News

On 17 February 2020 the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy confirmed a £1.2 bn investment for a state-of-the-art supercomputer to help predict severe weather and the impacts of climate change faster and more accurately.

The data obtained by the new supercomputer will be used to help more accurately predict storms, select the most suitable locations for flood defences and predict changes to the global climate more accurately.

The new machine, which will be managed by the Met Office, will help through:

  • more sophisticated rainfall predictions helping the Environment Agency rapidly deploy mobile flood defences;
  • improved forecasting at airports so they can plan better for the potential disruption; and
  • more detailed information for the energy sector to help them mitigate against potential energy blackouts and surges.

The investment will replace Met Office supercomputing capabilities over a 10-year period between 2022-2032, as the current Met Office Cray supercomputers will reach their end of life in late 2022. The first phase of the new supercomputer will increase Met Office computing capability by 6-fold alone. It is expected that the contractual value of the supercomputing capability will cost around £854 million, while the remaining amount of the £1.2 bn will provide for investment in Observations Network and the programme office costs.

Secretary of State and newly appointed COP26 President Alok Sharma said: "Over the last 30 years, new technologies have meant more accurate weather forecasting, with storms being predicted up to five days in advance.

"Come rain or shine, our significant investment for a new supercomputer will further speed up weather predictions, helping people be more prepared for weather disruption from planning travel journeys to deploying flood defences".

The new supercomputer will also aim to strengthen the UK's supercomputing and data technology capabilities, driving forward innovation and growing world-class skills across supercomputing, data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

A recent investigation carried out by BBC Wales revealed that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) breached health and safety laws 40 times and 148 service personnel have died during training exercises, in the past 20 years.

The offences took place not during the active service in war zones, but during the training and selection process, where soldiers died while being exposed to extreme temperatures and weather conditions whilst performing intense physical exercises, as well as using unsafe equipment, machinery and vehicles.

Currently, the MoD, as a Governmental Department, enjoys Crown privilege. This means while health and safety legislation applies to the MoD, it is not subject to criminal enforcement in the courts. Instead of the criminal enforcement action, there are certain administrative arrangements that mirror them - ultimately leading to a Crown Censure instead of prosecution. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 does not apply to MoD's work activities and operations abroad.

The BBC reports that the families that decided to report on the deaths of their loved ones during army practice, expressed concerns that lives are put at risk.

In 2013 an incident occurred where three SAS soldiers lost their lives during a fitness test, where they were marching against the clock on the Brecon Beacons. The 16-mile march happened on one of the hottest days of the year, soldiers also had to carry a 25kg (3st 13lb) backpack all the way. On that day, of the 41 men taking part in the exercise, 18 dropped out, collapsed or were withdrawn. Two of the men that collapsed died at the scene, while one died later in the hospital. It was later found during the inquest that the paramedics from the helicopter attending the incident were told that "we occasionally get deaths on these exercises".

The BBC investigation also obtained an internal MoD review commissioned in 2002 after a series of diving deaths. The report recommended "substantial changes" to the equipment and training to meet "21st Century standards". In 2004 a soldier died during an exercise in Germany, using the same diving kit the Army was warned to replace just two years earlier, however, those concerns were overruled.

A few years later another soldier died at the National Diving and Activity Centre near Chepstow. An inquiry found that lessons had not been learned and the Army was lacking formal training for diving officers.

Ms Hilary Meredith, who represented the widow of one of the soldiers, said that the MoD "can be criticised but there are no sanctions or teeth to make them sit up and change the way we look after those people who serve us".

"I think, quite shockingly, the only way to make change is to really be extreme - remove immunity so the MoD takes responsibility and is sanctioned or fined if there is a reckless disregard to life."

In a statement, a spokesperson for MoD said that it regularly monitored and audited training and "all deaths in training are investigated" to "ensure that all accidents are minimised". The statement also mentioned that their heat illness policy had been updated six times since 2015, and a full safety review was undertaken into diving activities in 2018, which is currently ongoing.

A freedom of information request revealed that preventable injuries have cost the MoD more than £56m between 2012 and 2019.

A man from Kent has been fined over £1,700 for unlicensed fishing and public order offences.

The man had pleaded not guilty to charges of unlicensed fishing and using threatening, abusive and insulting words towards an Environment Agency Fisheries Enforcement Officer at Hawkhurst Fishery in June 2019. However, following evidence by a member of the Voluntary Bailiff Service and an Environment Agency officer, the man was convicted at Hastings Magistrates Court of the offences in January 2020. The court imposed a total penalty of £1723.11.

The court heard how the man had been using four rods and was seen to reel in one of these by the Environment Agency officer. The man did not have a licence for the fourth rod, and became abusive and threatening as the officer issued an offence report form. The Environment Agency officer was joined by the Volunteer Bailiff which decreased the mans initial aggression.

The man had 72 previous convictions, including a prosecution for unlicensed fishing in April 2019.

A spokesperson from the Environment Agency said: "Abusive and threatening behaviour towards Environment Agency Officers and volunteers working with us will not be tolerated".

"We will not hesitate to take enforcement action against anyone who attempts to intimidate officers or volunteers in this way. Anyone wishing to use 4 rods, where allowed, should ensure all are licensed".

A company that designs, manufactures and distributes construction materials has been fined after an employee suffered serious injuries, including his left arm being amputated.

Loughborough Magistrates' Court heard that in August 2017, a 48-year-old employee of Saint-Gobain Construction Products UK Ltd was seriously injured when a rock handling belt failed at the company's plant in Leicestershire. 

Two employees had been clearing rock that had built up around the belt, as the belt had become so compacted it was difficult to remove by hand. Both men went to the isolator end of the belt and removed the local isolation with the guards still removed, and pressed the "stop/start" button.

On checking the tail-end of the drum they saw it had not cleared itself of rock. One of the men went to the opposite side of the tail-end drum to remove the rock and the pair were no longer in visual contact. His colleague pressed the start/stop button again whilst his colleague's arm was in close proximity to the rotating drum, drawing his arm in.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found there was no risk assessment or safe system of work in place for clearing rock safely from tail-end drums.

Saint-Gobain Construction Products UK Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, were fined £400,000, and ordered to pay costs of £12,945.62.

HSE inspector Michelle Morrison commented: "This injury could easily have been prevented, had the risk have been identified. Employers should make sure they properly assess and apply effective control measures to minimise the risk from dangerous parts of machinery".

The government has declared that 13 projects in urban communities in England will receive a share of £10 million in the first round of the Urban Tree Challenge Fund.

The scheme, which launched in May 2019, aims to plant 130,000 trees across England by 2021. More than 22,000 large and 28,000 small trees will be planted in urban areas like Bristol, Merseyside and Thanet.

The government said its commitment to planting 30,000 hectares of trees a year in the UK by 2025 would help to increase canopy cover in towns and cities.

Theresa Villiers, before she was removed from her role as Environment Secretary, said: “Trees are vital in the fight against climate change, to tackle air pollution and help us achieve our net-zero target by 2050. But for local communities they are so much more. They allow green spaces to come together, help both physical and mental wellbeing, and connect children and young people with nature".

The first round of the projects include:

  • the Trees for Cities project, which will receive support for at least 9,000 trees to be distributed across the country;
  • more than 8,000 trees will be planted by Slough Borough Council;
  • almost 7,000 large trees will go to London Street Trees; and
  • 6,000 trees to The Mersey Forest.

The Urban Tree Challenge Fund is made up of two parts:

  • Year One: the fund was open for block bids from local authorities or larger organisations, and bidding closed on the 31 August 2019;
  • Year Two: the fund will reopen for applications for individual tree planters, starting in spring 2020.

Applicants will be able to submit expressions of interest to the Forestry Commission to gain more information about the fund. The grants will provide funding for the planting of trees in the first three years of care, to ensure that they reach their full potential in the future.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have updated their leaflet on managing upper limb disorders.

Revision 3 to INDG171, published late January 2020, is aimed at employers and offers practical advice on reducing the risks of upper limb disorders, which can affect the shoulders, arms, wrists, hands and fingers, as well as the neck.

It includes information on:

  • what upper limb disorders are;
  • their symptoms and causes;
  • how to manage the risks around them;
  • what employers can do to help their workers.

The revised version now includes a simple filter to help identify low-risk tasks which do not need further assessment.


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