BOHS Conference 2014

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I’ve just about recovered from attending this year’s BOHS (British Occupational Hygiene Society) Conference that took place in the Hilton Nottingham on Tuesday to Thursday last week. In fact, the conference effectively started on Monday for me as like the last few years, I was running a Diploma exam “taster” day as one of the Professional Development Courses that take place the day before the Conference officially starts.

As usual, there was lots of good interesting Keynotes, workshops and technical sessions. And it was difficult to choose which of the parallel sessions to attend. A record attendance too.

The Conference started with the Warner Lecture which this year was given by Major Phil Ashby. It was quite different from previous years as it wasn’t specifically about occupational hygiene/ Instead he recounted his experiences as a United Nations peacekeeper in Sierra Leone where, together with a small group of comrades, he had to evade capture by rebels by trekking through hostile country. A truly inspirational story.

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One of the key points he made was

“There’s no high to be had greater than the thought that you’ve been able to make a difference”

And making a difference is one of the most important challenges facing occupational hygienists today. Over the next 12 months BOHS will be trying to do more to make people more aware of the risks to health faced by workers due to their exposure to dusts, chemicals and other hazardous agents associated with their work, and, most importantly, to persuade them to do more to control them.

Major Ashby was followed by Professor John Cherrie, the recipient of the Society’s prestigious Bedford Medal. His talk, entitled  “Get a Life” discussed the concept of the “exposome” – the exposure profile experienced by an individual over their lifetime. He looked at how new technology including relatively inexpensive sensors and “the Internet of things” can be used to help evaluate exposure in different contexts. The slides from his presentation are available on Slideshare

He raised some interesting points – some of them quite controversial – and certainly provided some food for thought.

I also enjoyed the keynotes by former IOSH President Gerard Hand and Professor Tom Cox of Birkbeck University. Gerard had a very entertaining style relying on humour and personality to make some important points about how to conduct risk assessments in the real world. He particularly stressed the point about getting out into the workplace and talking to the people who do the job. Professor Cox made a very persuasive case for the importance of human factors and psychosocial risks in the workplace.

There was a very comprehensive programme of presentations on current research, case studies and workshops run in parallel sessions. The overall standard was very high and the only problem was that I often wanted to be in more than one place at one time.

And as usual the conference presented a great opportunity for network with delegates from all over the UK and from overseas.

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BOHS Conference 2013

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I’ve just about recovered from attending this year’s BOHS (British Occupational Hygiene Society) Conference that took place in the Hilton Hotel Manchester on Tuesday to Thursday last week. In fact, the conference effectively started on Monday for me as like the last few years, I was running a Diploma exam “taster” day as one of the Professional Development Courses that take place the day before the Conference officially starts.

As usual, there was lots of good interesting Keynotes, workshops and technical sessions. And it was difficult to choose which of the parallel sessions to attend.

The highlights for me were the opening Warner Lecture given by Dr Tim Marsh- ‘The person in health and safety: unpredictable but usually in a reasonably predictable way’, the keynote lecture by Dr Lesley Rushton of Imperial College School of Medicine on ‘Estimating the burden of occupational cancer: first steps to prevention’, the Ignite session of short lectures and the debate on Austerity, Recession & Regulatory Reform
Negotiating the Minefield in Pursuit of the Mission
on the final morning.

I was busy too, helping to facilitate the workshop on increasing the profile of BOHS in the media – Raising our exposure levels: putting occupational hygiene on the map –  and also running a workshop on Presentation Design on the final afternoon. And Diamond Environmental had a stand in the exhibition.

I’m going to be reporting on some of these highlights in future posts.

Like me, everyone I spoke to commented on how much they’d enjoyed the conference. I’m looking forward to next years conference that takes place in Nottingham.

Science and advocacy – Should BOHS become a campaigning organisation?

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Two of the key strategic objectives of BOHS are to

  • Raise awareness of occupational hygiene
  • Increase the visibility and influence of the Society

Traditionally we have concentrated on promoting research and discussion, publicising the science and good practice and encouraging education. As an organisation we aim to be impartial and trustworthy and it is important to members that our position is evidence-based, rational and objective. We have never been involved in political campaigning and lobbying but have concentrated on promoting the science and principles of occupational hygiene.

However, in recent years occupational hygiene, and health and safety generally, have become increasingly threatened by a number of developments that have taken place recently in the UK, including:

  • A general atmosphere, cultivated by the media, that is antagonistic towards “elf and safety”;
  • A Coalition Government that continues to press forward with its austerity and deregulatory agenda across business and employment;
  • An attitude in Government circles, despite the findings of the Lofstedt report, that health and safety places unnecessary burdens on industry;
  • The Prime Minister’s recent comments about the need to ‘kill off the health & safety culture for good’; and
  • Cutbacks at HSE which are likely to have implications on regulation and enforcement.

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Picture source; HSE

If we are to achieve our strategic objectives against this backdrop, we need to consider the most effective ways to influence policymakers and other key stakeholders. To canvas  members’ views on this, I’ll be running a workshop at the BOHS Conference in Cardiff with Tracey Boyle, BOHS Honorary Secretary, on behalf of Council.

The aims of the workshop will be to explore;

1. The types of issues on which BOHS should consider becoming a more active, campaigning organisation.

2. The key stakeholders we need to influence.

3. The approaches we could adopt.

We have invited two external speakers,

who will be relating their experiences of campaigning and lobbying. But the majority of the time will be devoted to syndicate group discussions to canvas the opinions of members and generate some ideas. The findings and conclusions will be presented to BOHS Council.

The workshop will be taking place on the Wednesday morning, starting bright and early at 8:30

Design and management of controls

I’ll be making a contribution to the BOHS Conference in Cardiff this year, first thing on the Thursday morning, titled Managing the Design and Implementation of Controls – A Review

The usual definition Occupational hygiene is that it is :

the discipline of anticipating, recognising, evaluating and controlling health hazards in the working environment with the objective of protecting worker health and well-being and safeguarding the community at large.’ (Source : International Occupational Hygiene Association)

Recognition and evaluation are important steps but, for me, they’re a means to an end, not an end in themselves. As occupational hygienists our priority has to be control. The other steps should really be about providing us with information to help us to make decisions on minimising risks to health.

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Unfortunately, controls are often badly designed and implemented, meaning that they are of limited effectiveness. There are a number of reasons for this, but, in my experience, ineffective control of exposure often occurs due to failures in the management process. If employers are to improve on this they need guidance. And occupational hygienists and other H & S professionals need to be able to analyse problems to help management avoid and overcome them.

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My talk will outline a management framework that sets out the key steps for the effective specification, design and implementation of control measures. I’ll be including a number of case studies showing how the framework can be used to analyse and identify problems.

Inevitably, I only have limited time and can only provide a brief introduction to the framework, so I’ve produced a Slideshare presentation that provides some additional background and more details.

Getting ready for Cardiff

On Sunday I’ll be travelling down to Cardiff, the venue for this years BOHS Conference. I’m looking forward to meeting up with friends and colleagues I haven’t seen for a while and the programme of scientific papers and workshops looks especially interesting this year. A copy of the final programme can be downloaded from here.

The Conference starts on Tuesday, running until Thursday, but on the Monday, the day before it officially opens, I’ll be running one of the professional development courses. It’s a “taster” course for candidates intending to sit the BOHS Diploma examinations. This is the third year that I’ll have run the course, the last two presentations having gone well.

Although I run the course as a workshop, focusing on discussing typical questions, I make a brief presentation at the start running through the format of the exam and providing some background. These slides are available on my Slideshare site, but I’ve also embedded the presentation below.

It’s going to be a busy conference for me this year as I’m giving a paper on the Thursday morning and am also running a workshop with Tracey Boyle, BOHS’ Honorary Secretary, on behalf of Council.

The workshop, which takes place first thing on the Wednesday morning, will be exploring whether BOHS should put more emphasis on campaigning and lobbying as part of our strategic objectives to raise awareness of occupational hygiene and increase the visibility and influence of the Society. We have invited two external speakers,

who will be relating their experiences of campaigning and lobbying.

The majority of the time will be devoted to syndicate group discussions to gauge the opinions of members and, hopefully, generate some ideas. The findings and conclusions will be presented to BOHS Council.

BOHS Conference workshop on nanotechnology

Titanium dioxide nanoparticles

In her Keynote address to the 2011 BOHS Conference, the Chair of the HSE, Judith Hackitt, mentioned nanotechnology as one of the “emerging issues” that HSE will continue to give priority to despite the cutbacks in its budget. Nanotechnology has been a high profile issue for HSE for a number of years as the production of “engineered” nanoparticles has increased. Their toxicology isn’t fully understood and measurement presents a number of problems, so it is difficult to properly evaluate the risks to health.

At last year’s conference, a plenary session was devoted to nanotechnology and this year it was the theme for one of the workshops. It was a good session, with three speakers covering health effects, assessment and control. However, the content of their talks was very similar to those given during the plenary sessions last year, suggesting that there haven’t been any major advances in the science over the past 12 months.

Rosemary Gibson form HSL made a very good presentation summarising the health implications of engineered nanoparticles. The key points she made included

  • Nanoparticles have a very large surface area to volume ratio and this has implications for their effects on health. Some researchers have identified a relationship between surface area and inflammation and this suggests that surface area is the best metric to use to assess the risk, rather than mass concentration (which is normally used with particulates).
  • Research has mainly focused on their effects on the respiratory system with some work on skin effects. Less work has been carried out on systemic effects. However, the main concern identified from experience with ultrafine particulate air pollutants (from non-engineered sources such as diesel exhaust emissions) is effects on the cardiovascular system, and some research has suggested that this is also relevant with engineered particles, so more work is needed on this aspect.
  • There are continuing concerns about the effects of carbon nanotubes and whether these fine, fibre like particles may behave like asbestos. Work by Poland et al, the results of which were published n 2008, certainly suggest that this may be the case with long multiwalled carbon nanotubes, where there was evidence of inflammation and granulomas. However their research also suggested that short multiwalled carbon nanotubes were non-harmful. (For further details, see the commentary by Ken Donnaldson, here).

The other two speakers, James Wheeler of the HSE and John Hulme of Cambridge University (who gave a Keynote on Nanoparticles at last year’s conference) both concentrated on practical implications in the workplace.

James emphasised the need for a sensible approach to risk management. Precaution was needed, as nanotechnology was a “step into the unknown”, but he emphasised that the risks could be managed and controlled in the same way as high hazard materials, using the principles of good practice embodied in the COSHH Regulations. HSE has a website on nanotechnology and has also issued guidance on carbon nanotubes. Further guidance, produced in conjunction with relevant partners, should be available in March 2012

John, who has considerable experience of managing the risks from nanoparticles in research laboratories at Cambridge University, concentrated on the practical assessment and control of the risks. He pointed out that the hazard information provided by some suppliers of nano-materials was inadequate, treating them as if they were no different from macro forms of the substance when there were clear differences in toxicology. He re-emphasised one of the points Rosemary made about the importance of surface area and discussed the practical difficulties of measurement.  Methods are available to measure particles on the basis of their surface area, but as these techniques can’t identify what the particles are it isn’t possible to tell where they have originated. There can be high background levels of fine particles from natural and man-made sources, which confuse the results from any surveys. So the problem with nanoparticles is that we aren’t sure of the hazards and can’t properly quantify the risk!

John’s answer was that we need to take a precautionary approach and control all potential exposures to a high standard. He provided some good examples from his experience of controls that can be applied in practice including:

  • preventing particles becoming airborne by using slurries rather than powders
  • working in glove boxes and microbiological safety cabinets
  • applying well designed local exhaust ventilation, pointing out that nanoparticles behave like gases and so are easy to capture
  • using HEPA filters to minimise emissions to the environment and workplace

For further information on nanotechnology hazards and control see

HSE nanotechnology website

HSE guidance on carbon nanotubes

Safenano website

Image credit : http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/srp-view.aspx?id=85846

BOHS Conference Stratford

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I’ve just spent three days in Stratford – two days at the BOHS Annual Conference and an additional day in advance of the main event running a Professional Development Course (Diploma exam preparation “taster day”) on behalf of the Faculty of Occupational Hygiene. The conference itself was running over three days this year, but I had to return home a day early, which was a pity as it was a great event – the largest for quite a number of years.

As usual there were plenty of excellent technical sessions and workshops. Due to structure of the programme, with parallel sessions, I wasn’t able to attend everything I was interested in, but I came away with plenty to think about and will be posting some reports over the next few days.

The opening Warner Lecture was delivered by David Blunkett. It’s not the first time that we’ve been addressed by a prominent politician, but this year, with the concerns about the attitude of the current Conservative led coalition government toward health and safety, with impending cutbacks to the HSE and the review of the legislative framework, I think the audience were particularly keen to hear what the former Labour Minister, now in opposition, had to say.

He came across to me as someone who was genuinely interested in health and safety issues, pointing out that when he was 12 years old his his father, who worked in a gas works, had been killed in an industrial accident. He had obviously done his homework too, seeming to have some understanding about what occupational hygiene was about.

Inevitably much of his talk focused on Lord Young’s report, “Common Sense, Common Safety”, commissioned by the Government. His view was that it was important to apply good “common sense” to health and safety, otherwise it undermines the important work that needs to be done, and people become sceptical. So we have to understand why the Government asked Lord Young to undertake his review. But he stressed that although there was a need for some change we shouldn’t move too far to the other extreme.

He discussed the dilemmas and difficulties involved in dealing with health and safety when there are economic implications but emphasised that we mustn’t lose our emphasis on prevention. There was a need to persuade government that what we are doing in preventing ill health at work and creating a good working environment is actually a selling point for British Industry.

After lunch the Keynote address was given by Judith Hackitt, the chair of the HSE board. The HSE are facing a 35% cut in their budget during 2014-5 and the Minister for Health and Safety recently announced major changes to how the HSE will have to operate as a result of this. Much of her talk was aimed at reassuring the audience that things were not as bad as the headlines suggest and that health issues such as asbestos and carcinogens will remain priorities and they will continue to address emerging health issues such as nanoparticles and the suspected link between shift work and cancer. However, the real implications of the cutbacks remain to be seen and t I feel that here is little to be optimistic about.

I think that there is no doubt that at the moment that health and safety is on the defensive. As a profession we are facing challenging times and its important that we participate vigorously in the debate and do more to engage with politicians and other influential figures. The involvement of David Blunkett and Judith Hackitt in our conference was a good step in that direction

(Image credit: http://shakespeare2006.net)