Let’s say you now have a reasonable list of 20 hazards. Or a good list of 30. Or a really good one of 40? They all COULD cause harm, but do you reckon they WILL? (‘Chance’ again, see?) It’s a bit of a gamble, isn’t it? Risk assessment is a game of chance, but don’t leave it to chance; have a system!

So, from your list of 20/30/40 hazards, do you assess the risks from all of them? Of course you do. But in a great many cases, all you have to do is note ‘little or no risk‘. I actually use the term ‘no issues’, which to me shows that the hazard may be there, but is not likely (chance again) to affect us.

So, on my list for a small office environment you might see:

  • Vibration – no issues;
  • Noise – no issues other than office background noise;
  • Radiation – no issues other than AOR;
  • Electricity (supplies) – no issues.

For all those that are there, you will identify those people who are at risk, what precautions you have and whether or not you need more, and some indication of the level of risk. And it’s a good idea to include an action plan – if we need to do more about it.

Why do I bother even to write them down if they are not a risk? Because they are THERE! They are there, somewhere. So how can the risk assessment be ‘suitable and sufficient’ if you haven’t been systematic?

Oh yes – at least five ‘harms’? Personal injury, ill health, fire, product loss, building damage. How many is that? OK – manufacturing down time, keep thinking… more than five already?

Keep thinking about it. Is your risk assessment ‘systematic’?


Roger Passey

Roger Passey

Roger Passey Dip2OSH MIOSH (retired)

Occupational health and safety consultant

Roger has been working in health and safety since 1988 and as a consultant since 2004. Formerly a chartered IOSH member, he now enjoys retired status

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It’s not all about the money

It’s not all about the money

Students on the NEBOSH Health and Well-Being at Work Certificate will be aware that one of the beliefs underpinning health and well-being is that work is good for both. I thought I would put this notion to the test one Friday afternoon and conduct an ad-hoc survey into the well-being of the workforce after a week at work. The vast majority of the answers fell into the category of ‘you must be kidding’, or words to that effect, so I reflected on why work is good for us and why we do not always recognise that fact.

A study by Waddell and Burton (2006) found strong evidence that work is good for physical and mental health, while not working (or worklessness) is associated with poorer physical and mental health and well-being.

Is work good for your health and well-being?

Is work good for your health and well-being?

In considering their findings I reflected that work does provide the material wherewithal (i.e. the money) for life and well-being. Money can support healthy diets and lifestyles – and it can also support unhealthy diets and lifestyles! But well-being can mean undertaking an activity or lifestyle that gives pleasure but may actually cause harm – obvious examples include alcohol consumption and smoking. Having the wherewithal to choose the healthier options within these categories is significant.

Work often also supplies ‘work colleagues’ and, love them or hate them, it’s often good to talk (or socially interact).

Work can be therapeutic – while we are concentrating on a particular work task we assign other problems to the back of our mind. Problems that were ‘disastrous’ earlier on are put aside, allowing a mental resource to deal with the issues to build. Work builds resilience in us that strengthens us for the trials and tribulations of our domestic life. Work is almost a custom-made training course for dealing with pressure and so helps us combat stress.

Work can reverse the pattern of worthlessness that builds within us when we are unemployed. Waddell and Burton proved this to be true for healthy people of working age, for many disabled people, for most people with common health problems, and for social-security beneficiaries. Of course, there is an infinite variety in the types of work that people do, so there is a codicil to the assumption that work is good for you – the nature and quality of work and its social context are relevant. The work needs to be safe and not have an adverse impact on health.

The traditional ‘health and safety’ view of work is that it minimises the risk of danger and, therefore, emphasises the adverse effects on health of work. HSE statistics show thousands of working days are lost as a result of health and safety failings – the government seems more concerned now with the millions of days lost as a result of failings in health and well-being. I agree with Waddell and Burton that the beneficial effects of work far outweigh the risks.


Kevin Coley

Kevin Coley

Kevin Coley CMIIOSH, Dip2.OSH, EnvDipNEBOSH

Kevin has spent his entire working career involved in health and safety. A NEBOSH Examiner and tutor he enjoys being able to simplify complex situations in order to explain how legislation is applied.

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‘Where there’s muck there’s Brass’ – or is there?

‘Where there’s muck there’s Brass’ – or is there?

I bet some of you are wondering what the title means – particularly international students, or anyone from outside of Lancashire. Well, to translate from my own native Lancastrian into proper English this old adage means there is money in waste.

It reminds me of a visit to a food-manufacturing company a few years back to complete a resource-efficiency review. I had quite a heated discussion on recycling with my contact there, which went something like this:

Contact: “We make x thousands of pounds every year from recycling waste food, cardboard and plastic.”

Me: “But have you investigated any other options to actually prevent or reduce waste?”

Contact: “Why should we? We make x thousands of pounds from sending waste to be recycled every year!”

Me: “But are you aware of the hidden costs associated with waste and recycling? And you do know you’ll never make as much back as you paid for the resources themselves in the first place?”

Contact: “But we make x thousands of pounds from sending waste to be recycled every year. . .”

And so on.

There are times in life when you just have to give up and accept that someone is not going to see it from your point of view – this was one of them!

In some ways, this person’s viewpoint, at least on the surface, had some logic; the company earned quite a bit of cash for sending their waste to be recycled. However, if you dig down a little further it almost seems to be a licence to create waste – a business is incentivised to create more and more waste materials to send for recycling, as it is brings in a lot of revenue.

From a financial perspective there a many hidden costs associated with creating waste, whether it is going to be recycled or not, that are often not considered. For example, a waste material will at some point have been a raw material, resource, or piece of equipment for which a company has paid a lot more than they will ever recoup by selling the resultant waste for recycling.

Additionally, for quality rejects, energy will have gone into making the product that eventually becomes waste.  There is also a requirement to move the wastes about, which might require staff who could be carrying out other, more productive duties.

Without wanting to labour a point there could also be many other hidden costs, such as the need to treat the waste, purchase personal protective equipment or extra insurance, and action to comply with waste law. All in all, these hidden costs are likely to add up to much more than is ever made from sending the waste to be recycled.

OK then, I hear you ask, what else should we be thinking of, if recycling is not the most cost-effective option? Say hello to my little friend – the waste hierarchy, as covered in Element 9 (Solid and Liquids Wastes) of Unit 1, NEBOSH Environmental Diploma.

The Waste Hierachy

As you can see from the diagram, the number-one option for waste is not to create it at all. All those hidden costs we mentioned earlier are obliterated if there is no waste to deal with.  The next best option would be to reuse the waste. There will still be some costs (the waste still has to be managed) but these will be fewer in comparison to creating the waste. Another good option would be to clean or repair the waste so it can be reused.

Then we come to recycling, which sits in or around the middle of the hierarchy.  It’s certainly a reasonably good option – it’s much better than sending the waste to landfill, for example – but it is not the most cost-effective option, or the best environmentally.

Just a final thought: at least in the context of recycling, I think the old adage should be something along the lines of: “where there is muck there might be some brass, but you would have been better not to have created the muck in the first place.” Not quite as snappy, though, is it?!


John Binns

John Binns

John Binns BSc (Hons), MSc, MSc, MIEMA

With over 15 years’ experience working in environment management, John Binns BSc (Hons) MSc MIEMA is an experienced environmental tutor and consultant with knowledge of health and safety management.

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It ain’t what you’re asked, it’s the way that you’re asked it

It ain’t what you’re asked, it’s the way that you’re asked it

When did you last sit an exam? For many of us it was YEARS ago – perhaps at school, or university. How did you get on? What did you think of the questions? Too technical? Too long? Wanted too much detail? You thought you knew the subject pretty well but were stumped by some of the things being asked?

It’s pretty scary even remembering it, isn’t it, and you may experience it all over again when you face your NEBOSH General Certificate course exams.

It doesn’t really matter where we are exposed (there’s a good health and safety word!) to questions – NEBOSH Certificate or not, they are just questions. One of my favourite responses to a tricky question – especially on quiz shows – is “that was a bit before my time”. How does that work if the question is about history, or it’s a history exam?

A question means what it means at the time we read it, or are asked it. The trouble is, we can ‘read’ into it things that aren’t there! In the field of human factors, communication features quite strongly, as it does in all aspects of management, not least health and safety management.

In situations where something has gone awry, folk will often say “there was a lack of communication”. You know, I have difficulty believing that – what they really experience is the wrong kind of communication; there is rarely none at all!

I have, in the past, used the “draw a plane” exercise to demonstrate to managers how communication works. So, go on – draw a plane.

How did you get on? Did you draw: 

  • a plane (aeroplane)?
  • a plane (a straight line)?
  • a plane (a carpenter’s smoothing tool)?
  • a plane (a plane tree)?

So why didn’t you draw what I wanted? I said “draw a plane” and of course I meant an aeroplane, because I used to be an aircraft engineer. But my instruction on its own apparently wasn’t good enough. Lack of communication? No, but definitely the wrong kind of communication. “Draw an aeroplane” would have been better (but then I probably would have moaned about it being the wrong type – engineers, eh?!)

This gives you an idea of the dilemma facing the Certificate-course exam question writer. Questions have to be asked that may be based on something that happened ‘before your time’ (even in the General Certificate ‘history’ features – for example, what was the date of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act?) and which can easily be misunderstood.

But as a NEBOSH General Certificate student, you’re more concerned with answering the exam questions. I have been fortunate to examine NEBOSH Diploma papers – now they have some really interesting questions, but the Certificate courses do, too. It’s all about reading what the question-writer is asking you to tell him or her.

Not knowing the answer is, obviously, a reason for failure but, more often than not, so is not answering the question asked. You need to be disciplined and READ the question. Then read it again. Then UNDERSTAND it. Then – and only then – answer it, when you think you know what it is asking.

And be careful here that you don’t get so engrossed in such an interesting and enthralling reply that you wander off topic and end up answering about something else entirely! That’s why you fail.

Let me give an example from a recent paper. The question was about the location of a flammable-liquid storage tank at a facility, and asked for the design features that would prevent, or minimise leaks and spills from it.

Go on – how would you answer that?

Did you think of: materials used in the tank’s construction; its pipe joints and fittings; routing of pipework; bunds; detection measures; shut-off valves; correct tanker connections; leak-proof connectors and valves? Good.

What about no-smoking rules; placement of fire extinguishers; regular fire alarm tests and emergency response drills; correct training of operatives; and – everyone’s favourite – risk assessment?

If you came up with any of the latter, read the question again and tell me where you went wrong. The key words in the question are design features. See? Drills – a design feature? Training operatives – what has that got to do with design features? Risk assessment? You get the picture.

Seriously, take the time to read and understand what you are being asked for on your Certificate course exam papers, and try to stick to providing exactly that.

And good luck!


Roger Passey

Roger Passey

Roger Passey Dip2OSH MIOSH (retired)

Occupational health and safety consultant

Roger has been working in health and safety since 1988 and as a consultant since 2004. Formerly a chartered IOSH member, he now enjoys retired status.

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Buying a ‘Stairway to Heaven’ – or another ‘Tragedy’?

Buying a ‘Stairway to Heaven’ – or another ‘Tragedy’?

I’ve never been a fan of the idea of environmental “offsetting”. The concept is most frequently applied to greenhouse gas emissions – with which NEBOSH Environmental Certificate students who have studied Element 1 will be familiar – where an organisation (or individual) seeks to compensate for the carbon emissions they cause (usually through using energy) by paying for improvements elsewhere. Carbon offsetting has become institutionalised through regulated schemes such as the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, and there is also a host of commercial ‘carbon offsets’ that are available for purchase from specialist companies. Carbon offsets are usually sold as tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent – the money being used to fund carbon reduction schemes, such as renewable energy projects, often in developing countries.

George Monbiot, the economist and writer, nailed the key objections to carbon offsetting in an article published in the Guardian newspaper way back in 2006 (Selling Indulgences). The main problem with the carbon-offset approach is that it simply avoids the problem – preventing runaway climate change requires us all to significantly cut our carbon emissions now; funding future renewable energy projects in developing countries isn’t going to make the problem go away. There is also no guarantee that the improvement projects funded by offsets will deliver any actual reductions in the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Some organisations claim they have become ‘carbon neutral’ as a result of offsetting – I myself have always found such claims preposterous. While I can see that a considerable amount of money may have changed hands, I doubt if the planet feels any better as a result. Monbiot eloquently likens this to the medieval practice of purchasing “indulgences” from the church in lieu of sins committed.

I’m much more impressed by organisations that take responsibility for their carbon emissions (and other environmental impacts) and roll up their sleeves and get on with the hard slog of bringing about real improvements in their own performance.

But what’s got me exercised this year – and I confess I feel a rant coming on! – is the idea that “biodiversity offsetting” could play a significant role in future planning decisions in this country.

The idea behind biodiversity offsetting is essentially the same as for carbon offsetting: you do something bad to the environment – for example, damage a sensitive wildlife habitat in the course of a construction project – and that’s OK, so long as you fund some environmental initiative that allegedly benefits wildlife in another location. The Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is quoted in the Times, for example, suggesting that developers could be allowed to destroy ancient woodland if they agree to plant 100 trees elsewhere for each one felled (see here).

The proposals for biodiversity offsetting stem from a frustration, apparently shared by developers and the government, with the length of time it takes under the present planning process to deal with environmental objections to proposed developments.

Well, I can sympathise with these frustrations, but the reality is that there are 60 million of us crammed into a small island with a finite and dwindling stock of natural assets. Whether these assets are in private or public ownership, in a very real sense they belong to us all – a form of Common Land – and the least we can expect is that decisions about development of sensitive natural habitats are subject to vigorous public scrutiny. If this means that planning decisions take a long time – tough!

And don’t tell me that planning delays are a hindrance to the growth of the economy – the establishment conspired to steal much of the Common Land of England by enclosure during the 18th and 19th centuries in the name of “agricultural improvement” – and look at what we all lost then.


Richard Dalley

Richard Dalley

Richard Dalley

Richard has more than 20 years experience of managing environmental and social issues in a business context.

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You should be dancing – yeah!

You should be dancing – yeah!

While watching an episode of the BBC programme ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ recently I began to reflect on the health and well-being of the participants in this physically demanding show. I was undertaking this reflection while sipping from a small glass of red wine and considering which chocolate from my ‘winter wonderland’ selection would go best with a Merlot.

One of the celebrity contestants on the series had recently fainted during rehearsals as a result of exhaustion, one of the professional dancers had failed to make the series owing to a foot injury sustained while practising, and one of the judges was due to have a hip replacement operation because excessive use of the joint had prematurely worn it out. So what, I reflected, is health and what is well-being?

Health (the noun) is defined in the Oxford online dictionary as “the state of being free from illness or injury”.  If this is true then, clearly, Strictly Come Dancing is unhealthy! Well-being is defined as “the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy”. It is easy to argue that having a hip replaced would not make one happy, neither would fainting or a debilitating foot injury, nor would any of these conditions meet the criteria for ‘comfortable’ or ‘healthy’. Sipping a nice wine and/or eating chocolates, on the other hand, meets the requirements perfectly!

Having found a ‘chocolate ganache’ to eat, I considered that, in the absence of injury and being in a very happy place, my own health and well-being were secure.

But the contestants in ‘Strictly’ repeatedly talk of their happiness at being involved in the show; levels of fitness and weight loss are also routinely mentioned; and the joy of dancing seems almost overwhelming for all involved. So, we have to remember that definitions of health and well-being are very subjective, often influenced by individual feelings and experiences. Equally, not all that we enjoy or find pleasurable is necessarily healthy.

Well-being itself is moving from the realm of philosophy and becoming much more of a science. There is a growing volume of research into what contributes to the quality of life and what gives individuals the vitality to get involved in activities that are meaningful. Being ‘at work’ is now widely regarded as a  significant contributor to well-being. Work provides a source of activities that are meaningful and engaging, which results in the individual feeling valued, autonomous and competent. Work activities contribute to our store of experiences that build resilience to cope with change or adversity.  Therefore, even the difficult times in the working environment (e.g. coping with redundancy) can have a positive element.

People also normally enjoy social interaction – meeting with friends, playing sports, or engaging with work colleagues, and having a sense of ‘relatedness’ to other people. The degree to which this social interaction is supportive forms a considerable part of well-being. While it’s not necessary to address all the finer detail around the subject of well-being, it’s clear that many elements play a role in ensuring that people believe their lives are going well – although the individual importance of each element may vary as individual circumstances change.


Kevin Coley

Kevin Coley

Kevin Coley CMIIOSH, Dip2.OSH, EnvDipNEBOSH

Kevin has spent his entire working career involved in health and safety. A NEBOSH Examiner and tutor he enjoys being able to simplify complex situations in order to explain how legislation is applied.

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A case of management-ITIS

A case of management-ITIS

Years ago, there was a TV advert in the UK for a telephone company, in which a morose young lad was telling his gran over the phone that he hadn’t passed any of his exams – “except sociology”. On hearing this, granny exclaims: “You got an ‘ology?!” and almost bursts with pride.

I am reminded of this every time I introduce to the students I teach the health and safety ‘term’ ITIS. It stands for (sorry for shuffling the original order): Information, Training, Instruction and Supervision. So, not “an ITIS” – just ITIS.

ITIS pops up in many locations in our wander through health and safety management systems, but how much do you know about it? Lets’ take it one item at a time.

I = Information

Section 2(2)(c) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 requires that “information” is given to employees about the hazards involved in the work they do. Information must also be given regarding the precautions they must take to be safe. So ‘information’ looks like a ‘pass-it-on’ process, as in: “Here is the information you need”. And, in many cases, the employer must give this information and not wait for employees to ask for it. Of course, all information provided must be correct (accurate) and meaningful. You shouldn’t be given it if you can’t understand it.

Regulation 10 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR) stipulates list of quite clear (‘comprehensible and relevant’) information that is needed for employees.

So, this is your homework: look up the MHSWR, go to Regulation 10 and see what is says. I will test you on it later!

T = Training

I get the idea that this is just a bit more than ‘pass it on’, like information. Training requires the employees actually to take part in something. Being ‘trained’ to use work equipment, for instance, would involve being shown and then being allowed to use, under supervision (later), that work equipment. But as well as being trained how to use it, should we not also be trained to recognise what we can and can’t do with it? How to appreciate not only how to work it but also how to know when it’s broken?

I = Instruction

Again, this is a bit further down the track than information, as it actively involves the employee by requiring them at least to listen. Employees must be provided with clear and correct instructions on what is to be done and not done – particularly where routine tasks are carried out by employees who might be so used to doing them they forget (or ignore) safety issues. Young works, in particular, must be given specific and very clear instructions.

S = Supervision

It is important that supervision is provided by properly trained and competent supervisors, not just someone left in charge of workers. Supervisors must have the authority to oversee activities and to make sure all safety measures are in place and being followed.

Right – back to that homework I set earlier. What did you discover from Regulation 10 MHSWR? You should have found information on:

  • Risks to employees’ health and safety (identified via risk assessment);
  • Preventive and protective measures needed;
  • Procedures for dealing with serious or imminent dangers, danger areas and fire-fighting measures;
  • The identity of persons appointed by the employer to implement evacuation procedures and fire-fighting measures;
  • The risks that other employers sharing the workplace have indentified; and
  • Providing information regarding risks to children (young persons) to the parents of those children.

Consider carefully, then, your application of ITIS!


Roger Passey

Roger Passey

Roger Passey Dip2OSH MIOSH (retired)

Occupational health and safety consultant

Roger has been working in health and safety since 1988 and as a consultant since 2004. Formerly a chartered IOSH member, he now enjoys retired status.

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