Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

HSE tackles threat of the bends


NEW DECOMPRESSION procedures have been announced this week by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) to reduce the number of tunnellers affected by the sickness known as the bends.

The HSE has pushed through the changes in the 1996 Work in Compressed Air Regulations ahead of an expected boom in tunnelling work over the next few years.

In future it will be compulsory for contractors to use oxygen in decompression chambers on projects where people are working at pressures greater than one bar.

Air pressure is often kept artificially high during tunnel construction to prevent collapses in unstable ground. After working in compressed air, operatives must immediately go through a decompression process.

Inadequate decompression can lead to the sometimes fatal decompression sickness known as the bends. This causes sharp pains in the limbs and breathing difficulties and is the result of a build up of nitrogen in the blood.

Compulsory use of oxygen during decompression replaces the existing practice of using a conventional air supply. The change follows a five year £750,000 investigation that included extensive medical advice.

The study concluded that breathing pure oxygen during decompression would help eliminate nitrogen from the body, reducing the risk of the bends.

Changes in the regulations also mean that contractors must appoint a competent attendant to ensure compliance with safety procedures.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.