Category Archives: Uncategorized

Breach Birth

In the UK, as in many jurisdictions, there exists the Civil Law concept of individuals seeking compensation for injuries caused (at least partly) by others. In terms of health and safety at work, the typical scenario is when an employee is injured due to some work activity controlled by the employer. There are several types of legal action for compensation open to the injured employee. They will usually at least pursue an action for Negligence. However, if the injury was in some way connected with a breach of a statutory duty (i.e. imposed by legislation) by the employer, then a second avenue may also be possible. This, as you might have guessed, goes by the unimaginative name of the tort of breach of statutory duty (BoSD). BoSD is, in some respects similar to negligence. Indeed, in some countries, breaching a legislative duty is taken as tantamount to negligence. However, a noticeable difference in the UK is that the duty on the employer arises from statute rather than the common law. That means that correct interpretation of the intention of the legislation is extremely important. Special people (called Judges) do this for a living, receiving substantially more than the minimum wage for their troubles.

Some legislation specifically excludes BoSD as actionable, others allow it and yet others say nothing. Until recently, there has been an assumption that BoSD is generally actionable (unless otherwise stated) in health and safety cases. The provision for BoSD was enshrined in section 47 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSW). This is no longer the case. The House of Lords has been quite put out by this and will no doubt resort to fasting in between lavish lunches as a formal protest.

Section 69 (in Part 5) of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 amends HSW to reverse this presumption. So now, unless specific regulations allow it, BoSD is no longer actionable in such cases. This does not affect the ability to pursue a claim for negligence and nor does it affect historical cases. The reason this was changed is allegedly down to employers being too easily targeted by a claims culture and, as a result, fearful of such claims, feeling they have to go way beyond the requirements of the law. The existence of such a culture has been largely debunked as purely perception rather than reality, but this has not derailed the actions of Parliament. Clearly, there is the perception that having both Negligence and BoSD routes makes life too easy for the claimant, encouraging more claims. But the opposite side also hold the view that genuine cases may find it more difficult. I assume they do realise that the law was never meant to be fair…..

PAS the Fire Blanket

You may be aware that British Standards Institute (BSI) have recently revised their fire risk assessment standard –PAS 79. PAS standards for Publicly Accessible Standard and, like all their other standards, is available for a price. Now, you might think we are already swimming in guidance for fire risk assessment. I mean, there’s the very good free stuff (Fire Safety Risk Assessment series) from the UK Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG – another snappy departmental title). Though now elderly (much from 2006) it is still widely used and applicable, not least because it is free, accessible, relatively short (but still helpful detail included in appendices) and focused on specific types of premises. The stepwise approach to fire risk assessment is also broadly consistent with the UK HSE’s five steps to risk assessment (though there is no reason why it shouldn’t be).

On the other hand, PAS 79 is certainly not free; nor is it short at around 120 pages. However, in its favour it uses a good amount of red in its font colour for headings and important notes. Now, that’s the cutting edge of consistency – red, fire, danger. You’d be disappointed if there were no red. And, it has nearly twice as many steps – 9 in fact . I mean, more is always better right? To be fair, those 9 steps are pretty logical: obtain information, identify fire hazards and related existing measures for their control, assess likelihood of fire (based largely on the two preceding steps), determine physical measures for the protection of people (e.g. fire detectors), determine information on fire safety management (e.g. fire drills), assess likely consequence to people in event of fire, (based largely on the previous 2 steps), assess the fire risk (combining likelihood and severity) and evaluate its significance (is it acceptable?), formulate actions to address any identified shortcomings, periodic review.

I personally think there are too many steps and breaking things down in this way can confuse rather than help. You can also be fooled into thinking the steps are temporarily separate, rather than just logically distinct (though what constitutes logical will depend on your mental state). Many of the steps are either dependent or interrelated so can be tackled more efficiently together. For example, quite a few of the steps are data-gathering related but the truth is you also start to formulate your subjective opinion on the adequacy of controls (and any deficiencies) as you progressively gather your data. It’s simply more convenient to do it as you go.

That said, the PAS has some handy checklists/pro-formas included for documenting a fire risk assessment. Since there is so much to look for, checklists are always handy as a starter, so long as the font is in red and you wear a red hard hat and use a red tablet PC to fill them in :)

Hot and Sticky

I recently returned from Bahrain, in the Middle East. I’ve been there quite a few times and, in the open, it was hot and sticky (like toffee, rather than a stick). The British (and also chocolate) are not used to such conditions. I came to thinking what the actual temperature really felt like.

How warm we feel depends on lots of factors – air temperature, wind strength, clothing, exercise, humidity (the measure of how much moisture is in the air). Some of these are obvious – given the same air temperature, heat feels more bearable when it is windy (wind chill), the humidity is low and we are not performing some strenuous exercise. “Dry heat” seems more bearable than “wet heat”.

Generally, as we all know, all other things being equal, the higher the humidity, the warmer it feels. That’s because it makes sweating (one of the body’s heat loss mechanisms) less effective. Humidity isn’t that important at ordinary comfortable temperatures (< 26°C according to ISO 7730). It’s only when you get outside the comfort range that it has a more marked effect.

Absolute humidity can be defined in several ways but essentially it’s how much water vapour is in the air. This changes with air temperature. Often, for convenience, we tend to use “relative humidity” instead, which is a simple ratio of the water content compared to how much the air could hold if it were totally saturated with water vapour (and could hold no more). It’s usually expressed as a percentage, which is always nice because finance people understand that kind of thing.

Because scientists, like the Police, love investigating things, several people have come up with handy tables to look up what the temperature effectively feels like to the average human as the humidity varies. Some have even tried to develop equations so the result can easily be calculated. The equations are not exact; the numerical methods used lead to a rather inelegant multi-variable equation, of which there are several variants. People have done this with all sorts of factors, like the wind velocity too.

But, in Bahrain, there was no wind, relative humidity was 80% and the temperature was 38°C in the shade. Using the handy online Heat Index calculator incorporating these equations, gives me a calculated effective temperature of 71°C. The actual figure may not be that accurate, but, either way, that’s going to feel pretty hot and not bearable for long without air conditioning. It’s quite interesting that it’s not until the relative humidity drops to around 25%, that the effective temperature reflects the actual temperature. Below this humidity, the effective temperature starts to feel cooler than the actual temperature. Now I’m back in the UK, I have no such problems….

Pi in the Sky Technology for the class room

Well now I have one, a raspberry pi, model B. You may be wondering what it is. Some culinary delight, perhaps? No, it’s a computer, but not as you know it. It’s also become insanely popular (among a small population of, admittedly, mainly men with ponytails who seem to say “awesome” quite a lot). Computers are ubiquitous in training (in fact in most areas of life) and trainers like to travel light (because they have so much other stuff to carry). Low profile, light laptops have obvious manual handling advantages too. But netbooks, iPads and to a certain extent iPhones, Galaxies and Android-based phones are filling the space. But they lack that certain something….and since Raspberry Pi is up and coming, I decided to see whether it might be any use in training.

At the risk of turning this into a techy journal, I should at least describe what it is. The raspberry pi is a somewhat basic computer board that costs around £30. It’s about the size of a pack of playing cards but much lighter. It’s somewhat stark, rugged electronics – though cases are available or make your own. It will not work out of the box. I needed to add a power supply (a decent 5V micro-USB phone charger will do it), USB compact keyboard/mouse and borrow a TV/monitor. Connection is via HDMI (digital video/audio) cable, so you’ll need a VGA converter for older devices/data projectors, a bit like the one I have for my iPhone (I discovered simple connector adapters don’t work for digital output; you need a converter containing a box of tricks to do a proper job).

The operating system sits on an SD card that slots in beneath, so you need to buy that too. I bought my OS pre-loaded on a 16 GB SD card, but you can just buy the card and load the OS yourself using another computer. I also did the latter with an alternative OS – it’s free and relatively painless. The board also comes with a network port for wired internet access (but you can buy a wireless dongle) and several other interfaces. Obviously all this adds up to closer to £50, excluding the TV (and the OS is free). I also added a powered USB hub which is handy to plug in extra memory sticks, as the Pi only comes with 2 USB ports.

I first started with the recommended OS. This is a lithe, slim version of Linux, called Raspbian “Wheezy” (yes, really). So, it is a relative of UNIX and Mac OS. Microsoft Windows will not run on this hardware, so don’t even try it. When you switch it on, don’t get your hopes up. Real world performance has been likened to a 300 MHz Pentium II computer. So, it’s not quick by modern standards, but that’s largely because modern software has become much more resource hungry (well, ok, obese). The challenge therefore is to install slim, undemanding OS and software to make it reasonably fast. It does initially boot into a windows type environment (but is far quicker if you drop back down into a command line interface (CLI) – a bit like the Windows Command Prompt. It comes with some basic software already installed (including programming software) but with access to an extensive repository of free packages.

I am not a stranger to Linux, running Ubuntu OS on another computer, so the environment and CLI are familiar. The location of the repositories is already set for you, so, provided you are connected to the web, it is quite easy to load new software, using the “sudo apt-get install” command. You can search what’s available using “sudo apt-cache search” followed by the name of something you are looking for. I installed a basic word processor called Abiword quite easily (it’s a bit like an older version of Word). Major components of OpenOffice or LibreOffice were not yet available in the repository for this version of Raspbian. I therefore couldn’t install Impress (the LibreOffice version of PowerPoint) to test out my slides. But that will come soon enough.

I also tried a different OS, called Raspbmc (Raspberry Media Centre). This is quite different and is biased very much towards using the Pi as a media centre, such as for playing videos (including YouTube), displaying pictures and access to facebook. It has a very pleasing, intuitive and modern interface. It is extremely easy to add software (called “add ons”) – just select to install. But it seems slow. You can drop out into the CLI but that defeats the object.

Of the two versions, I can see the media centre having some use in class. But on balance, I prefer the flexibility of the Raspbian OS, if and when I can display slides. But there are many other OSs to try.

If you want a cheap, very light computer that you don’t mind messing with, the Pi might work for you. Will it work as a laptop replacement? No – it’s portable but not really mobile. But it’s passable as a very cheap, portable media centre with an incredibly small footprint. It’s fun too. Building your computer in front of a class will at least be a talking point.

But this is an emerging gadget that seems to have captured the imagination of many, including software developers. I know that means things will quickly develop. I hear too that soon there will be a version of Android OS (another variant of Linux) available for the Pi. Android is currently one of the world’s leading smartphone operating systems. Just like the iPhone OS, it has access to an app store – so it is extendable in an almost infinite number of ways. That may improve things and make it even easier to use. Gooseberry (don’t laugh) is another Pi-like board which has revealed itself but is rarer still. It is however more powerful but similarly priced to the Pi. So, you could have a fruit sundae or a Summer pudding.

The icing on cake is the realisation that Britain’s Cycling team have just won Olympic gold at the Velodrome. Now if that doesn’t make you rush out and buy some Pi I don’t know what will.

It’s a fair cop

Since my last blog entry I’ve acquired an auto-darkening welding visor. This has been magnificent and I’ve been welding almost anything that isn’t already, well, welded. I think I may be addicted. My joy is boundless. Since the visor, by design, also absorbs those all important UV rays, I may resort to wearing it on the beach. Oh the things you can get away with when you wear a mask….

I’ve also been knocking together a computer controlled laser pointer, using some old bits and bobs. If I mount it on my shoulder, like a parrot, and wear the visor, I think I could just about pass as the alien warrior in Predator. But how will I ever know whether I’m working within the law?

Anyway, that brings me to the subject of ACoPs. In line with the Lofstedt review, HSE are considering chopping or modifying a whole load of approved codes of practice (ACOPs). ACOPs hold a special place in UK law. In short, they both explain what the law intended to say and also translate complicated legal speak into tangible examples of what it would look like in practice. This is supposed to give confidence to employers that they are doing enough (or not, as the case may be). But, ACoPs can be used in evidence in criminal cases. As a result, they are not flights of fancy into what they might like to see but rather somewhat clipped pronouncements.

HSE is striving to be more and more realistic and, in line with current government campaigns, remove unnecessary burdens on business. The tick is to maintain standards of safety at the same time. HSE have been making headway into translating sometimes vague legal requirements into proportionate practical tools for low risk workplaces.

For those of you who have read an ACOP, it can sometimes leave you no clearer than reading the unadulterated legislation itself. If that is the case then it has failed to achieve its objective – to make the law’s intentions more concrete. In amongst many proposed consolidations of ACoPs (often a good thing, even if making it easier to find where stuff is), one particular ACoP is identified for possible removal altogether – that for the Management Regulations. This has appalled some people. It’s tantamount to getting rid of the British Monarchy. The problem is that this ACoP is pretty vague. But this is understandable because so are the regulations; this is because the subject matter (management) is also vague and woolly, when compared to, say, machinery guarding. There are myriad ways and approaches of effectively managing businesses, so all that is discussed is principals. Nice, but probably not that much help compared to say a self-help group. HSE have recognised that essentially it does not add much to what is already available and therefore probably also falls short of what is expected of an ACoP – giving confidence that you know whether you are within the law.

So, I think HSE have taken a brave and honest step (and no, I’m not using the civil service code for ‘a mistake’).

One somewhat strange part of the consultation is the consideration of imposing an arbitrary 32 page limit on the length of an ACoP. This, whilst well intended, is, I think, ill conceived. Whilst brevity is laudable, if it fights against the intention of clarity, usability and practicality, then it has missed the point. Instead, there should be a range of quality standards (like usability) applied. Sure, length can be a consideration, but that will depend on the complexity of the legislation.

On the whole, it’s a fair cop, guv.

Experience counts – Flying Helicopters and Arc Welding

It seems obvious, but experiencing is quite different from simply having knowledge of something. Some experiences are clearly to be avoided (like a bullet wound or a large tax bill) whereas some are to be embraced. I recently had a ride in a helicopter (a kind friend coerced her son to take me up in his helicopter which happened to be parked in the garden when I visited). Even though we were travelling at over 90 mph, there was no real sense of speed. The ‘bubble glass’ nature of the cockpit also meant that you really felt you were out there, just hanging, like hawks. This is rather different from peering through the tiny portholes in aeroplanes; I’m not sure what I was expecting but it was memorable and exhilarating.

I’ve noticed there’s a vibrant second hand helicopter sales market, so it got me thinking…I mean how hard can it be? All those film stars (like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis) seem to have no trouble getting to grips with flying; the film, The Matrix, showed that you can learn how to fly in only a few seconds (if you have a hole drilled in the base of your skull that can accept computer downloads).

Recently I tried electric arc welding, largely because it’s a pretty useful thing to be able to do for minor repairs on vehicles and around the home. There’s lots of issues associated with arc-welding but I guess the most immediately obvious one is the intensely bright light. Like most people, I’ve seen welders in action (just about every fabrication workshop and garage does it) and, like a moth, been attracted from afar to the intensely bright light that emanates from the arc. It always seems a pretty cool thing to be able to do – like Cyclops with those menacing mono-ocular masks.

It’s only when you actually use a welding mask, you realise how impossibly dark the filtering lens is and the constant need to stop to check the work. In fact you can’t see anything through it at all until you strike the electric arc; it’s like being blind folded. As we all know, the principle danger from the arc light is not what we can see, it’s the invisible Ultra Violet (UV) and Infrared (IR) band components. (Note that Ultra Violet is also the title of quite a good film, starring actress Milla Jovovich). The dark coloration of the lens is added not to protect against the UV/IR (though the lens, visor and protective clothing do that too); no, it protects from the discomfort glare of the intense visible light. Some ‘smart’, auto-darkening lenses use electronics to detect when the arc is lit and instantly darken to protect against the visible glare. That’s neat but comes with a hefty price tag.

Since I have the cheap option, it presents some real difficulties and that’s where practice to develop the skill comes in. So, you have to line up everything ready before you get started and everything goes dark; you can’t see anything until the arc is lit. You then begin to understand the real temptation (subconscious) to catch a glimpse of the workpiece through unshielded eyes, and the benefit of getting something better. I must save up for some smart lenses whilst I recover in hospital….and contemplate my new found respect for the skill of arc welders and a fresh appreciation of the difficulties involved.

How many experts does it take to change a lightbulb?

Very recently I had trouble with the daytime running lights on my car. Combination of a blown fuse and a blown bulb. I happened to be consulting the owner’s manual to get an idea on how to access to the headlamp assembly. It was pretty simple, removing a rubber cover, twisting out the old bulb and replacing with a new one. What astounded me was the stance of the manufacturer. Firstly, the manual stated (and I quote) “changing the vehicle bulbs requires considerable technical skill”. It suggested you have the car dealer do this if you “didn’t feel confident” (a statement which seems designed to create doubt in your mind).

The reality is that changing a bulb is (and was) child’s play. It is simple and straightforward. If this is the definition of “considerable technical skill” I would think only a handful of people on the planet would even be allowed to drive the car. I am hoping this is purely the usual risk aversion or liability reduction and not some cynical attempt to refer everything to the dealer for financial gain.

The owners manual has similar warnings about removing and recharging the vehicle battery (actually suggesting you should take the battery to the dealer to have them recharge it for you!). All of this, in my mind, is simple car maintenance and not something for which dealers should even be considered unless it happens to be convenient. I mean, it is not as if spare bulbs and battery chargers are hard to come by. Some countries even legally require the driver to carry a spare bulb kit with them in the car.

This attitude of fearing to do anything that is vaguely ‘technical’ in case it goes wrong is difficult to understand. Such people are prey to ‘experts’ who may well not even give the care and attention that the owner would. There is a very healthy sub-culture of men and women doing their own vehicle maintenance. A thriving industry of vehicle repair manuals (e.g. ‘Haynes’) and replacement parts testifies to this. This is especially so with motorcycles, where there are far fewer dealers and repair shops so owners sometimes have little choice but to tackle repairs themselves. There is also very much a culture of modifying and upgrading (and a ready supply of aftermarket parts and installation advice to support this). But this is character building and rewarding. Yes, you can get it wrong, but with a decent workshop manual and tools, you get there in the end. Supremely, it builds confidence and this then changes your perception of risk. In some respects, it gets put back in perspective.

For example, it is very easy, and understandable to be apprehensive or even horrified that anyone should change their own brake pads. I mean, it’s safety critical isn’t it? It would be reckless to tackle it yourself surely? But actually, once you have done it, you realise how easy it is to do (OK, a workshop manual, a torque wrench and some copper grease are really doing most of the work…). There are simple steps to check that the brakes work too, before you set off. But one might also argue that changing a wheel is also safety critical – you might forget to tighten all the wheel nuts; the car might collapse on you whilst changing the wheel. But most people would have a very different view of that – it’s a simple job to do, the alternative is we are stranded with a flat tyre, so we are prepared to accept the risk.

I am not saying that expert mechanics are not worth their weight in gold – a good one certainly is. If you know one, stick with them. I’m just saying that the practise of falsely labelling something as requiring exceptional skill (when it plainly doesn’t) undermines a person’s ability to grow, develop and get confidence through trying something new. I’m not suggesting that people should be reckless either but rather have a bit more back bone and appreciation of what they are capable of. It’s a thin line between being overconfident and knowing your own limitations. But better that than scared to change a lightbulb.

Playing to the Gallery?

Playing to the Gallery?

Is it me, or are the radical reforms to health and safety proving to be all smoke and mirrors?

Way back in June 2010, when the coalition was newly formed, David Cameron appointed Lord Young of Graffham to conduct a review of health and safety law and practice. The Young report was published later that year. It was wide-ranging, though whether it was fully comprehensive and evidence-based is a matter of opinion.

Lord Young was very clear in focusing his attention on the issue of the compensation culture, stating that fear of litigation (and the associated costs) was a major driver in many risk-averse decisions taken by business, schools and other organisations. He also stated that much of the fear was caused by a perception that litigation is easy and that a claimant will always win.

“…I believe that a ‘compensation culture’ driven by litigation is at the heart of the problems that so beset health and safety today.”

Foreword to the Young report

Lord Young wasn’t telling those in power anything that they didn’t know already. A report by the Better Regulation Task Force (an independent government advisory group) called Better Routes to Redress said much the same thing in 2004:

“It is this perception that causes the real problem: the fear of litigation impacts on behaviour and imposes burdens on organisations trying to handle claims. The judicial process is very good at sorting the wheat from the chaff, but all claims must still be assessed in the early stages. Redress for a genuine claimant is hampered by the spurious claims arising from the perception of a compensation culture. The compensation culture is a myth; but the cost of this belief is very real.”

Foreword to Better Routes to Redress

Following on from Lord Young’s report came the Löfstedt report, with a far narrower remit; health and safety regulation and Approved Codes of Practice. This report was far more evidence-based and made a series of practical recommendations. Whether you believe that all of the recommendations are completely justified and sound is, again, a matter of opinion.

Professor Löfstedt was of the view that there are no major problems with the legislative framework as it stands:

“I have concluded that, in general, there is no case for radically altering current health and safety legislation. The regulations place responsibilities primarily on those who create the risks, recognising that they are best placed to decide how to control them and allowing them to do so in a proportionate manner. There is a view across the board that the existing regulatory requirements are broadly right, and that regulation has a role to play in preventing injury and ill health in the workplace. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that proportionate risk management can make good business sense.”

Foreword to the Löfstedt Report

Many of his recommendations will take significant work (mostly by or involving the HSE) to implement. Professor Löfstedt was at pains to point out that resources would be an issue if his demanding deadlines were to be met.

But even when all of the Löfstedt recommendations have been implemented there will be little change for most businesses, organisations or the men and women working in them. Many of the regulatory changes involve consolidating or revoking out-of-date or sector specific regulations. The exemption for the self-employed will make little or no practical difference to most self-employed workers (who don’t bother anyway). In short, I can’t see that it will make much difference for most of us.

Because Löfstedt’s focus was on the regulations, many of the recommendations do little or nothing to address the cultural problems that were identified by the Young and BRTF reports.

Maybe I’m getting cynical in my old age, but I can’t help but think that the Löfstedt report (however well prepared) is simply an example of politicians playing to the gallery. Health and safety law will always be there in some way, shape or form and organisations just have to accept this fact. Just like tax, accounts, consumer protection, employment law, etc.

But if you Google (other search engines are available) “David Cameron and health and safety” you might get the impression that the Prime Minister is abolishing the lot:

“I don’t think there is any one single way you can cut back the health and safety monster…You have got to look at the quantity of rules, and we are cutting them back. You have got to look at the way they are enforced, and we are making sure that is more reasonable.”

Guardian online, 5th January 2012

“So one of the Coalition’s New Year resolutions is this: kill off the health and safety culture for good. I want 2012 to go down in history not just as Olympics year or Diamond Jubilee year, but the year we banished a lot of this pointless time-wasting from the economy and British life once and for all.”

London Evening Standard, 5th January 2012

Perhaps the PM has recognised that kicking health and safety is popular. Perhaps he is discovering that tackling the compensation culture, with the well-heeled self-interest groups that this might inconvenience, is difficult. Perhaps he has discovered that chucking a shed-load of work at the HSE (who can’t say no) is an easier option.

For the HSE themselves, there appears to be a huge job to do following Löfstedt. But most of that work is doable. Indeed some of the things recommended were already there but perhaps not as clearly signposted as they might have been. For example, I can’t be the only person to have noticed that the HSE are attempting to raise the profile of their myth-buster webpages. Anyone who visits the HSE website will know that the myth-busters have been there for years.

My worry is not that the HSE have a difficult task ahead of them, or that they might have to change or revoke some regulations. My worry is that the PM fails to show true leadership and a clear vision in tackling the key issue identified by Lord Young and others. He may instead continue to deliver mixed messages and perpetuate the very myths and nonsense that have got us here in the first place.

For example, it’s a shame he hadn’t looked at the myth-buster site before he went off on one of his anti-health and safety rants:

“Talk of health and safety can too often sound farcical or marginal. People think of children being given goggles to play conkers, or trainee hairdressers being banned from using scissors.”

London Evening Standard, 5th January 2012

Judith Hackitt’s eyes must have rolled skywards at that one.

My message to the PM is pretty simple: stop playing to the gallery. Give a more truthful view of the reports that your advisors have given you. Start talking about the real successes of health and safety regulation in the UK over the years. We have arguably the best health and safety standards in Europe and many nations around the world envy those standards and seek to replicate them.

In your foreword to Lord Young’s report you state:

“A damaging compensation culture has arisen, as if people can absolve themselves from any personal responsibility for their own actions, with the spectre of lawyers only too willing to pounce with a claim for damages on the slightest pretext.”

Until you tackle the perception that this is the case, nothing will change.

Comfort Food – Learning Just What We Need to Pass the Exam

You may have noticed some recent news about the shock students going to University face. Some clever people at Cambridge Assessment have done a bit of research. I know what you’re thinking, that might just mean they asked a few people on the bus, which technically is still research, even if it isn’t that representative. But, it did take them 18 months, so give them some credit.

The basic theme is that some pre-university courses can be far too modularised and exam focussed. What this means is that people learn a topic, take the exam and then forget it, moving on to the next one. Dare I say, it was not like that in my day in 1872. Queen Victoria was still on the throne and teaching had to be far more integrated because the exams were not modularised to the same extent. Of course education was widely available to all in those days (except the poor, those without a large mansion in the countryside and people who disagreed with the government). So, at least 50 people a year received education.
I have some sympathy with just teaching to the exam. On the surface, it seems entirely reasonable. I mean why learn what you don’t need and why retain it for longer than you have to? If the exam doesn’t test understanding much either, why bother even understanding it?

As it happens, there are many good reasons why. A singular focus on an exam, combined with limited time and our innate desire to avoid pain, can lead to only ‘learning what you need for the exam’. Whilst learning frequently involves exams (or some other assessment) it’s as well to remember that the exam is not an end in itself. The purpose of learning is to improve or acquire new skills, understanding etc in order to do stuff (like earn a living, create something, self actualise or just survive the next round of redundancies). Fundamentally we learn in order to change (for the better). Learning stuff is not just about memorising (though it will involve that). If you just memorise a whole load of unconnected stuff without understanding how it fits together, it gets rather confused and foggy and it may lead us to the dark side. The mind seems to like to at least partially organise and rationalise stuff and will make up whatever seems reasonable if we are missing key bits (like a conscience).

This can lead to people who are not very good at analysis, problem solving and thinking things through when they meet new situations on their own. That’s because they haven’t been taught underlying principles of how things work and nor can they apply those transferable problem solving skills (because they haven’t practised them). They are instead often just cramming information into their heads to get the exam out the way. But as I said, I have a lot of sympathy with students who are up against time pressure and the demands of, well, a demanding, job.

It is no surprise that Cambridge Assessment therefore recommend some changes that mean things like incorporating into teaching and exam system more critical thinking, exploration, independent study and reading round the subject.

My experience when teaching is that some students frequently ask ‘do I need this for the exam?’. Whilst this is understandable, we need to think more widely than the exam. Doing activities which develop understanding can be exacting; they may also go beyond the specific information content you need for an exam question. However, it will help you recognise the scenario described in the exam question for what it is and also help you understand, analyse and solve problems in real life (well, as real as a safety professional is ever likely to see).

Lofstedt 7 – Keep it Simple, shaking that ASSE

Having been abducted by aliens for several weeks I now find myself writing from Bahrain, an island in the Arabian gulf. I’ve been delivering a 2 day emergency planning workshop with a colleague at the ASSE conference (don’t ask), followed by 3 days of exhibitionism. For those of you that don’t know, ASSE is the American equivalent of IOSH. Both say they are the largest such organisations in the world which probably means that they’re of similar size or they use different criteria (like combined mass/volume of members vs numbers). All I know is that there are certain bodily functions that are ill advised in a gas-tight suite.

In Chapter 7, Lofty really gets going. And who can blame him? He’s kept his self-restraint for 6 whole chapters.

As I mentioned in earlier blogs, a real problem for many businesses is keeping up with the ever increasing amount and apparent complexity of legislation. It’s sometimes not what it says but more finding out it exists and where to find it. There have been many calls for consolidation but there are numerous options – everything together vs reduced number of thematic regulations and everything in between . I recognise that consolidation can sometimes end up making things even more tortuous, with nested conditional ‘if….then’ clauses. Consolidation in the human digestive system can lead to constipation and preoccupation with stools. One should never be frightened of stools…

Lofstedt helpfully distinguishes 3 broad categories of regulations which sit under the health and safety at work Act. These are easily recognisable as management, hazard-specific and activity/process-specific. The distinction between the latter two is somewhat arbitrary given that a hazard is usually construed as anything (object, activity etc) with the potential to cause harm. But that said, there’s clearly overarching management things (which speak in woollier management terminology) and specific stuff (sector/hazard/risk). Management regulations apply to all businesses whereas the rest may not.

Even if the ultimate consolidated regulations are better the process itself is yet another change. So, the benefits need to be clearly communicated. The main point here is clarity (oh, and lower compliance costs for business would be nice). Explosives, Mining, genetically modified organisms (that’s highly paid footballers to you and me) are just a few of those that have already been identified. Some (like specific construction head protection regulations) are seen as simply duplicating the requirements of other regs (like PPE), so should just be removed.

Clearly the scale of such a task to figure out what can actually be removed and formulate the legislation clearly but without reducing protection, will be detailed and tedious. In the current economic climate, it might just be put on the too difficult pile. Perhaps we should just put all our resources into stopping time.