HSE Publishes Annual Science Review

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published its Annual Science Review[i]. This is the third Annual Science Review, and this year the focus is on the HSE’s work in the field of energy. The review provides case studies of the work done for both HSE and external organisations, and demonstrates the science, evidence and analysis that underpins HSE’s risk-based regulatory regime. Many of the articles in the review relate to new and emerging technologies and the changing world of work.

Case studies of particular interest include:

Improving the safe use of metal powders in additive manufacturing

Additive manufacturing (AM) is a process in which objects are created by adding layers one at a time.  Additive metal manufacturing is commonly referred to as 3D metal printing. HSE visited three different AM sites and airborne and surface exposure to metals was assessed.  The risk for emission of metal powder during operation of the 3D printers was low, but some manual handling and cleaning tasks could be modified to further minimize the risk of operator exposure.  The findings from this research are to be included in a good practice guidance, prepared by the Manufacturing Technology Centre and its partners.

Understanding health and extended working lives in the transport industry

Over 30 % of the UK workforce is now aged over 50 years.  The average age of the workforce is increasing in the Logistics and Transport sector.  To improve understanding of health and extended working lives, HSE collaborated with various groups and designed a study to explore views about work and health as drivers work into older age.  Long, unsociable, and often irregular hours were identified as a particular problem.  Musculoskeletal disorders, stress, tiredness, fatigue, increases in body weight and loneliness were reported as issues.  Findings from this work will be used to inform interventions and guidelines that reduce health risks for older workers.

Understanding the dangers to workers’ health from exposures to low levels of benzene

It has been suggested, in the scientific literature, that low level benzene exposure could be more harmful than previously thought, due to a new, unidentified, metabolic pathway.  HSE specialists were commissioned to scrutinize this suggestion.  They reanalyzed the dataset used to propose the new pathway.  They identified a number of features of the data that made it unsuitable for the purposes of proposing such a pathway[ii].  The work highlighted issues associated with low doses of benzene, which were considered by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in its 2017 review of benzene.

Assessing risks for farmers from toxic gases associated with animal slurries

Stored animal manures generate toxic gases, including hydrogen sulphide (H2S).  Farmers can be exposed to a build-up of H2S, which can be fatal.  In laboratory experiments, HSE scientists measured H2S levels before and after stirring slurry, both with and without added gypsum powder.  Dangerous levels were recorded after stirring.  Farm visits were also conducted, and in some situations, very high levels of H2S were detected during mixing[iii].  The findings of these studies are being used to update HSE guidance to support farmers in managing this risk.

How much occupational ill health is caused by long-term pesticide use

The Pesticide User’s Health Study (PUHS) has been underway since the 1990s.  This research is ongoing and the participants’ NHS records will be used to build evidence on long-term health outcomes.  A second long-term study was established in 2013: the Prospective Investigation of Pesticide Applicators’ Health (PIPAH)[iv].  This study is collecting more detailed information such as exposure to specific products and potential confounding factors such as smoking and diet.  The researchers have recruited more than 5,700 volunteers.

Identifying the causes of occupational hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP) lung disease

This is a common form of allergic lung disease.  The aim of this study was to explore the most commonly suspected causes of occupational HP in the UK and whether these had changed over time.  All cases of occupational HP reported to the SWORD scheme between January 1996 and December 2015 were classified into categories according to their suspected cause.  The study demonstrated that the most frequently reported causative agent is metalworking fluids.  The findings were presented at a British Thoracic Society Research Meeting and published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine[v].

Other case studies featured in the report are:

  • Supporting the safe introduction of blended hydrogen in the National Gas grid
  • Ensuring that siting of liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities is informed by robust scientific methods
  • Enabling safe implementation of new battery energy storage applications
  • Enhancing the safety of liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals
  • Carbon capture and storage (CCS): research to enable safe introduction
  • Safety of a new wind turbine manufacturing facility
  • Enabling safety excellence in energy: the future of gas
  • Communicating health and safety statistics for Great Britain
  • Improving control of the risks from explosive atmospheres
  • Development of a ‘creeping change’ hazard identification methodology: CCHAZID
  • Enhancing EDF energy’s health and safety culture in coal and gas operations
  • Scientific investigation into the double fatality at the balcony rail collapse in Cadogan Square, London
  • Protecting healthcare workers from ebola and other serious infectious diseases
  • Supporting the safe deployment of new power engineering technologies
  • Engaging small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in research to understand asthma risk in British woodworkers
  • Reducing exposure to allergens in bakeries by modifying dough-improver constituents
  • Understanding and identifying faults with disposable respirators in the marketplace
  • Improving in-cab filtration to protect workers from lung disease
  • Developing our working relationship with Appointed Doctors
  • Improving regulatory compliance: tools to target HSE risk-based inspection
  • Supporting WHO guidelines for protecting workers from potential risks of manufactured nanomaterials
  • Shoreham Airshow incident: identifying improvements to future risk management of airshows
  • Nuclear reactors: ageing behavior of advanced gas-cooled reactor graphite cores

This HSE report provides an overview of current HSE scientific activities, and lists references and sources for each research area.


[i] Health and Safety Executive.  Annual Science Review March 2018 http://www.hse.gov.uk/research/content/science-review-2018.pdf (Accessed 15 March 2018)

[ii]McNally, K., Sams, C., Loizou, G. D. & Jones, K. Evidence for non-linear metabolism at low benzene exposures? A reanalysis of data. Chem. Biol. Interact. 278, 256–268 (2017).

 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0009279717304933 (Accessed 16 March 2018)

[iii] Smith I, Frost G & Beswick A. The in uence of gypsum in animal slurry systems on the generation of hydrogen sulphide. HSE Books, 2015, RR1041. http://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrpdf/rr1041.pdf   (Accessed 16 March 2018)

[iv]Harding, A.-H. et al. Prospective Investigation of Pesticide Applicators’ Health (PIPAH) study: a cohort study of professional pesticide users in Great Britain. BMJ Open 7, e018212 (2017). 

 http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/7/10/e018212 (Accessed 16 March 2018)

[v] Barber, C. M., Wiggans, R. E., Carder, M. & Agius, R. Epidemiology of occupational hypersensitivity pneumonitis; reports from the SWORD scheme in the UK from 1996 to 2015. Occup Environ Med 74, 528–530 (2017). http://oem.bmj.com/content/74/7/528 (Accessed 16 March 2018)