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Drink: water safety

Drinking water – tap, filtered, or bottled – is important for healthy hydration and plays a vital role in people’s lives. Consumers choose bottled water for several reasons, including taste, quality, and convenience.

Bottled water is also an alternative to less-healthy sugary packaged beverages when consumers want to eliminate or moderate calories, caffeine, sugar, artificial flavors or colors, alcohol, and other ingredients from their diets.


chemical compound H20, is fundamental to all human life. Ancient cities were planned around it and it has been the cause of territorial wars. Yet it is only recently that we have come to take water for granted: a simple substance which flows out of the tap.

But our faith in this most basic human resource is now being shaken. The quality of Britain’s tap water has, in fact, been causing concern since the early ’80s.

Earlier this year, the European Court of Justice upheld a complaint that 5.3 million people in East Anglia and the Midlands were being supplied with drinking water containing excess nitrate. This chemical can cause ‘blue baby syndrome’ in infants, and its long-term effects are yet not fully appreciated.

And to make matters more complicated, those findings came only weeks after a television investigation of bottled water appeared to show that both mineral and spring waters contain higher levels of potentially harmful contaminants than tap water.

So, how do you choose between the two?

Just how far can we rely on bottled water?

Is it a safe substitute for common or garden tap water?


UK sales of bottled water are now worth £300 million a year; 10 years ago, it was almost unknown. There’s no doubt that the ‘designer’ drinks image of Perrier and other mineral waters boosted the sales.

But there is another side to this coin: a bottle of water costs about a thousand times as much as an equivalent quantity of tap water. Thus, the bottle boom suggests that there is little public faith in the reliability of tap water.


Most tap water comes from reservoirs and is pumped to filter beds where particles and microbes are removed, then it’s chlorinated to kill any remaining bacteria. Legislation requires that the water is tested at all stages by local water authorities before it is supplied to homes.

But there have been enough incidents of contamination – by metals such as lead and aluminium, bacteria including salmonella and Cryptosporidium and chemicals such as nitrates – to suggest that these measures are not always effective.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) estimates that 10 million UK consumers are supplied with water that is contaminated beyond legal limits. The 1990 report of the Drinking Water Inspectorate found that 90 per cent of the UK’s meets EC water purity standards.

But several water authorities are known to be unable to meet those standards and have sought exemption from them for 10 years. FoE wants an independent national drinking water authority established to monitor the water industry and get the issue cleaned up before 2002.


Most bottled waters are ‘groundwaters’ that set out as rain which then seeps through rocks to form underground pools. They bubble up to the surface through cracks in rocks and form springs, or they can be pumped artificially by drilling a borehole in the ground. Both still and sparkling forms are available.


Many sparkling waters are still initially and are made effervescent with carbon dioxide gas (CO,). A few waters emerge from the ground naturally carbonated, but they are very difficult to bottle. So, the gas is usually removed and then put back once the water is in the bottle. Some varieties are already lightly carbonated, but these generally have extra gas added before they are bottled.


When doubts about tap water were first raised, bottled water was considered the safer option because the slow process of rain moving through rocks helped purify it. filtering out the organic material on which most bacteria need to live.

Mineral and spring waters, it was claimed, were therefore purer and much less prone to environmental pollution and pesticide residues.

Some sources of mineral water, such as the Buxton Spring in west  Derbyshire, contain water that fell in the form of  rain hundreds of years ago. Others come from shallow underground springs and are only a few weeks weeks old when bottled.


Mineral waters have always been regarded as having curative and health giving properties, but contemporary science takes a different view. In order to function properly, the human body needs a good balance of minerals -such as sodium, calcium and potassium – but many scientists believe these should be kept at low levels in water.

Sodium, for example, is thought to raise blood pressure, which in turn may increase the risk of heart disease.

Mineral waters are the water that contains minerals. The minerals can be added artificially or can naturally be in the water.

Water that has collected in underground pools naturally erodes rock, dissolving the constituent minerals and salts. Each groundwater source therefore differs, depending on the character of the rock that it passes through.

However, just because it comes from below the ground, we cannot assume that spring water is a much safer bet than surface water which ends up in the tap.


A recent Equinox programme on Channel 4 asked scientists in Wales to test a variety of bottled mineral waters. The experiment found that 17 of them exceeded the limit that is set for certain minerals in British tap water.

The same researchersalso discovered that 39 out of 51 bottled waters contained bacterial levels in excess of EC rulings for tap water. It is unlikely that those bacteria were naturally present.in the groundwater, so the results suggest that water is being contaminated  when it is bottled.

While the main  problem with tap water may be that  the UK finds it hard to comply with the EC’s standards and bottled waters are barely regulated in comparison.

Those labelled ‘spring’ can contain any water that has come up through the ground. But a ‘mineral water’ does have legal criteria to fulfil: it must be safe to drink, free of pollution and harmful bacteria, and bottled straight from the ground.

However, the regulations set limits for just 13 chemicals and bacteria, as opposed to the 57 applied to tap water.

There is also no legal obligation for bottlers to test on a daily basis. And the regulations only apply for the first 12 hours that elapse after bottling, even though it can be months before the water is consumed.

EC rulings on mineral waters are currently under review. Interested parties such as the Consumers’ Association are calling for new rules to be applied to bottled waters – mineral and spring.

They want stricter controls on contamination and the compulsory labelling of all minerals present in significant amounts.

Many argue that the simplest course of action would be to make all bottled waters conform to the same standards as tap.

Spring Water

Spring water is often mistaken for being equal or interchangeable with purified water. However, spring water often contains many of the same impurities found in well or tap water.

In fact, since springs feed our rivers, there is a lot of spring water in our tap water! Spring water generally has the same TDS range as tap water.

Many spring water companies advertise their water as “100% pure—” but if it’s not purified, what does that mean?

The “pure” part actually refers to the source, not the water itself—in that 100% of that bottle’s contents came from an underground source (rather than surface water).

This clever wording leads many people to believe that spring water is just as clean as purified water.

Thanks to this crafty marketing, spring water often conjures up natural, pleasant imagery. In reality, most spring water is not actually bottled at the source, but rather, is pumped into large tanker trucks from the source to be transported to the bottling facility.

The water in those trucks must be chlorinated or ozonated at all times to protect against contamination. In this sense, spring water is hardly different from tap water, since it is largely treated the same way.

Once the water is at the bottling facility, it goes through a carbon filtration process to remove the chlorine. This process may separate spring from tap water, but nitrates, metals, and more are likely to remain.

Distilled Water

Distilled water is processed by boiling H2O out of its contaminants. Many of said contaminants include inorganic minerals or metals. Those impurities have a much higher boiling point than water’s boiling point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit. 

So, the steam that results from the boiling is captured and cooled—and the water that results from the steam is what is classified as distilled water. Because many of the volatile compounds in water have a lower boiling point than water, they boil off first.

As a result, it is important to employ additional purification methods beyond distillation in order to have truly clean, pure water.

Filtered Water

Filtered water is what you are most likely to find in a grocery store. It is typically sourced from municipal tap water, which is then run through carbon filters to remove the chlorine (which improves the taste) and sometimes a micron filter as well.

After the filtering, it is ozonated and bottled. In essence, filtered water is quite similar to spring water. It comes from a “natural” source, goes through minimal filtration, and is then bottled and shipped to market.

Purified Water

The source of purified water isn’t what makes it the best choice on the market—it’s the purification methods that separate purified water from the rest of the pack.

Purified water goes through a process similar to what filtered water goes through, but with a few added steps like reverse osmosis, distillation, or deionization. The end result is far purer than filtered, spring, or tap water.

Alkaline water

The pH of water is neutral, around pH 7. Chemicals and gases can change this to make it more acidic or more alkaline.

pH of waterThe pH of water is around 7, but some people say it may be more healthful to drink water that is alkaline.

Rainwater’s pH is slightly below neutral, because there is carbon dioxide from the air, and this increases acidity.

  • Acidic substances have a pH of below 7.0, down to zero. The pH of vinegar is around pH 3, lemon juice around pH 2, and battery acid around pH 1.
  • Alkaline substances have a pH up to 14. Baking soda’s pH is between pH 8 and 9, and milk of magnesia is between pH 10 and 11.

Water can be high or low in pH, but if it is too high or too low, it can have adverse effects.

Alkaline water is somewhat controversial. Many health professionals say there isn’t enough research to support the many health claims made by users and sellers.

However, there are a few studies that suggest alkaline water might be helpful for certain conditions.

For example, a 2012 studyTrusted Source found that drinking naturally carbonated artesian-well alkaline water with a pH of 8.8 may help deactivate pepsin, the main enzyme that causes acid reflux.

Another study suggested that drinking alkaline ionized water may have benefits for people with high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

A more recent study IN 2019; included 100 people found a significant difference in whole blood viscosity after consuming high-pH water compared to regular water after a strenuous workout. Viscosity is the direct measurement of how efficiently blood flows through the vessels.

Water that is too alkaline has a bitter taste. It can cause deposits that encrust pipes and appliances. Highly acidic water may corrode metals or even dissolve them.


The issue of quality is something of a minefield, in which all the decisive factors are outside the control of individual consumers.

There are, however, some rules that we can observe.

  1. Buy bottled water in glass rather than plastic bottles -some scientists think that bacteria multiply faster in plastic: besides, glass is easier to recycle.
  2. Refrigerate bottled water after opening and finish it as soon as possible, preferably within one day.
  3. If you use bottled water regularly, consider buying a filter – it will almost certainly be better value in the long term.

If you already use a filter, make sure you change the filter cartridges frequently and according to manufacturers’ instructions.

Always store filtered water in the fridge.

If you still have lead plumbing in your home, apply for a grant from the local council to have it replaced.

When using water to make up babies’ feed, boil it first -whether it’s tap or bottled. Check that any mineral water given to a baby is low in sodium. (Compare labelling information with the maximum limits laid down in the Water Act 1989. available from HMSO)

You can find out if your tap water complies with the legal standards. Either go and look at the public register held by your water supplier or get the information sent through the post.

Ask for details of the maximum permitted levels of various substances, so that you can make your own comparison.

Moreover, the water from public water systems is often compromised after emergency situations or natural disasters (e.g., hurricanes, floods, tornados, fires, or boil alerts). During these times, bottled water is a necessary and reliable alternative to deliver clean, safe drinking water. 

If you cannot understand the information, ask your local Environmental Health Officer or Friends of the Earth group for help. (For a FoE briefing sheet on drinking water, send an sae to: FoE, 26-28 Underwood Street, London N1 7JQ.

Water Brands

Voss Artesian Water

Two Norwegian entrepreneurs created Voss, a classy, designer-savvy tube of water from the crisp, frigid aquifers of their Nordic homeland. Shielded for hundreds of years from pollutants by thick layers of rock and sand, Voss water is bottled in Southern Norway, “naturally unfiltered” and served both still and sparkling. 

But its rugged purity is not Voss’ only selling point. The company’s designers painstakingly developed the bottle’s look and feel to reflect a brand that embodies both health and high fashion.

Voss first became available mostly in upscale hotels and in health spas in Europe and in the United States but has since seen much wider distribution in gourmet food and retail stores on both continents.

Saint Geron Mineral Water

Saint Géron, known as “the queen of mineral waters,” stems from an ancient spring in the Auvergne region of France. The light, sparkling mineral water in a bottle of Saint Géron is the product of an 1,100-year filtration process. 

This results in the water being cleansed of all bacteria and nitrates, which show up at less than .1 milligrams per liter. Unusually rich in calcium and magnesium, Saint Géron has long been used as a treatment for digestive problems, diabetes, anemia and even gout.

Although the water was not bottled until the nineteenth century, the Romans patronized the spring long before — ancient coins from the Gallo-roman period (50 BC–486 AD) have been found scattered all around the source. 

The water comes in a modern, elegant glass bottle created by painter and designer Alberto Bali.

Hildon Natural Mineral Water

One of the UK’s most prestigious bottled waters, Hildon Natural Mineral Water is served at the House of Commons and the Royal Opera House (and is rumored to be the water of choice at Buckingham Palace). 

Hildon begins as rainfall, which percolates through the chalk hills of the Hampshire countryside. After a period of 50 years the water emerges at an underground aquifer beneath the nineteenth-century Hildon Estate.

The chalk acts as a unique natural filtration system, protecting the water from pollution and endowing it with high levels of calcium. Once it reaches the source it is immediately bottled without chemical treatment. Naturally low in sodium, the water is prized for its purity and well-balanced taste.

Hildon, which produces both still and sparkling varieties, was the first company in the world to sell a natural mineral water with a carbonation level below 2.9.

This low level of carbonation makes their “Gently Sparkling” water ideal for sipping alongside fine wines and subtly flavored dishes, which risk being overwhelmed by more robust bubbles.

Evian Natural Spring Water

Discovered by a French nobleman during the French Revolution, Evian stems from a source that was thought to hold curative and restorative powers from the start. Evian begins as water that emerges from the Source Cache in France in a mountain tunnel at 52.88 degrees Fahrenheit. 

The source is fed from the melted snow and rain that filters through glacial sand from the Vinzier Plateau over a period of fifteen years. The glacial sand is surrounded by clay, which protects the water from pollution and gives it its mineral composition and taste.

The water is bottled at a nearby bottling plant, which is highly automated and exceptionally hygienic.

Fiji Natural Artesian Water

FIJI Water, natural artesian water, began being bottled in 1996 at the source in the Yaqara Valley of Viti Levu, one of Fiji’s two principal islands, and is now the number one imported bottled water in the United States. 

FIJI’s natural artesian origins provide the water with a unique mineral profile, including its high silica concentration. FIJI Water is known for its iconic square bottle and its signature soft, smooth taste, which comes from the natural silica content and trace amounts of calcium and magnesium.

As part of that strict commitment to quality, no human hands are allowed to touch it. Perfectly protected from outside air and external elements, FIJI Water is untouched until you unscrew the cap.

Gerolsteiner Mineral Water

Founded in 1888, Gerolsteiner Sparkling Mineral Water is the number one water export in Germany. In the German style of stringent purity and cleanliness, Gerolsteiner’s production follows strict purity protocols. 

Originating in springs from the area of Volcanic Eifel, Gerolsteiner flows from ancient, rocky volcanic reservoirs 200 feet beneath the earth’s surface. Minerals and carbonic acid leach into the water as it percolates up through the volcanic rocks, giving Gerolsteiner its exceptionally high amount of calcium, bicarbonate and magnesium.

Gerolsteiner is a great source of essential nutrients that our bodies need daily and its natural carbonation gives Gerolsteiner its refreshing, neutral taste.

Ferrarelle Naturally Sparkling Mineral Water

Relatively unknown in America, Italy’s number one brand of sparkling mineral water was established in 1893, though Italians have been drinking from its source for hundreds of years. 

This naturally effervescent water is bottled directly at a spring located in the protected Sorgeto di Riardo Park near the extinct Roccamonfina volcano in Italy’s Campania region. Ferrarelle is extremely mindful of the quality of its products, testing them more than 600 times each day. Care is also taken to safeguard the habitat surrounding the spring, and the company’s bottling plants are powered by solar energy.

Ferrarelle water, both sparkling and still, is bottled in glass containers rather than plastic, which protects its taste and purity and lessens the impact on the environment. Ferrarelle water begins as rainfall, which trickles through layers of rock in the ground, soaking up valuable minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium and fluoride.

Nevertheless, it has no mineral taste and no unpleasant saltiness. It does have the thirst-quenching, pure taste of simple water, with a pleasant amount of fizziness.

Perrier Mineral Water

Perrier is a naturally sparkling mineral water sourced from a spring in Vergèze, France. Originally called Les Bouillens, the spring has been used as a spa resort since Roman times. The distinctive bottle shape is said to have been inspired by Indian clubs used for exercise by spring owner Sir Saint-John Harmsworth. 

The water and carbonation are captured separately and recombined in the bottling process to preserve the natural sparkling flavor of the original water from the spring.

Today, Perrier is marketed as a healthy alternative to soda drinks and cocktails and is available in a variety of flavors, ranging from pink grapefruit to lemon and lime.

Mountain Valley Spring Water

Since 1871, Mountain Valley Spring Water has been praised by U.S. presidents, world-class athletes and even Hollywood stars for its refreshing taste and potent health benefits. 

Bottled at its source in the hills between the Glazypeau and Cedar Mountains in Arkansas, Mountain Valley Spring Water has a unique mineral composition that is believed to have medicinal properties that can help alleviate chronic disorders.

Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Joe Lewis were firm believers in the restorative powers of this water, and they weren’t the only ones. Thirteen presidents (from Coolidge to Clinton) had Mountain Valley regularly served to their guests while they were in office, and the water is currently being served in the United States Senate.

In fact, President Dwight Eisenhower drank the water medicinally following a heart attack. It was also served to a number of famous racehorses, including Nashua, Sunday Silence and the great Secretariat. This sparkling water is light and clean, with a delicate pH balance for premier taste.

Volvic Natural Spring Water

Volvic is bottled exclusively at its unique source in France and available in more than 60 countries. The basin supplying the Volvic spring source is located in the Regional Park of the Old Auvergne Volcanoes, a volcanic region that has been dormant for 10,000 years. 

The name Volvic refers to the town as well as a type of gray volcanic rock. The source of the water, the Clairvic Spring, was discovered in 1927.

In 1965, the French Ministry of Health authorized the bottling of Volvic water. Volvic emerges year-round from its protected source at the constant temperature of 8.8 degrees Celsius.

Brecon Carreg Bottled Mineral Water 

It begins as rain falling on the hills and valleys of the Brecon Beacons, then streams, filters and flows through layer after layer of dense limestone strata and other ancient rocks for many, many years.

Not surprisingly, during the course of this long and colourful excursion, the water gains traces of lots of different minerals, which are present in the various rocks it is travelling through on its journey to the surface. The minerals acquired in this way, are what gives our bottled mineral water its unique natural taste and make-up. 

Another factor in our success and popularity is that the excellent balance of minerals in our water also gives it a reassuringly low sodium content. In fact our water has the lowest sodium content of all major UK mineral water brands, which means if you’re concerned about too much salt in your diet then this is the mineral water for you.

How to avoid low back pain

Low back pain is an aching discomfort that normally occurs in the lumbar portion of the spine. It is one of the most common health problems, and is the reason most drivers often give for taking time off work.

Low back pain may be the result of excessive strain on the lower back due to a poor posture, bad seating position when driving, being overweight, or hav­ing to do a lot of carrying or lifting of heavy loads. For a few people, persis­tent back pain may be due to arthritis.

What is low back pain?

Back pain is usually caused by a mechanical disorder of one of the structures in or around the spine. The pain may be the result of damage to a ligament or muscle, or to one of the joints between adjacent vertebrae (bones of the spine).

Occasionally the pain is due to a slipped disc, a condition in which the spongy material be­tween the vertebrae, bulges through its sur­rounding ligament and presses on adjacent spinal nerves. This nerve pres­sure causes pain in the back and also pain run­ning down the back of the legs (sciatica).

Other causes of back pain include arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis (a disease of the joints) and, rarely, a tumour in the spinal column. It may also be caused by abdominal problems such as peptic ulcer, pancreatitis or aortic aneurism (localised dila­tion of the aorta).

In most cases, back pain goes away within a few days. It often improves be­fore the doctor has arr­anged any tests, so the exact cause may not be confirmed. If the pain per­sists or keeps comingback, tests will be done to establish a diagnosis.


  1. Pain that radiates from the back into a leg.
  2. Numbness or tingling sensations which occur in one or both legs.
  3. Weakness in a leg.
  4. Loss of control over bladder or bowel.

How is low back pain diagnosed and treated

Most episodes of low back pain can be resolved by resting the back for a few days. However, if low back pain is persistent or recurrent, the doctor’s di­agnosis can usually be made by means of a physi­cal examination.

The physical examina­tion includes testing neu­rological (nervous system) responses and muscle function. Other diagnostic studies may include tak­ing a CT scan (a complex form of X-ray which gives a detailed cross-sectional image of a part of the body), or a myelo­gram (an X-ray of the back taken after an injection of a dye into the spine).

Bed rest for at least a few days only and followed by gentle movements. Painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxants, heat pads / baths may be prescribed to help re­lieve muscle spasm. 

Manipulation of the back by a doctor, physiotherapist or osteopath can be very effective, helping to relieve the pain and spasms in some cases.


Anyone with severe back pain caused by an injury or fall, or who is unable to move, should be taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital.

Do not move the injured person as this should only be done by trained staff.

What can I do myself

Factors that increase the risk of injury include the load being too heavy, large, difficult to grasp or unstable, the task being too strenuous or involving awkward postures or movements.

The working environment lacking sufficient space, having slippery, uneven or unstable floors, having extreme temperatures or poor lighting.

Employers are required to carry out risk assessments, and take action to protect workers from the risks of manual handling.

Prevention measures include:

• Designing and organising tasks to avoid manual handling completely, or at least restrict it.

• Using automation and lifting equipment.

• Organising manual handling tasks in a safe way, with loads split into smaller ones, and proper rest periods provided. 

• Providing information and training to workers on tasks, and the use of equipment and correct handling techniques. (CPC Course)

Avoid prolonged sitting and keep the back mobile. Take a walk during your 4.5 hours rest periods and ensure your seat is correctly adjusted for your size. 

Take regular exercise on your days of work and attempt to strengthening ab­dominal and back mus­cles. Swimming is excel­lent exercise for back pain. Using a back rub can also help control minor bouts of back pain.

Some people find relief from cold treat­ment with an ice pack.

For persistent backache, a gradual loss of excess weight will help reduce the weight-bearing load on the spine. Sleeping on a firm mattress and, for se­vere, chronic back pain, wearing a corset-like back brace can also help to ease the situation.

Reducing emotional stress if at all possible, can help, as many people un­consciously tighten their back muscles when they are worried or tense.

When should I see my doctor

Your doctor will examine your posture and the movements of your back when you are standing. You will then be asked to lie down so your back can be checked for areas of tenderness and muscle spasm. The nerve and muscle function in both legs will also be checked, as pressure on the spinal nerve can cause numbness or weakness.

Is low back pain dangerous

Low back pain is rarely dangerous. However, if the pain is accompanied by leg weakness, a feeling of numbness, or bladder or bowel problems, this in­dicates that there is pres­sure on one or more of the spinal nerves.

If the pain is caused by a disc prolapse or tumour, prolonged pressure on a spinal nerve will require surgery, as permanent nerve damage can result. You must see a doctor if the pain is persistent.

How can I avoid low back pain
  1. Maintain your ideal weight.
  2. Practice back and abdominal exercises.
  3. Wear flat or low shoes.
  4. Sleep on a firm mattress.
  5. When lifting, squat down in a knee-bend, pick up the object and hold it close. Keep your back upright, but not unnaturally straight. Slowly straighten your legs as you rise.

Many people with recurrent back pain have found relief by studying and following the Alexander Technique. 

This is a system of posture adjustment and training for the correct movement of the spine, neck and limbs.

The technique is taught in individual classes.

Why do men think about DIY when driving

Distraction when driving can be a dangerous activity, this has been covered within a previous article and within the CPC course.  Its rather surprising to find DIY within this list of distractions but I have been guilty of day dreaming when I hear on the radio about a person winning the lottery, and by the end of the journey, I have successfully spent the winnings a dozen times over on various activities and joint business ventures.

But seriously, 15% are thinking about DIY rather than focusing on the task of driving.

How boring must your car be if you’re thinking about DIY when driving? Unless your name is ‘Handy Andy’ or Tommy Walsh, DIY should be avoided at the best of times, let alone when you’re behind the wheel.

However, according to a survey of 16,307 AA members, 15 percent of men and 9 percent of women admitted to thinking about home improvements while driving. What’s more worrying is the fact that just 11 percent of men were concerned about breaking down.

Worrying about arriving on time is the biggest distraction for men (45 percent) and women (57 percent), followed by work (34 percent overall) and planning for the future (25 percent). Money, life admin and social life are all tied on 22 percent.

And you thought ‘Hello Boys’ billboards and exotic motors were the biggest distractions when behind the wheel…

Just 30 percent of drivers said they only ever think about driving when behind the wheel, meaning two-thirds admitted to being distracted in the car.

In many ways, it has never been easier to be distracted while driving. Whether it’s a cursory glance at a mobile phone, using an aftermarket sat-nav or changing the setting on a touchscreen, there are many attention-seeking devices vying for the driver’s attention.

Throw into the mix the fact that cars are easier to drive and safer than ever before, and you have a recipe for distraction. Little wonder the government said that in 2017, there were 4,573 injury crashes where distraction was recorded as a contributory factor.

Of these, 774 were serious and a chilling 125 were fatal.

Edmund King, director of the AA Charitable Trust, said “The AA Trust has run some hard-hitting campaigns in recent years highlighting the dangers of distracted driving mobile phone use.

“But, while we can all make ourselves more aware of steps to take to minimise certain distractions, like putting mobile phones in the glove box, it is harder to switch our minds off day-to-day worries like childcare or work.

“So long as your thoughts aren’t so demanding that they overwhelm your ability to concentrate on the road then there is nothing wrong with a bit of thinking time in the car.

“Drivers can give themselves the best possible chance of keeping their concentration by making sure they are well-rested before they start a journey and take appropriate breaks on longer journeys.”

Defining the meaning of a rest period of 24-hours for tachograph purposes.

Being asked recently about the denotation of the 24-hour period, in the context of tachograph legislation. There is some guidance from the European Commission which is aimed at enforcement officials but is a useful reference point on the meaning of ‘each period of 24 hour’s.

The legislation is found in Article: 8 (2) and (5) of Regulation (EC) No. 561/2006.

In line with Article 8(2) of the Regulation a new daily rest period shall be taken within each period of 24 hours after the end of the previous rest period (regular or reduced daily or weekly rest). The next 24-hour period starts from the end of the qualifying daily or weekly rest period taken. The term ‘qualifying’ rest should be understood as a rest

period where a lawful minimum duration is accomplished within the period of 24 hours after the end of the previous qualifying rest. This qualifying rest may end later than 24 hours after the end of the previous rest if its total duration is longer than the minimum required by the legislation.

To determine the compliance with the daily resting time provisions enforcers should look into all 24-hour periods following a qualifying daily or weekly rest.

In cases where enforcers are confronted with periods of activity following a qualifying daily or weekly rest period, during which drivers do not accomplish a qualifying daily rest period, it is recommended that enforcers:

  1. divide the above-mentioned periods of activity into consecutive periods of 24 hours starting from the end of the last qualifying daily or weekly rest; and apply the rules on daily rest periods to each of these reference periods of 24 hours.
  2. Where the end of such a 24-hour period falls within the on-going rest period, which is not a qualifying rest as its lawful minimum duration has not been accomplished within the 24-hour period, but which continues into the next period of 24 hours and reaches a minimum required duration, sometime thereafter, then the calculation of the next 24 hour period shall commence when a driver ends his rest period of a total duration of at least 9/11 hours or more and resumes his daily working period.

Where a qualifying daily or weekly rest period is identified, the assessment of the next 24 hour period shall start at the end of this qualifying daily or weekly rest period taken (from the end of the relevant rest period if the rest taken is in fact longer than the required minimum period of time).

This calculation method should allow enforcers to identify and sanction all infringements of a daily rest provision committed within each period of 24 hours. The analogue calculation method should apply to drivers engaged in multi-manning, and the reference period of 24-hour period should be replaced by 30-hour period as stipulated by Article 8(5) of the Regulation.

Disclaimer: No information within this article; past / future columns shall be constured as legal advice or information.

Marijuana (cannabis) and road safety.

Many professional drivers will have their own views on Marijuana (cannabis) and its recreation usage. I had previously looked at the effects it had on mental health and the research study found that psychotic behaviour’s indents were more prevalent in young adults using this drug.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. Its use is widespread among young people. In 2015, more than 11 million young adults ages 18 to 25 used marijuana in the past year.

Both hemp and marijuana are from the same genus and species (cannabis sativa). Marijuana is the dried leaves and flowers of the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis plant. tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC, is responsible for many of the drug’s psychotropic (mind-altering) effects. It’s this chemical that distorts how the mind perceives the world. In other words, it is what makes you high.

  • THC: The cannabinoid that can make you “high”—THC—has some medicinal properties. Two laboratory-made versions of THC, nabilone and dronabinol, have been approved the therapeutic properties found in cannabis to treat nausea, prevent sickness and vomiting from chemotherapy in cancer patients, and increase appetite in some patients with AIDS.
  • CBD: Another chemical in marijuana with potential therapeutic effects is called cannabidiol, or CBD. CBD doesn’t have mind-altering effects and is being studied for its possible uses as medicine. For example, CBD oil has been approved as a possible treatment for seizures in children with some severe forms of epilepsy.
  • THC and CBD: A medication with a combination of THC and CBD is available as a mouth spray for treating pain or the symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

The therapeutic properties of the cannabis are well documented but smoking a marijuana in hand-rolled cigarettes (joints) in a public location could possible land you in jail.  You need to be familiar with the different types of legalisation for medical or recreation use.

Within the UK, recreational cannabis use is still illegal but there is a movement to change this law.  Medicinal / medical use of cannabis is used under licence only.

What effect has it had on road safety?

There are some parts of the USA that cannabis is legalised. It’s been several years since recreational cannabis was made legal in some US states.

It’s not unreasonable to reflect upon this knowledge to see how reducing / removing this legalisation would work within the UK, with regards to road safety and health.

A newspaper report in April 2019, (Guardian) said what almost half of cannabis users believe it’s safe to drive when you’re high, according to a new study by PSB Research and Buzzfeed News. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those who abstain from weed, take a different view – only 14% believe someone who’s stoned can drive safely.

The dangers of driving while intoxicated have been so well established that it’s easy to assume it’s the abstainers who are right and pot-smokers are simply failing to recognize the danger they pose to themselves. But a few studies into the issue have produced a murkier picture.

It’s true that THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, can impair a person’s levels of attention and their perception of time and speed, important skills you might think for driving a car. One meta-analysis of 60 studies found that marijuana use causes impairment on every measure of safe driving, including motor-coordination, visual function and completion of complex tasks.

But a 2010 analysis published in the American Journal of Addiction found that while “cannabis and alcohol acutely impair several driving-related skills and marijuana smokers tend to compensate effectively while driving by utilizing a variety of behavioural strategies”. The authors concluded that while marijuana should, in theory, make you a worse driver, in tests it doesn’t seem to. “Cognitive studies suggest that cannabis use may lead to unsafe driving, experimental studies have suggested that it can have the opposite effect” .

However, it has been estimated that 22 million Americans (9.4% of the population) have a substance use or dependence problem. As marijuana is the most commonly used drug of abuse, having been tried by 40% of the population, and is also smoked most commonly in the age group that also has the most road traffic accidents, the contribution of marijuana smoking to road traffic accidents is concerning.

A federal report to Congress, conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, came to similar conclusions in 2017. In one test, volunteers were given either marijuana, alcohol or both and then used a driving simulator. The researchers found that the stoned drivers were more cautious, exhibiting “reduced mean speeds, increased time driving below the speed limit and increased following distance during a car following task”, although they did find it more difficult to maintain position within a lane.

Both studies come with the caveat that the amount of THC consumed, and the user’s tolerance levels had an impact on results, with heavy smokers likely to be more greatly impaired. Cannabis users are often unaware of how much THC they have consumed – it’s easy to track the difference between one bottle of Budweiser or two, but harder to know how much THC is in each puff of a joint.

For that reason, this kind of research has only limited applicability to the bigger question of whether stoned drivers are likely to cause more accidents in the real world. Perhaps the more pertinent question is whether states where cannabis has been legalised have seen an increase in crashes and collisions.

A 2017 study found that fatal collisions have not risen in states where weed has been legalised, compared with control states where it remained criminalised. However, two further studies have shown that accidents, in general, are more common since weed became legal in certain states.

The Highway Institute found a 12.5% increase in insurance claims on collisions in Colorado following legalisation and a 9.7% increase in Washington. But using the same methodology, they found no observable increase in accidents in Oregon (the authors suggest this may be because legal cannabis use is not continuing to increase in Oregon as it is in the other two states).

Another study by the same organisation found an average increase of 5.2% in police reporting of crashes in states where cannabis is legal compared with control states.

So, it seems that further research is needed to work out the amount of weed that is dangerous and what exact effect it has on driving ability (and don’t those studies sound fun). While most studies suggest that drinking is more dangerous than smoking when it comes to driving ability, there is at least a correlation between increased cannabis use and car crashes.

professional drivers: Early diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnoea

Introduction to obstructive sleep apnoea

This briefing arose from a campaign by Unite lorry drivers in the North East of England who wanted to raise awareness about obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) for professional drivers.

Feeling tired at work may be for a variety of reasons, not necessarily because they are suffering from OSA, and they should seek advice from their GP.

Proper and early diagnosis of any condition along with appropriate medical treatment from the NHS is essential for members’ continued health at work. Seeking medical advice is also important to ensure that professional drivers can comply with the DVSA medical standards – self-diagnosis is not a suitable option.

What is Obstructive Sleep Apnoea?

OSA is a serious. potentially life-threatening condition that is far more common than is generally understood. Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a breathing disorder characterised by brief interruptions of breathing during sleep. It owes its name to a Greek word, apnoea. meaning “without breath”.

As we go to sleep, the muscles of the throat relax as a normal part of the sleep process. In individuals with OSA, this relaxation progresses to the point where the passage for air is partially or completely blocked, dramatically reducing or stopping airflow into the lungs.

This causes an increase in Carbon Dioxide levels and the brain responds by waking up the individual for a short while to open the air passage. Breathing begins again, but the natural sleep cycle is interrupted.

Having OSA means that a person can stop breathing for periods when asleep. These interruptions (apnoea). which last for 10 seconds or more, occur when the airway narrows so much that it closes. These stops breathing, and the brain reacts by briefly waking up, causing the airways to re-open and breathing to restart.

The individual is usually unaware of this awakening and this process can be repeated up to several hundred times during the night. Proper restful sleep becomes impossible, resulting in sleepiness and impairment of daytime function. Early recognition and treatment of OSA is important.

The excessive sleepiness associated with OSA impairs quality of life and places people at increased risk of road traffic and other accidents.

It may also be associated with irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke, impairment of cognitive function and mood and personality disorders.

Who suffers from Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

Apnoea occurs in all age groups and both men and women; although it is more common in middle aged men. OSA affects an estimated 4% of the male and one percent of the female middle-aged population.

Recent research has suggested that the disorder is much more prevalent in the transport industry. A 2005 study found that 16% of HGV drivers in the study has OSA and a corresponding increased risk of accidents.  

Other studies found that drivers with OSA have a 2 to 13-fold increase in accident rates. The risk of an accident for an OSA sufferer appears to be greatly increased. Further studies show that approximately 33% of OSA sufferers have had an accident in the past 5 years, with 19%-27% of OSA patients admitting to falling asleep at the wheel. UK research estimated that 20% of all motorway accidents are caused by sleepiness.

If untreated, OSA is a major threat to nightly rest. People most likely to have or develop OSA include those who snore loudly, are overweight, have high blood pressure, or have a physical abnormality in the nose, throat, or other parts of the upper airway. If left untreated or undiagnosed the results can be tragic.

Stimulants (like coffee) taken to counter the effects of tiredness but is not a substitute for sleep. The regular use of stimulants by individuals may be a clue to the existence of an underlying sleep disorder. Ingestion of alcohol, sleeping pills, or smoking, can exacerbate OSA.

What are the signs and symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea?

If you. or someone you know, snores nightly and has one or more of the following signs or symptoms. OSA may be the cause (though there may also be other reasons).

Common signs and symptoms of OSA include:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Nightly snoring interrupted by pauses in breathing
  • Falling asleep when you shouldn’t – at work, while driving, etc.
  • Loss of energy, fatigue
  • Choking and gasping during sleep
  • Restless sleep
  • High blood pressure
  • Neck size greater than 17″ in men, 16″ in women
  • Being overweight
  • Depression
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Forgetfulness

Risk Factors for Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

  1. Some studies have shown that a family history of OSA increases the risk of OSA two to four times.
  2. Being overweight is a risk factor for OSA, though not all individuals with OSA are overweight.
  3. OSA is more likely to occur in men over 40 than in women, but it can affect people of all ages.
  4. Abnormalities of the structure of the upper airway contribute to OSA.
  5. OSA may be more common amongst certain ethnic groups (African, Mexican, Aborigines)
  6. Smoking and alcohol use increase the risk of OSA.
Treatments for Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

Treatment can include:

Lifestyle changes – weight reduction and reduction of alcohol consumption

Oral appliances

In a small number of cases surgery may have a place if there is a definite anatomical cause though a variety of treatments are available.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy is the most common and effective treatment for OSA. The individual wears a mask over the nose or mouth during sleep and gentle pressure from a quiet air blower forces air through the nasal passages.

The CPAP machine adds gentle pressure to the air as it is breathed in. This prevents the airway from collapsing and stops obstruction during sleep.

Your Next Step

Restful sleep is required for a normal healthy life Daily wakefulness should be effortless and free from unintended sleep episodes. Excessive sleepiness is far more common than often realised and can be dangerous.

If you or someone close to you regularly shows the signs of excessive sleepiness, or complains of constantly feeling tired

get help from your GP. OSA can be simply screened, diagnosed and treated. 

Treatment of OSA is effective, affordable and uncomplicated.


This article only provides general information about OSA Individuals should contact their GP for medical advice about OSA and the NHS treatment which is available.

Sources of further information

Loughborough Sleep Research Centre/Awake www.awakeltd.info/

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance on CPAP and OSA www.nice.org.uk

Unite Health and Safety Unit. Direct Line: 020 7611 2596 e-mail: [email protected]


Len McCluskey, General Secretary Unite House. 128 Theobalds Road

London WC1X8TN

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