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Thomas Ashton Institute for Risk and Regulatory Research

Thomas Ashton Institute awarded Health Science framework projects

26 May 2021

Researchers from the Thomas Ashton Institute have recently completed projects under a Health Science Framework. The TAI acted as a catalyst for a vibrant and innovative research capability to address the important challenges around risk and regulation in relation to the workplace. Research teams were drawn from across the 3 Faculties to work on the projects.

The four projects; Demographics Rapid Evidence Review, Developing an exposure intelligence system, Systematic review of respiratory health surveillance and Mining of polyhalite, dust - exposure, control and respiratory health were carried out from Jan - March 2021 and final reports have been submitted.

Project Backgrounds

Mining of polyhalite

Polyhalite is a naturally occurring mineral which is used as a multi-nutrient fertiliser. The dust becomes acidic when it comes in contact with moisture and has therefore been classed as an irritant to the throat, respiratory tract, skin and eyes.  The project aimed to understand whether the current exposure levels to polyhalite dust are leading to respiratory or irritant health issues (throat, skin and eyes).

Systematic review of respiratory health surveillance

Respiratory health surveillance (HS) may be required by law if an employer’s employees are exposed to solvents, fumes, dusts, biological agents and other substances hazardous to respiratory health.

Respiratory HS is important for several reasons. Most importantly, for detecting respiratory ill-health effects at an early stage, so employers can introduce better controls to prevent them getting worse.  The project aimed to establish the evidence base to enable the identification of the appropriate HS methods which meet the needs of different health hazards in varying sectors.

Demographics Rapid Evidence Review

The project team completed two rapid evidence reviews to understand how certain key issues have changed during the post COVID-19 world. The reviews will document research completed or currently being undertaken and, where possible, identify evidence gaps. The evidence reviews will inform and underpin HSE’s demographic scientific programme and priority research in associated areas.

Developing an exposure intelligence system

For many years, HSE has maintained a National Exposure Database (NEDB).  The database contains workplace exposure measurements collected by HSE and by industry.  The volume and variety of exposure data collected was much higher in the 1980s and 1990s than in the last 2 decades.  The original aims of NEDB include using the data to inform policy-making and standard-setting bodies about workplace exposures.  However, the data have fallen short of fully meeting these aims.  With that in mind, HSE commissioned The University of Manchester, via the Thomas Ashton Institute, to assess the feasibility of establishing an occupational exposure control intelligence system (OccECIS) that if built would provide leading indicators so that HSE could do the following: Identify and prioritise hazards and relevant sectors and occupations of concern, Establish appropriate interventions to reduce exposures in these occupations and sectors; and Monitor the effectiveness of these interventions over time.

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