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Thomas Ashton Institute for Risk and Regulatory Research

Programmes and projects

The Thomas Ashton Institute for Risk and Regulatory Research, working with colleagues from across The University of Manchester and beyond, are delivering a wide range of projects.

Bio-electronic monitoring of light exposure and circadian rhythms

Light is the most influential environmental regulator of biological rhythms, capable of suppressing sleep and enhancing cognitive functions; impacting endocrine systems and gross physiology; and resetting the phase of circadian clocks. However, it is currently very difficult to monitor long term light exposure that is matched to the photoreceptor sites in the eye, particularly taking into account the non-visual effects of light in humans, and how this varies for an individual.

This project involves the creation and testing of flexible wearable devices for light sensing. This will involve electronic circuit and instrumentation design, app creation for data collection, signal processing for analysis and data cleaning purposes.

Work will begin by creating standard FR4 rigid PCBs for prototype multi-spectral light sensing wearables. We will then aim to create a flexible electronics prototype, using Kapton or printed Silver on PEN to use highly flexible substrates which are conformal with the skin, following all of its contours to get a better signal and longer lasting connection to the body. Conformal electronics are seen as the next generation human body sensor platform. By attaching directly to the skin they can provide very long term and high quality recordings. They are also very discrete and socially acceptable. Ultimately we aim to design a multi-spectral light sensor which can be manufactured via screen/inkjet printing rather than using Printed Circuit Board (PCB) technologies as in conventional wearables.

The project is a Wellcome Trust funded collaboration between the Non-invasive bioelectronics group, the Centre for Biological Timings and the Thomas Ashton Institute.

Development of a Safety Culture Model

The aim of the research is to develop a model, which specifies the key dimensions oforganisational safety culture in UK nuclear industries.

The model will support the UK nuclear regulator (Office for Nuclear Regulation, ONR) in its regulatory duties, and the UK nuclear industry in efforts to improve nuclear safety. In addition, based on this model, the research will develop and validate a survey to measure safety culture at UK-based nuclear sites.

Project team

  • Sharon Clarke, UoM
  • David Holman, UoM,
  • David Hughes, UoM, 
  • Helen Kreissl, UoM
  • Lina Siegl, UoM
  • Vicky Turner, UoM
  • Marc McBride, ONR
  • Nick Shaw, ONR
  • Hamish Ramsley, ONR

Design for Safety (DfS) in Construction: Collaboration for knowledge transfer from the UK with implications fo

The construction industry is notorious for its poor occupational safety and health (OSH) performance. The industry accounts for about 30% of worker deaths in Malaysia. Design for safety (DfS) is one of the mechanisms for preventing or reducing the risk of accidents and injuries in construction.

This project initiates a collaboration between The University of Manchester and Universiti Teknologi MARA on DfS. DfS has received increasing attention in various countries, as part of the effort to enhance the practice of ‘designing out’ OSH risks at the early design stages in construction. In the UK, Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM) has been introduced to mandate the DfS practices since 1995 and recently revised in 2015.

The lessons learnt from the UK could assist the implementation of the OSHCI(M) guidelines into Malaysian legislation, and build the foundation of DfS research landscape and industry maturity. Thus, this collaboration aims to promote the exchange of research and practitioner expertise and experiences on DfS through multi-dimensional scholarly activities.

Project Team

  • Patrick Manu, UoM
  • Clara Cheung, UoM
  • Akilu Yunusa-Kaltungo, UoM
  • Ahmad Razif Mohamad, Migh
  • tKhairil Izam Ibrahim, Universiti Teknologi MARA
  • Yen Kuek, British Council
  • Vicky Turner, UoM
  • Mazlina Zaira, Universiti Teknologi MARA
  • Sheila Belayutham, Universiti Teknologi MARA

Discovering Safety

The programme works with industry, academics and governments from the global community, generating bespoke solutions for local contexts, including the challenges faced in developing countries.

Colleagues from the institute are delivering projects in text mining and construction risk knowledge management using BIM.

Project Reports

You can find out more about Discovering Safety on its dedicated website.

Health Science framework projects

The institute was appointed as preferred supplier for the provision of health-related research services to provide specialist technical support to HSE for input into multidisciplinary science research projects, contributing to their Health at Work priorities. Technical support is provided in the areas of health research and associated data analysis and longitudinal epidemiological workplace studies looking at current and cumulative (retrospective) exposure as well as information on health status and well being.

Projects awarded under the framework to date

Demographics- 2 Rapid Evidence Assessments

The project team will undertake 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. 

  • Review 1: A demographic picture of the construction sector to identify and document what research is being done on the impact of COVID-19 on construction sector workers, that specifically relates to health and safety risks to different demographic groups, including older workers.   
  • Review 2: Employers attitudes and behaviours - workplace communication: to identify and document any evidence on employers’ attitudes, behaviours and competencies around communicating with workers about health and safety in light of COVID-19.

Developing an exposure intelligence system

The overall aim of this project was to assess the feasibility of developing an occupational exposure-control intelligence system (OccECIS), using respirable crystalline silica (RCS) as a worked example.  The idea is that OccECIS will enable the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and its stakeholders to target their intervention activities to control exposures to agents that cause respiratory diseases in workplaces in Great Britain.  This could be, for example, across whole industries or industry sectors, in a particular occupation across a number of industries, or in a particular scenario, such as a specific occupation within a specific industry.

Systematic review of respiratory health surveillance

Occupational health surveillance (HS) is a scheme of repeated health checks that are used to identify ill health caused by work.  Health and Safety law in Great Britain required health surveillance by employers be put in place when workers remain exposed to health risks even after exposure mitigation measures have been put in place.  This is because such control measures may not always be reliable, despite appropriate checking, training and maintenance. The aim of this research was to carry out a systematic review of the scientific evidence underpinning respiratory HS, to make recommendations about whether The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) current guidance on respiratory HS should be changed, and to identify any important knowledge gaps.  

Mining of Polyhalite, dust - exposure, control, and respiratory health

Currently, little is known about the impact of polyhalite dust on mineworkers health and wellbeing or the effectiveness of monitoring the impact. This evaluation will examine the issues through consultation with OH practitioners, providing essential evidence for a more detailed study, including the feasibility of examining health and wellbeing issues with employees involved in polyhalite production. 

Shelfish Allergens

The aim is to conduct a pilot study to explore the association between exposure to fish and shellfish allergens and (respiratory and skin) ill-health.

Improving design for safety

Since the Health & Safety at Work Act was deployed in 1974 there has been incremental improvements from: legislation, working practices and behavioural safety. However, human error still accounts for 96% of all accidents according to the HSE. Safety culture is the next natural step in the evolution of Health and safety. 

Tended are creating a digital Safety Culture Tool, which is an MVP product with a basic level survey and analysis. Tended aim to incrementally upgrade the product, as they gain more sophisticated knowledge about sentiment analysis, psychometric inventories and safety culture taxonomies.   

In order to achieve a bespoke tool, Tended require the research and development capabilities of The University of Manchester in the areas of safety culture and capability maturity modelling.  The outcomes of this project will inform and shape the upgrades within the functionality of the tool, and will provide empirical evidence that the whole system is scientifically proven to be reliable and valid.  This will give Tended clients absolute confidence in the product and consequent changes to safety. The project will take a collaborative approach, maximising the opportunity for knowledge exchange between the partners.

Working with Tended will provide the University team with access to data for research, and build a relationship leading to further opportunity for collaboration. It is anticipated that the project will develop additional avenues for research and knowledge exchange between The University of Manchester and Tended. 

The project will provide a scientific foundation for the Safety Culture Tool, by validating and developing the safety maturity matrix and corresponding question sets. The university will gain further knowledge of safety cultures, as we share data and collaborate with high profile organisations. We have already secured Rolls Royce, Bouygues, Siemens and Bachy to partner with us to trial the product.  

The ultimate goal for this project is to form the foundation for a KTP project to further develop the Safety Culture Tool, to create a fully working taxonomy of safety culture. 

Keeping the UK Building Safely - KUBS

As part of Theme 6 of the PROTECT study, the Keeping the UK Building Safely (KUBS) project is improving our understanding of the construction sector’s efforts to build ‘COVID-secure’ workplaces.

Evidence collected by the KUBS project will be used to support the sector to reduce transmission of the COVID-19 virus, and keep building safely and productively as the UK economy unlocks.

The KUBS project is structured around key workstreams, identified through engagement with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and construction industry stakeholders: transmission, technology, data and simulation, leadership, and construction project delivery.

The KUBS research team is led by Professor Neil Bourne.

Read the Phase 1 Report Keeping the UK Building Safely: A scoping study and learn more about the KUBS project on the PROTECT National Core Study website

Machine learning-powered safety leading indicators for enhancing safety performance in high risk industries

To improve occupational safety and health (OSH) performance, high-risk industries (e.g.the construction sector),have relied on lagging indicators(e.g.injuryrates). However, most lagging indicators are reactive and cannot convey the reasons for poor OSH performance.

Under the circumstances, a more proactive approach has been proposed by using OSH leading indicators (e.g. safety training) as complementary measures of OSH performance. Emex is creating a digital OSH leading indicators tool, which helps clients in high-risk industries to track OSH leading indicators and performance.

By working with the UoM’s team, Emex aims to gain sophisticated knowledge about the validity of OSH leading indicators, and the interaction effects among them associated with OSH performance, which will shape the functionality upgrades of the tool and provide empirical evidence that it is scientifically proven to be valid and reliable.

The project outputs will create a robust foundation to improve Emex’s OSH leading indicator tool. It is hoped that the tool will become a standard to improve OSH performance in high-risk industries. The university will gain further knowledge of OSH management through collaborating with high profile clients of Emex,such as Kaz Minerals and Titan Cement. The ultimate goal for this project is to apply for a KTP grant to develop an AI-enabled OSH leading indicators tool and further.

Project Team

  • Clara Cheung
  • Patrick Manu
  • Obuks Ejohwomu
  • Matthew Thorpe
  • Akinloluwa Babalola
  • Zoya Anwar
  • Helen Kreissl
  • Vicky Turner
  • Darren Clement

NERC Digital Solutions Programme

The Institute was named as delivery partner in a NERC grant looking at data integration and sharing. The team is building a Digital Solutions Hub (Hub) as a gateway to a broad set of inter-connected toolkits that facilitate improved access and better use of NERC data.  The digital platform will have especially broad impacts on the environment, society and the economy by facilitating easier access and use of NERC data in business, government and society.

The hub aims to build a digital platform and a set of toolkits that facilitate improved access and better use of NERC data, integrated with other datasets (economic, environment, health & social) to support decision making across a range of sectors. It's initial focus will be on two ‘use-cases’, health and climate change.

The platform will work to open standards, be interoperable with data APIs following industry standards and protocols,utilising open source approaches to develop replicable code. The platform will open-up connections to supercomputing resources to run models and simulations to support decision making.

The platform sitson top of a whole range of data from NERC and other partners and connects to computational resources(e.g. JASMIN) to run powerful tools and models on the data.  Other projects will be co-developed as the programme of work evolves over the next 4-5 yearsin collaboration with partners.

Based at The University of Manchester the projects bring together a wealth of expertise in developing digital solutions forreal world problems.  The project is led by Prof Richard Kingston with Prof John Ainsworth, Prof Andy Brass, Prof Hugh Coe, Prof James Evans, Dr Caroline Jay, Prof Sarah Lindley, Dr Maria Sharmina & Dr David Topping.

Find out more on the digital solutions website.  

PROTECT COVID-19 National Core Study on transmission and environment

The PROTECT COVID-19 National Core Study on transmission and environment is a UK-wide research programme improving our understanding of how SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is transmitted from person to person, and how this varies in different settings and environments. This improved understanding will enable more effective measures to stop transmission, saving lives and getting society back towards ‘normal’.

The PROTECT study is made up of six themes that use a complementary variety of research methods and scientific disciplines to address the research questions from different angles – including microbiology, building science, behavioural science and mathematical modelling – and ensure findings are turned into practical tools and advice for policymakers.

Led by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Andrew Curran, this critical work is being delivered by more than 70 researchers from 16 institutions across the UK. The PROTECT study began in October 2020, as part of the COVID-19 National Core Studies programme spearheaded by UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance. It is funded by HM Treasury until March 2023, with the final year focused on making findings more accessible and ensuring the programme’s legacy for future pandemic preparedness and the ongoing management of endemic respiratory diseases.

Learn more about the PROTECT project

Provision of an Independent Assessment of ONR’s Regulatory Oversight Culture

The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) are omitted to carrying out an assessment of its regulatory culture, and have engaged colleagues from the Alliance Manchester Business School (AMBS) to carry out this task.

The assessment will be wide ranging and will cover all of ONR's regulatory purposes, corporate functions and locations. A key part of this assessment will involve the research team seeking the views of key external stakeholders.

The two key aims of the assessment are:  to determine the extent to which ONR culture supports them to achieve their mission: to protect society by securing safe nuclear operations; and  to provide recommendations which will allow therm to learn lessons to further strengthen it's regulatory culture.  The UoM team will be supported by an internal multi-disciplinary team at ONR.  The team will be using recognised techniques, including interviews, focus groups and observations, which will involve engagement with stakeholders where everybody’s feedback will be considered. This phase of the project will begin over the summer and is expected to last until late autumn 2022.  This will be followed by extensive analysis of the data from which colleagues will draw out key themes and patterns, and provide meaningful insight on ONR's culture, and the extent to which it supports them in achieving it's mission. These findings will be then published externally in a report in spring 2023.  

Project Team

  • Sharon Clarke, UoM
  • David Holman, UoM
  • David Hughes, UoM
  • Helen Kreissl, 
  • Lina Siegl, UoM
  • Vicky Turner, UoM
  • Marc McBride, ONR
  • Nick Shaw, ONR
  • Hamish Ramsley, ONR

Study to research role of delivery workers in preventing COVID-19 transmission

The University of Manchester is to carry out one of 21 new studies into the novel coronavirus funded by the UK Government. Professor Martie van Tongeren and Dr Hua Wei will lead a £300,000 study into the role of gig workers and delivery supply chains in preventing disease transmission. The team will be working with companies in this sector to collect data on deliveries to construct mathematical models.

The models will determine how the delivery sector contributes to minimising the risk of spreading the disease. They will also set out the impact of additional measures to protect the workers and reduce infection risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study will inform the UK’s policy making in social distancing and coordination of supply chains as a key component of national response to pandemics.

This second round of projects receive £14.1 million as part of the £24.6 million rapid research response funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and by the Department of Health and Social Care through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Read more about the project.

The Health and Occupation Research Network (THOR)

The TAI is supporting the delivery of The Health and Occupation Research Network (THOR), which monitors the incidence of work-related ill-health in the UK and Ireland.

THOR is the only UK-wide surveillance system collecting medically diagnosed case reports of work-related ill-health, with more than 100,000 reports collected since 1989. Four surveillance schemes collect medically certified data on work-related ill-health from medical professionals to estimate the incidence of work-related ill-health and monitor trends over time.

THOR is run by the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health (COEH) at The University of Manchester. The COEH engages in research and education concerning the relationship between the environment and human health, with special reference to occupational and other environmental factors.  The work is partly funded by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Read more on the THOR website.

Proposals in development

The following proposals are currently under development and being supported by the Institute and the core team.

  • Building safety network – EPSRC Network Plus Grant
  • Development of a research network around workplace violecne and agression
  • Development of TAI satellite centres in Building Safety, Discovering Safety and PROTECT 
  • Development of a manufacturing research Hub for a sustainable future
  • ESPRC Programme grant proposal - A Symbiotic Autonomous Robot Ecosystem for Sustainable Environments 
  • Floating offshore H&S Network – EPSRC Network grant
  • Floating offshore wind human factors elements
  • Leading indicators collaborative project with BSi
  • Wellbeing indicators collaborative project with BSi  
  • Worker fatigue