Health in Construction

A couple of weeks ago I travelled down to Birmngham to give a talk on behalf of the BOHS Breathe Freely initiative at the Health and Wellbeing event at the NEC. The Title of the talk was Managing Health in Construction – What Good Looks Like. An annotated version of the slides I used during the talk are now available on Slideshare

To prepare for the talk I did a little research on the meaures that are readily available to control exposure to contaminants, particularly dust, during common activities on construction sites. A number of studies have been done, both on-site and in the laboratory to assess the effectiveness of water supression and on-tool extraction for power tools. These studies have confirmed just how they can be.

For example

  • A large scale study in Ireland by Healy et al showed that the use of local extraction built into on-tool shrouds could reduce dust exposures by up to 99%
  • Laboratory tests by Thorpe et al showed water suppression on cut-off saws reduced dust levels by up to 99%

Despite this, in a large proportion of cases these engineering controls are not being used with reliance placed on respiratory protection which is often incorrectly used and inadequately managed. So one of the main aims of the BOHS Breathe Freely initiative is to raise awareness of the types of controls that can be used to reduce exposure. Hopefully in the not too distant future we’ll see water supression and on-tool extraction become the norm rather than the exception.



Measurements of the E€ectiveness of Dust Control on Cut-off€ Saws Used in the Construction Industry. Thorpe et al. Ann Occup Hyg Vol. 43, No. 7, pp. 443-456, 1999

An Evaluation of On-Tool Shrouds for Controlling Respirable Crystalline Silica in Restoration Stone Work.  Healy et al. Ann Occup Hyg 2014;58:1155-1167


Breathe Freely

On the evening of 28 April, Workers’ Memorial Day, the Breathe Freely initiative, which aims to raise awareness of respiratory disease in the construction industry, was launched at a reception at the Merchant Taylor’s Hall in London. The room was packed with 140 people, mainly representatives from the Construction industry.


Breathe Freely is a collaborative initiative led by BOHS in partnership with key organisations within the construction industry. It will provide guidance, tools and resources that facilitate the recognition, evaluation and control of workplace exposures leading to the implementation of a recognised management standard. The aim is not just to raise awareness of the problem but also to effect action by providing practical solutions through sharing of best practice and encouraging implementation of effective exposure control.

Exposure to hazardous substances that can cause respiratory disease is a serious, but often unappreciated, risk for construction workers. However, the number of workers affected can be reduced dramatically if employers adopt good practice and introduce appropriate, cost effective, control measures.  The BOHS led Breathe Freely campaign will be a major step forward in highlighting both the risks and, very importantly, the measures that can be used to minimise them. Diamond Environmental is proud to be a supporter of the initiative

IOHA 2015


A couple of weeks ago I was in London attending the 10th International Scientific Conference of the International Occupational Hygiene Association (IOHA) organised by the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS). The conference was held in lieu of he usual annual BOHS Conference that normally takes place that time of the year. It was a step upwards with double the number of delegates who came to London from all parts of the world. It was a packed programme with sessions starting most days at 8 a.m. and not finishing until well after 6 p.m. The organisers also managed to schedule in three technical tours – behind the scenes at the National History Museum, the London Tube and Tower Bridge -which proved to be very popular.

With parallel sessions taking place for most of the conference it was impossible to see everything. But sessions I attended and enjoyed included the workshop on noise control, the sessions on risk communication, construction, career development, the presentation by the IOHA award winner, Noel Tressidor (he only occupational hygienists to tour with the Beatles!), and the highly entertaining (as usual!) Ignite session.


Highlights for me included the Keynote presentations by Professor Paul Dolan and Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, who were both, in different ways, very entertaining and brought us different, non-occupational hygiene, perspectives. They made me think about how some of the concepts and ideas they told us about could be applied to the practice of preventing ill-health at work. That isn’t to say that the other keynote speakers from fields more closely linked to occupational hygiene weren’t good! They were all of a high standard and brought us up to date on some key issues in toxicology, risk communication and risk management in practice. Similarly the scientific sessions and workshops allowed delegates to hear about some important developments in the field and discuss ideas on how to take the science and practice of occupational hygiene forward in the 21st Century. But I think it is also important to look beyond the boundaries of our own domain. We can learn from psychologists, economists, experts in communication and others to give us new ideas and help us to develop fresh approaches.


On the Tuesday night the BOHS also launched their initiative aimed at increasing awareness and reducing respiratory disease in the construction industry and to tie in with that there was an excellent Keynote by Steve Hails, the Director of heath and safety for the Crossrail project.


Although learning from the formal sessions is important, so are the informal discussions that take place outside during the breaks, mealtimes and socials and other “free time”. Conferences are a great opportunity for networking – to meet old friends and make new connections.

The social side of the conference was excellent too. With receptions hosted by sponsors on both the Monday and Tuesday evenings. Plus the Monopoly themed Conference Dinner on the Wednesday – with a fun casino, photo booth and karaoke band to prove that occupational hygienists can relax and enjoy themselves too!

It was an educational, enjoyable but exhausting four days. It took me several days to recover!

All photographs are by Teresa O’Neill Photography

BOHS Conference 2014


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.


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.

Occupational Hygiene in a Changing World

A few weeks ago I had my first experience of delivering a webinar. Although I spend a lot of my time teaching face to face, and have regularly run telephone/web tutorials with small groups of students, I’ve never given a presentation over the Internet to a larger group.

I’d decided I’d like to give it a try as a way of engaging with BOHS members based overseas as part of the “tour of the Regions” that’s one of the responsibilities of the BOHS President Elect. Meeting members all over the country has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of being President Elect. But I was conscious that we have a significant number of members who live outside the UK and I wanted to find a way to engage with them too. So we thought we’d give the webinar a try.

I took as my theme “Occupational Hygiene in a Changing World” examining some of the major economic and cultural developments and giving a personal view of how they are affecting the occupational hygiene profession and how we might need to respond. These included

  • the impacts of globalisation
  • the changing world of work and the impacts on occupational health
  • emerging issues in occupational health and hygiene
  • new causes of traditional problems

I felt that the webinars went well and we’re intending to run it again in April after the BOHS Conference. And I hope that this will be the beginning of a series webinars on topics that will appeal to members in the UK and overseas.

BOHS Conference 2013


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.

Evaluating cold environments

snowy wrightington

Just a couple of days ago it was the first day of Spring. But it’s more like the middle of winter today in the north of England with heavy snow falling outside which has been blown around by a fairly strong wind. Perhaps the weather is appropriate as this week we’ve been running the BOHS/OHTA Module W502 on the Thermal Environment. And although much of the course is concerned with hot environments, we also cover work in cold conditions.

In general, it’s usually easier to evaluate cold conditions as there are only two environmental parameters that need to be measured – the air temperature and air velocity. Humidity and radiant heat, which are important in hot environments, are less important in the cold. But evaluating the risk is more problematic. As with the heat there are indices we can use and standards we can refer to. The main ones being published by the American Conference of Governmental Hygienists (ACGIH) in their Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) for physical agents. These give work/warm up schedules for a variety of conditions. However as can be seen for the following table the TLVs are really only applicable to very severe conditions that can be encountered working outdoors in places such as Alaska and Canada in the Winter. In the UK outdoor temperatures never get down as low as those in the TLV table. And the coldest workplaces are probably frozen food stores where the temperature will not be less than –30 C with minimal air movement (although this can be, in effect, increased for personnel operating vehicles).

Threshold Limit Values Work/Warm-Up Schedule for Four Hour Shift

Source: CCOHS Canada. Adapted from Threshold Limit Values (TLV) and Biological Exposure Indices (BEI) booklet: published by ACGIH, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2008

So there really isn’t any guidance or standards that are applicable to more temperate climates like in the UK and most of Europe. So how can we evaluate the risk? I think that the answer is that it is mainly a case of using experience, professional judgement and common sense.

Some guidance on assessing cold environments, and an observation checklist, are provided in International Standards ISO 15265 (2000) Ergonomics of the thermal environment: risk assessment strategy for the prevention of stress or discomfort in thermal working conditions, and  ISO 15743 (2008) Ergonomics of the thermal environment – Working practices for cold environments. Unfortunately these, like most standards, are extremely expensive to purchase. There is quite a good paper in the Ingvar Holmér of Lund University in Sweden, Evaluation of cold workplaces: an overview of standards for assessment of cold stress, published in the Journal Industrial Health in 2008 and is available online here

Guidance from the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on cold stress is very limited, referring the reader to various expensive International Standards.  There is a useful chapter in the ILO Encyclopaedia of Occupational Safety and Health chapter on Cold environment and cold work which can be accessed online.

In practice, options for controlling exposure to cold environments, whether outdoors or in workplaces such as food storage and preparation areas, are fairly limited. Appropriate clothing is inevitably going to be one of the main solutions.