Science, Risk and Health & Safety

The regulation of risks to health and safety is a particularly tricky policy area. There are constant complaints that we are paying far too much attention to health and safety, and producing dull young adults who are risk- and exercise-averse. However ... we have cut child deaths as a result of preventable accidents from 1,100 in 1979 to less than 200 in 2011. There aren't many parents who would turn back this particular clock.

On the other hand - the UK invests heavily in automatic train protection (ATP) where every £5 million saves one life - but it could save 50 lives on the roads. How can this make sense? The answer may perhaps be found in this note about how Government should respond to concerns about risks to health and safety.

A more general discussion of the effective regulation of large and small firms may be found here and here. Other interesting documents include a Review of Risk Case Studies and the October 2006 report by the Better Regulation Commission: Risk, Responsibility, Regulation: Whose Risk Is It Anyway?.

Radiation and radioactivity are particularly scary concepts for a large part of the population. Here is a useful note about the link between radiation and cancer and also a review of what happened when radiation and risk came together in the 2001 depleted uranium scare.

Lord Young's 2010 review of health and safety regulation is summarised here and you can also examine the BSE/vCJD scare as a case study as well as a commentary on the BSE Report.

Follow these links to access:

Follow this link for a summary of basic scientific facts, figures and relationships:- essential reading for all GCSE and A level students as well as civil servants trying to make sense of scientific papers etc.

The Institute of Physics offers a very good, jargon-free website which will answer many of your science-related questions. It is ideal for those questions that you don't like to ask in the office for fear of betraying your lack of scientific knowledge!

Martin Stanley