Our faces contain ‘barcodes’ of information which help us recognise a person, according to Wellcome Trust researchers. The study, published today in the open access Journal of Vision, may have implications for improving face recognition software.
Faces are unique in their ability to convey a vast range of information about people, including their gender, age, and mood. For social animals, such as humans, the ability to locate a face is important as this is where we pick up many of our cues for social interactions.
Whilst recognising a person's face is clearly a complex process, the first steps to processing visual information in the brain are thought to be more basic and rely on the orientation of features such as lines.
By manipulating images of the faces of celebrities such as Coldplay's Chris Martin and actor George Clooney, Dr Steven Dakin at UCL (University College London) and Professor Roger Watt from the University of Stirling showed that nearly all of the information that we need to recognise faces is contained in horizontal lines, such as the line of the eyebrows, the eyes and the lips. Further analysis revealed that these features could be simplified into black and white lines of information – in other words, barcodes.
"Exposed skin on our forehead and cheeks tends to be shiny whilst our eyebrows and lips and the shadows cast in the eye sockets and under the nose tend to be darker," says Dr Dakin, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology. "The resulting horizontal stripes of information are reminiscent of a supermarket barcode."
Supermarket barcodes were developed as an efficient way of providing information: straight, one-dimensional lines are far easier to process than two-dimensional characters such as numbers. In a similar way, our faces may have evolved to allow us to effectively convey the information needed to recognise them.
The researchers analysed various natural images, such as flowers and landscapes, and found that faces are unique in conveying all their useful information in horizontal stripes. The barcode pattern has many advantages: it can be recognised efficiently by the visual parts of the brain, is easy to locate in complex scenes and appears to be resistant to changes in the overall appearance of the face.
This latter point – our ability to recognise a distorted face – is illustrated through images of Marlon Brando, whose face has very striking features and is easily represented as a barcode. When his face is squashed or stretched, is viewed from an angle or is cast in shadows, Brando is still easily recognisable – and the barcode representation remains relatively unchanged. Viewing a negative of the photograph or seeing his face upside-down, however, makes it more difficult to recognise – likewise, the barcode appears very different.
Dr Dakin believes the research may have implications for improving face recognition software, for example for use at an airport where police may need to locate a suspect in a crowd on CCTV cameras. The ability of such software to recognise individuals has improved vastly, but is still poor at the first step: locating faces in complex scenes.
"To improve face recognition software, we need to look towards biology and see how we have solved the problem," he says. "If we are looking for barcode-like images to tell us that 'this is a face', then software could be developed to mimic this skill."
The research may also help explain our ability to see faces where they do not exist, for example in clouds or in flames.
"Our faces are fairly symmetrical, and it is this symmetry that creates horizontal patterns," explains Dr Dakin. "Local symmetry can occur in natural phenomena, such as fire, and it could be that our brains recognise a barcode when a face isn’t really there."
Dakin, SC and Watt, RJ. Biological “bar codes” in human faces. Journal of Vision. 3 Apr 2009.
One hundred and fifty years after Darwin first had the courage to articulate its principles, Evolutionary Biology lies at the heart of life as we know it. In recognition of this, the University is arranging a series of 'Evolution and Society' lectures to explore the subject from the perspectives of the public, the media, educational organisations and commerce.
“Glad to have evolved”, the inaugural lecture, will be delivered by the bestselling evolutionary biologist, Dr Olivia Judson, also known as Dr Tatiana (pictured) on Thursday 16 April. It starts at 6pm in the Cottrell Building, Lecture Theatre CA3, and admission is free.
Given her track record, Dr Judson will probably come at the subject from an original and controversial angle, with a timely comment on evolutionary change in relation to people and contemporary culture.
A pupil of W.D. Hamilton (considered by many to be the most important theoretical biologist of the 20th century), Dr Judson graduated from Stanford University, gained a doctorate from Oxford, and worked for some time as a journalist before becoming a research fellow at Imperial College London.
Her first book, ‘Dr Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation’ was praised by critics as being witty and engaging and became an international bestseller. Written in the style of a sex advice column to animals, it detailed the variety of sexual practices in the natural world and provided an overview of the evolutionary biology of sex.
She has also worked as a TV presenter, playing Dr Tatiana in an adaptation of her book and co-presenting ‘Animal Farm’, a series exploring genetic modification and farming, with Giles Coren.
The lecture series is the result of a very successful talk the University gave to mark Darwin’s 200th anniversary earlier this year. Lecturer Dr Mario Vallejo-Marin explains: “We were surprised by the numbers of people who came from beyond university and academic life to discuss whether evolution could explain the complexity of the natural world or whether we also needed to embrace religious principles.
“It’s one of the current controversies in both British and American societies - how religion and science interact. People get very passionate about whether or not the two are compatible. It’s a philosophical question, but evolutionary biology also has endless practical applications. Whether you are concerned with agriculture, human health or economic issues, any study of almost any subject will incorporate evolutionary principles; they provide the unifying theme that allows you to interpret every biological phenomenon.”
According to Dr Vallejo-Marin, one of the most beautiful things about evolution is the fact that it is always current. “It is important from an academic perspective and just as important in terms of our cultures and our societies – hence the title of the lecture series.”
Stirling golfer wins R&A Scholars Tournament for third successive year
Date released: Wednesday 8 April 2009
The University of Stirling’s Paul Betty shot a four under-par 68 on the Old Course to seal victory at the R&A Scholars Tournament 2009. He made five birdies and only one bogey to win the men's event by two strokes, ahead of LULM Milan’s Leonardo Motta.
Paul, who will gain World Amateur Golf Ranking points for his victory, becomes Stirling’s third men’s champion in as many years, appropriately enough for Scotland's University for Sporting Excellence. "The wind was quite strong today," explained the Scot, now in his fourth year as an R&A Scholar. "On the way out it was helping, so I just tried to make the most of it on the par-fives and the shorter holes because I knew it would be tough coming back."
Paul will now go on to form part of Europe’s eight-man Palmer Cup team as they head to Cherry Hills Country Club, Colorado, to face the USA’s best college golfers in a Ryder Cup-style match play competition. "It’s going to be brilliant," he added. "Gordon Yates and Scott Borrowman [winners of the Scholars Tournament in 2008 and 2009 respectively], who I play a lot of golf with at Stirling, have played it the last two years and really enjoyed it, so I’m looking forward to it, six weeks in the sun!"
Meanwhile, third year student James White won the 2008 Scottish Universities Championships. James produced scores of 75, 75, 71, 71 for a 1-shot victory over Steve Pointon (St. Andrews). James's win helped him achieve the number one spot in the 2008-9 Scottish Universities Order of Merit and secures his spot in the British Universities finals at the end of this month.
Stirling wins Indian media award
Date released: Thursday 9 April 2009
The Department of Film, Media & Journalism at the University of Stirling has been awarded the 2009 Business Communication School of the Year (International) by the Public Relations Council of India (PRCI).
The award was presented to Matthew Hibberd (pictured right), Senior Lecturer and deputy head of the Department, by B.S. Yeddyurappa, the Chief Minister of Karnataka, a region of India with a population of 53 million. There were 108 nominations for the awards.
The PRCI is the national body of Communication, Media, Advertising and PR professionals, with 18 chapters spread across India. The PRCI also has strategic international tie-ups with similar organisations in the world.
Their annual national 'Chanakya Awards' recognise the contribution made by people in Communication, Innovation, Media, Cinema, PR, Advertising, Rural leadership, Corporate leadership, Social leadership and there is also a PR Hall of Fame.
North pupils invited to Economics master class
Date released: Thursday 9 April 2009
The words ‘credit crunch’ and ‘recession’ may strike fear into those of us who lived through the economic crisis of the 1980’s. But what do they mean for a whole generation of young people who have grown up with a booming economy?
Teenagers studying Business, Economics or Management subjects at several schools, including Millburn, Culloden, Charleston and Inverness Royal Academies, have been invited meet and put questions to University of Stirling Economics Professor David Bell (pictured) of Stirling Management School.
Regarded as one of the leading authorities on the economic downturn, his views are sought by politicians and businessmen alike. He recently presented a paper on the subject of rising unemployment to the House of Commons. And by special invitation, he will shortly be delivering his view of the country’s economic ills with members of the Cabinet Office.
Around 60 students are expected to join Professor Bell on Thursday 16 April at the Centre for Health Science, Inverness. He will talk about the origins of the credit crunch and the economic fallout expected over the next 5-10 years before responding to the group’s questions.
“I asked students to email these to me,” he explained “and the response has been enthusiastic. Many of the questions are knowledgeable and thought-provoking. But what I really detect from them is a sense of anxiety. Many of today’s senior pupils will shortly be entering the workplace; they are aware of the unpleasant realities and they are very worried.”
Although the economic situation is serious, Professor Bell believes that much can be done to lessen its negative impact on work opportunities for the young. “We have to learn from the bad experience of the 1980s, when initiatives like YOP (Youth Opportunities Programme) didn’t really work. In fact, some of these ideas proved to be more of a handicap than a benefit to people trying to find employment and this time around, we need to be much cleverer about how we help them.”
If today’s students want to survive this economic crisis, Professor Bell is in no doubt about what they need to focus on. “Young people with better training and better skills will get better jobs – it’s as simple and stark as that.”
Bleak outlook as Highland communities grow old – and are getting older
Date released: Thursday 16 April 2009
In 1960, the Queen sent out 1,000 telegrams to mark centenarian birthdays. In 2031, her successor can expect to send out 40,000 such telegrams. We face an unprecedented level of ageing and a difficult future for older people living in the rural Highlands, according to a University of Stirling academic.
A lecture on ‘The challenge of elderly care in rural communities’ was delivered by Professor David Bell, one of Scotland’s top economists, on Thursday 16 April, 2009. It is one of a series of lectures on health and social care to be given by the University at the Centre for Health Science, at its Highland Campus in Inverness.
According to Professor Bell, growing old means facing issues such as dementia, obesity, diabetes and poverty. In the Highlands these problems are exacerbated by a lack of affordable housing, and difficulty in accessing public services.
He said: “In the Highlands, the ageing issue is magnified, as there has traditionally been a large movement of young people out of the area, while older - but still physically fit - people are moving in.
“The Highlands has a lot of ‘young elderly’ who are fit and able to enjoy retirement. They’ve probably had careers in the service sector and their quality of health hasn’t been eroded by hard physical labour. But once this group joins the ‘older old’, then health problems, difficulties with housing and access to services all become more pressing.”
Going forward, he anticipates a problem in securing sufficient numbers of health professionals such as doctors, nurses, social workers or carers to meet the health and care needs.
Already, he believes, the social service infrastructure in the Highlands is struggling to cope and the outlook is difficult. “Around 2% of the population has dementia at 65 and this figure rises so that 30% of 90-year-olds are living with it. Unless we move towards finding a cure for dementia, it really won’t make any difference how fit and healthy people are in the future.”
He acknowledges that finding solutions to the challenges of elderly care in rural communities is difficult and calls for more joined-up thinking between the NHS, the social services and other organisations, while patients should be involved more in decisions about their treatment and the allocation of resources.
"In an era of static, or possibly declining, public spending, Highland communities need to work together to confront the demographic challenge," he concludes.
Baroness Greenfield launches new Centre for Memory
Date released: Tuesday 21 April 2009
The University of Stirling’s Psychology Department has established the Centre for Memory & Learning in the Lifespan.
This new research initiative will be launched on Wednesday 13 May with a lecture by Baroness Susan Greenfield (pictured) on ‘The impact of current technology on the mind of the 21st century child‘.
Baroness Greenfield, one of Britain’s most renowned scientists and a bestselling science writer, is the Director of the Royal Institution and Professor of Pharmacology at Oxford. Her talk will explore some of the latest findings in neuroscience on how exquisitely the human brain adapts to the environment, and will examine how different the environment in the future might be.
She says: “If the brain is sensitive to the environment, and if the environment is changing, then will the brain of the 21st Century child be transformed in unprecedented ways? The time is now ripe for taking action in harnessing current and future technologies, to ensure that we can realise the full potential that living in the 21st Century has to offer.”
The Centre for Memory & Learning in the Lifespan brings academic research in neuropsychology, developmental psychology, health, and education to the attention of the wider public. The Centre’s Director is Dr Tracy Alloway, who has research interests in how working memory, our ability to remember and manipulate information, impacts on learning.
The Inaugural Pearson Lecture by Baroness Greenfield is open to the public and will be of interest to parents, clinicians, educators, and academics. It will take place at 6pm on 13 May in the Stirling Management Centre, University of Stirling, and will be followed by a reception.
This is a free but ticketed event. Spaces are limited so book early to avoid disappointment. To book a place, contact Katie Hamilton on 01786 467640 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
National science award for Stirling psychologist
Date released: Thursday 23 April 2009
Dr Tracy Alloway, a psychologist at the University of Stirling, has won the prestigious Joseph Lister Award from the British Science Association.
The award is in recognition of her research into working memory, in particular the capacity of children to store and manipulate information for brief periods of time. She will present her award lecture, entitled The New IQ: Working Memory, at the British Science Festival in September.
Dr Alloway joined the University of Stirling in December and is the Director of the Centre for Memory and Learning in the Lifespan. She has conducted research into how working memory affects learning, and has received international coverage as the author of numerous academic articles and books on working memory in children with ADHD, language impairments, dyspraxia, and learning disorders. She has developed the world’s first standardised working memory tests for educators.
She said: “I am honoured to receive the Joseph Lister Award. We are on the cusp of a new scientific revolution in understanding how the brain works that will come to have a profound effect on everything from learning in the classroom to succeeding in the boardroom. My research shows how working memory, our ability to remember and manipulate information, is at the centre of this revolution.
“The importance of working memory has long been known among scientists and psychologists, but it has not yet been made accessible to the general public. My research seeks to unlock the power of working memory in an easy-to-understand manner for a wide audience, from parents of young children who want to improve in the classroom, to adults who want to do better in their jobs.”
Dr Alloway is a talented communicator who has demonstrated exceptional skills in communicating scientific discoveries to non-specialist audiences, according to Roland Jackson, Chief Executive of the British Science Association. He said: “The British Science Association Award Lectures seek to reward outstanding communicators who can bring their subjects to life with passion and enthusiasm whilst also tackling the social implications of their research. This year’s winners promise to deliver thoroughly engaging talks that I’m sure visitors will enjoy.”
The British Science Festival is one of Europe’s largest science festivals and regularly attracts over 350 of the UK’s top scientists and speakers to discuss the latest developments in science with the public. Over 50,000 visitors regularly attend the talks, discussions and workshops. The Festival takes place at a different location each year and was last held in Guildford in 1975. The 2009 festival will take place from 5-10 September at the University of Surrey, Guildford, and across the region. For further information, visit www.britishsciencefestival.org
The British Science Association (formerly the British Association for the Advancement of Science) is the UK's nationwide, open membership organisation that exists to advance the public understanding, accessibility and accountability of the sciences and engineering. Established in 1831, the British Science Association organises major initiatives across the UK, including National Science and Engineering Week, the annual British Science Festival, programmes of regional and local events, and an extensive programme for young people in schools and colleges. The Association also organises specific activities for the science communication community in the UK through its Science in Society programme. For more information, please visit www.britishscienceassociation.org
Nurses are a force to be reckoned with
Date released: Thursday, 23 April 2009
It’s official - nurses are no longer doctors’ handmaidens, soothing fevered brows and standing quietly by in starched uniforms while doctors save lives.
This news should be music to the ears of many in the profession who will attend the University of Stirling Lecture delivered in Inverness on Wednesday 29 April at 4pm*.
The lecture will be given by Professor William Lauder (pictured right), Head of the Department of Nursing and Midwifery at the University, who takes a dim view of the ‘popular’ perception of nurses and their profession.
“The roles nurses are adopting in clinical settings are vastly different from the roles they filled even 10 years ago, because our profession is changing at a furious pace,” he maintains.
Explaining the lecture’s title, ‘Nursing: the matured clinical and research profession’ he says: “Nursing as an academic subject may be comparatively new to the university sector, but we have arrived. And we are successful, with a formidable research discipline boasting many world leading researchers.”
Unfortunately, public perception has not yet caught up with this reality. Professor Lauder and colleague Gavin Neilson from the University of Dundee have recently published research on school pupils’ views of nursing.
“It was clear that the image they had of nursing was dated,” he recalls. “Amazingly, they see female nurses as going into the profession for one thing – snaring a doctor. Just as surprisingly, they also see male nurses as gay. Their view of nursing was like something out of a ‘Carry On’ movie.”
Professor Lauder regards this lingering negative view of nursing as hugely detrimental in an age of nurse consultancy and independent clinicians and points out that today’s nurses, many of whom command large salaries, are for example, the biggest prescribers of medicine, with more nurse than doctors prescribing medication.
“The problem is that there are few communications vehicles which accurately reflect the modern image of nursing to either nurses or the public,” he explains, adding that nurses are only ever portrayed in one of two ways.
“The BBC way is Holby City, where doctors (mostly male) play the hero while nurses make tea. Others portray nurses as poorly paid, constantly being at risk of physical abuse and suffering from low morale.
“Nurses are by nature self-deprecating. They tend to adopt a poor view of themselves and when they’re constantly being told how bad things are for nursing and nurses, that’s hardly surprising.
“However, the reality is that we’re a confident, high achieving, very successful profession. After all, we practically run the NHS. The Institution could be run without medics but it cannot be run without nurses. And it’s surprising how seldom that particular message comes across.
“Ever since Florence Nightingale first encountered opposition in the 19th century, the feeling has been that educating nurses was a mistake. Even today, there are still vestiges of that old idea that women could either be educated or they could be nurses but they couldn’t be both.
“Fortunately, we are now seeing a new generation of medical practitioners who don’t have these outdated ideas. They see nurses as equals and treat them as such; it’s no coincidence that the gender balance in medicine has changed and now the majority of medical students are women.”
This ‘reality lag’ forms the basis of Professor Lauder’s lecture, as he makes the point that nurses should take a step back, have a good long look at themselves and congratulate themselves. The University celebrated its first graduate Doctor of Nursing last summer. And for student nurses, the doors to a brilliant career in an exciting profession are wide open.
* Professor William Lauder will deliver his professorial inaugural lecture, ‘Nursing: the matured clinical and research profession’, at the University of Stirling’s Highland Campus, at the Centre for Health Science in Inverness, on Wednesday 29 April 2009 at 4pm. The lecture is open to all and admission is free. To reserve a place, contact Mrs Liz Beattie on 01463 255649 or on email@example.com
Find out more about becoming a nurse or midwife, and career development opportunities for healthcare professionals, at www.nm.stir.ac.uk
Stirling lecture shines a light on spirituality
Date released: Thursday 23 April 2009
As people lose their faith in religion they are turning to spirituality, according to Scottish academics. It is an issue that raises serious questions about health care for the ill and dying.
Professors Steve Bruce and John Swinton of the University of Aberdeen will present their findings on spirituality at a seminar in the University of Stirling’s Iris Murdoch Centre on Thursday 30 April at 2pm. Attendance is free and the event is open to all.
‘How common is spirituality?’ is the subject of Sociology Professor Steve Bruce’s lecture, which will consider the evidence for the popularity of spirituality in contemporary Britain.
He has written extensively on the nature of religion in the modern world and says: “As organised religion has declined, it has become increasingly popular for people to claim to be spiritual, for commentators to assert that people are spiritual, and for professionals to assert that such spirituality needs to be serviced.”
'Does spirituality have to be real to exist?’ is the question at the heart of the lecture to be delivered by Professor John Swinton, Chair in Divinity and Religious Studies. An ordained minister of the Church of Scotland, John has worked both as a nurse and as a hospital chaplain.
He believes that within the health care context, there is a diversity of understanding as to what spirituality is and concludes: “These opinions are diverse and sometimes contradictory. Can they all be correct?”
He examines whether academics are asking the right questions about spirituality in healthcare. ”Perhaps the important question is not what spirituality is, but what it enables us to do in practice. What is it that people are trying to express about current practices of care through the language of spirituality? A better approach might be to explore the issues that the language of spirituality raises for the way care is delivered to people who are ill and dying. When we listen to their voices a different set of questions emerge.”
This event launches the Stirling-Dundee Seminar Series 2009, hosted by the Universities of Stirling and Dundee. The aim of the series is to provide a Scottish focal point for the discussion of philosophy, social theory, ethics and the humanities, in the context of health care practice and education.
There are four seminar dates and a total of seven seminars in the series, each of which will be delivered in the afternoon.
For further details of this and future seminars, please contact: John Paley, University of Stirling on 01786 466399, click to email ; or John Drummond, University of Dundee on 01382 388525, click to email.
Insight into fish disease to help protect farmed fish stocks
Date released: Friday 24 April 2009
Researchers at the University of Stirling have gained a key insight into a disease that is devastating the UK’s fish farming industry.
The researchers have discovered that fish can harbour and spread proliferative kidney disease (PKD), a cause of major stock losses on fish farms, as well as being affected by the infection. The discovery now paves the way for research to develop effective ways to combat the disease.
The research was conducted by Professor Sandra Adams and Dr David Morris at the University of Stirling's Institute of Aquaculture, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), and is published today in the latest edition of BBSRC Business magazine.
PKD is a debilitating condition for affected fish, leading to severe inflammation of the kidneys. PKD can cause major losses of newly introduced fish on infected farms - the estimated annual cost to the UK trout industry alone is £2.5 million. Despite the impact of the disease and the importance of aquaculture to the UK food chain details about how PKD spread have been scarce.
Researchers had previously discovered the parasite in freshwater bryozoa, which are colony-forming animals that feed on microscopic algae. Some species of the bryozoa resemble plants and can fragment to form new colonies that could spread the disease.
Prof Adams and Dr Morris have now shown for the first time that native fish can also spread PKD, rather than being simply dead-end hosts.
Prof Adams said: “We were able to show that the parasite that causes deadly PKD in fish could cycle between brown trout and bryozoa indefinitely”.
The researchers have also developed a working model in the lab for studying the lifecycle of the parasite, which will be critical for developing new control measures against the disease.
Their early results suggest that although brown trout are hosts of PKD they are not very susceptible to the disease, whereas farmed rainbow trout in the UK have a severe immune response to PKD that can kill the fish.
But, as Prof Adams explains: “In their native environment in the USA, rainbow trout are more resilient to PKD. This suggests that there are at least two strains of this particular parasite: one adapted to North American species and one adapted to European species. Therefore, rainbow trout introduced to European waters are likely to be infected with the wrong strain of the parasite, which explains the severe immune response and subsequent disease”.
There have been recent reports of PKD affecting wild salmon in Europe and North America, indicating that it is an emerging threat to these ecologically and economically important fisheries.
Prof Janet Allen, Director of Research at BBSRC, said: “Farmed fish are a crucial part of the food chain, providing nutritious and affordable food for many people. They are also economically important in many areas. When a disease such as this threatens fish farming it is vital that we provide the science to understand the problem and its source and deliver the research to tackle it.”
About The Institute of Aquaculture
The Institute of Aquaculture at the University of Stirling is the leading international centre in its field and is the largest of its kind in the world. It carries out fundamental research on environments, reproduction, genetics, aquatic health, nutrition and feed supplies, as well as production systems, markets, and on the social and economic impacts of aquaculture. The Institute has grown steadily over the last 35 years to include 110 staff and 120 postgraduate students.
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £420 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. BBSRC carries out its mission by funding internationally competitive research, providing training in the biosciences, fostering opportunities for knowledge transfer and innovation and promoting interaction with the public and other stakeholders on issues of scientific interest in universities, centres and institutes. For more information see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk
Society pays for companies’ deadly behaviour
Date released: Tuesday 28 April 2009
Deadly conditions are persisting in Britain’s workplaces because firms only pay a small fraction of the costs of occupational injuries and diseases, a new report has concluded.
‘Who pays? You do’, by University of Stirling Professor Rory O’Neill (pictured), concludes that thousands of lives each year could be saved if businesses were prevented from ‘cost shifting’ onto individuals and society the real bill for work-related ill-health.
Professor O’Neill, of the University’s Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group, says: “The business lobby bleats continually about the ‘burden’ of health and safety regulation, but the burden of lax workplace safety standards is carried almost entirely by sick and injured workers, bereaved families and the public purse.
“Our research shows at best 25 per cent of the cost of occupational ill-health and injuries is borne by business, yet businesses create 100 per cent of the risks that caused the problem.”
The report, published on International Workers’ Memorial Day – 28 April – is highly critical of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC). Last month the BCC published its ‘2009 Burdens Barometer’, which targets 10 workplace safety regulations covering working time, chemicals, asbestos, explosives, biocides, work at height, vibration and noise, as well as occupational exposure limits and the corporate manslaughter act.
“The British Chambers of Commerce objects to the cost of these crucial health and safety laws, which it says cost business £2.2bn a year,” says Professor O’Neill. “But BCC’s calculation is undermined by a critical omission – the cash and human benefits of properly regulated workplace health and safety.”
“With a fatal occupational injury costing society over £1.5m and an occupational cancer over £2.5m, the supposed cost to business is by comparison small change.”
The annual cost of workplace fatalities and work-related road traffic deaths alone exceeds £1bn, says O’Neill, adding the occupational disease bill is many times higher. The total bill for industry’s occupational health and safety failings could be well in excess of £30bn each year.
“The reason 1,000 people in Britain die in work-related fatalities each year and tens of thousands die of occupational diseases, is not because businesses pay too much, but because they pay too little,” he says. “’Cost shifting’ of the bill for occupational injuries and diseases means business creates the problem and individuals and the public purse pick up the tab.”
Professor O’Neill is calling for more rigorous enforcement of existing health and safety laws, with punitive penalties on companies guilty of egregious health and safety breaches. He also says there is a need for a revamped employer-financed compensation system that recognises the real costs of occupational injury, disease and related bereavements. The NHS should also recover from employers the full costs for the treatment of occupationally- caused diseases and disabilities.
“While firms evade the true costs of the harm for which they are responsible, deadly conditions will persist in Britain’s workplaces,” he says.
Notes to editors
Who pays? You do, by Professor Rory O’Neill, is published in the May 2009 issue of the occupational health and safety journal Hazards. It can be accessed online at: http://www.hazards.org/index.htm
The report is accompanied by cases histories on the human cost of work-related bereavements. Work deaths harm whole families can be accessed online at: http://www.hazards.org/index.htm
The University of Stirling is offering an attractive fast-track qualification for professionals who are looking for a new career in housing.
Starting this autumn, the postgraduate Diploma in Housing Studies is to be compressed into a single year, offering a unique combination of intensive academic study and professional experience.
Dr Mary Taylor, Senior Teaching Fellow, explained: “We all need a home which is warm, dry, safe and affordable and for that we need good housing policy, systems and services. These are skills which you will be taught on the course, and with this qualification, you can contribute to improving housing policy and practice, making a real difference to quality of life and our environment.
“Our programmes have a reputation for supplying the sector with newly qualified staff who can hit the ground running, and we have a good track record of our graduates finding relevant work quickly after completing their studies.
“There are excellent career prospects in housing, with some of our previous graduates now managing organisations responsible for providing homes and services for thousands of people.”
Stirling has vast experience in the subject, having offered housing studies since 1980. The diploma programme combines the study of buildings, people, finance, law and management, covering strategy, policy and frontline services.