Environment Law Update: Health and safety at work 5

United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Reporting on health and safety

The HSC has announced that reporting on health and safety by FTSE 100 companies has risen from 47% in 1995 to 60% in 2001. However, the quality of reporting by firms was variable. Only some companies reported details of policies and performance against targets, while others included just the most basic information, such as confirming the company's commitment to complying with the law. In 2001, the Government and HSC challenged the UK's top 350 companies to commit to reporting annually, from 2002 onwards, on their health and safety policies and performance against targets, in line with those included in the guidance document, 'Health and Safety in Annual Reports'. The HSC says that more transparent reporting will lead to improvements in performance and allow companies to benchmark their progress against others. The extent to which the top companies have risen to the challenge is likely to be revealed later in 2002.
(HSC 13 May 2002)

Nuclear installations

A statement of nuclear incidents at nuclear installations in Britain during the fourth quarter of 2001 has been published by the HSE. The statement is derived from the HSC's powers under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. Sellafield is the only installation mentioned, where British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) reported the detection of Tc99 in groundwater taken from a borehole site. Subsequent analyses have confirmed this finding, together with lower concentrations of Tc99 in other bore holes nearby and beyond the site boundary. The HSE's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) has asked BNFL to determine the source of the activity and to report the work the company is undertaking to prevent further leakage from the plant and to prevent activity leaving the site. The probable source of activity is sludge in old storage tanks, suspected to have been leaking for some years. The EA is satisfied that the reported concentration of Tc99 off the site is insignificant. The incident has been classified as Level 0 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES).
(HSE Press Release, 8 April 2002)


Following the advice of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP), the sale of a range of agricultural, horticultural and domestic insecticide products containing the organophosphate chemical dichlorvos has been suspended. The move is a precautionary measure as the ACP was concerned that there could a small risk of causing cancer following prolonged exposure to dichlorvos. Consequently, it is now illegal to advertise, sell or supply a range of insecticides containing dichlorvos and retailers should remove all such products from their shelves. However, it is not illegal to continue to store or use the products, as long as this is done in accordance with the instructions on the product label. Those wishing to dispose of these products should also contact the EA, suppliers or local waste authority for details on how to do so. The suspension will last until data regarding the mutagenic and carcinogenic potential of dichlorvos can be presented to the ACP. A comprehensive list of suspended products was also published.
(HSE and DEFRA Press Releases, 19 April 2002)

Workplace chemicals

The HSE has launched 'Electronic COSHH Essentials' - a free Internet tool to provide advice to control and limit exposure to harmful chemicals used in a wide variety of work places. COSHH requires employers to assess and prevent or control the risks to health from exposure to hazardous substances. Developed from the paper-based format founded in 1999, the electronic version provides a step by step guide leading to identifying the correct control approach for each chemical used. Risk phrases for each chemical, taken from a Safety Data sheet, are allocated to one of four hazard bands by defining how much of the substance is being used and for what purpose.
(HSE Press Release, 30 April 2002)

Mercury in air

Guidance on a new method of measuring mercury in workplace air has been published by the HSE. 'Mercury and its inorganic divalent compounds in air' is part of the HSE series Methods for the Determination of Hazardous Substances (MDHS) and updates and replaces MDHS 16. The revised method has several modifications including expanding the scope to include the determination of mercury vapour and divalent mercury compounds, rather than mercury vapour only. There are also modifications to sampling methodology. The use of atomic fluorescence spectrometry for analysis of sample solutions, as an alternative to atomic absorption spectrometry is outlined.
(HSE, May 2002)

Crystalline silica

The HSE has published a Hazard Assessment Document for respirable crystalline silica that focuses on the potential to cause the lung disease silicosis. Targeted at industries of most concern in relation to the risk of silicosis, such as mining, quarrying, foundries and potteries, it provides practical guidance on protecting workers from exposure to dusts containing crystalline silica. The document entitled 'Respirable Crystalline Silica: Phase 1', is the fourth in the EH75 series (EH75/4), and contains a Potency Matrix proposing how various factors might influence the ability of crystalline silica to cause silicosis. There are plans to issue further guidance later this year on crystalline silica and lung cancer.
(HSE, June 2002)