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Perfect conditions met the East Midlands Branch of the Emergency Planning Society when they recently visited the Health and Safety Laboratories at their secret location just off the A53 near Buxton.

By Ian Townsend – Nottinghamshire member.

The group was welcomed by Paul Baker, the Business Development Manager, at the laboratories, and he hosted a number of sessions related to the work of HSL.

He explained the long history of the laboratories, as well as the current functions relating to health improvement, human factors, hazard reduction, and the corporate services they make available to industry and others.

The group had further presentations on selected subjects in more detail, and after a warming lunch, a tour of part of the 500 acre laboratory site.

The presentations included a fascinating insight into the power of geographical information systems, particularly the work the laboratory has done on the National Population database. Will Holmes showed the group the way in which accident data is used, along with mapping information, to provide a targeted inspection regime for the HSE. He explained the future development of links with the Natural Hazards Partnership and potential for map publication on Resilience Direct.

Jill Wilday gave the group an update on the latest CoMAH Regulations which come into force next year, and she gave us an interesting perspective on the negotiations leading to the changes in the “Seveso III Directive” and the effect the proposed revisions to the CoMAH Regulations would have on the work of emergency planners, particularly those working in Local Authorities. The detail of the regulations can be viewed at http://www.hse.gov.uk/comah.

The group were shown some of the microbiological facilities by Brian Crook and Alan Beswick. Their talk demonstrated how the laboratory can provide experimental data to support safe working systems, and in the emergency planning context, this has led to improvements in decontamination materials and processes. One of the novel experiments devised by the unit features “vomiting Larry” a part mannequin, part engineering solution to discovering how infection can be spread by vomit – the group were enthralled by this study, particularly as lunch was next on the agenda!

Paul took the group on a tour of the outside facilities, including rigs which examine explosion, crash and drop testing of materials. The group was shown a rig which simulates part of a rail tunnel, and one where roll testing of fuel tankers is being undertaken.

Back in the comfort of the main building, Steve Graham, from HSL’s Visual Presentation Services, showed the group a presentation charting the development of the unit’s work. He showed us powerful examples from the first days of photography to the latest laser assisted visualisation and rendering of data to provide support to the HSE in incident investigation.

Overall, the group had a worthwhile day, perhaps the best mix of new learning, updating of current knowledge, and general interest material that it is possible to deliver in such a visit.

Our thanks go to Andy McCombe for making the arrangements, and to all the Health and Safety Laboratory staff who made the visit so interesting.

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