Tunnelling using Compressed Air

In the 1990s, the BTS took over sponsorship of the Compressed Air Working Group (CAWG) when the Medical Research Council decided that it could no longer fund the Decompression Sickness Panel and its working groups.

CAWG consists of medical and engineering experts from a wide range of backgrounds, with the group's remit covering all aspects of work in tunnels under compressed air.

In 2002 the BTS CAWG organised the second 'Engineering and health in compressed air work' conference. More recently, it worked closely with HSE in the revision of the guidance on the Work in Compressed Air Regulations. When government policy on industry guidance changed, the HSE agreed that the recently completed document should be published by the BTS. This appeared as the BTS 'Guide to the Work in Compressed Air Regulations 1996' in 2012.

The Decompression Sickness Panel of the Medical Research Council was formed in the 1950s and over the years its members have contributed significantly to improvements in the health of compressed air workers. Panel members were responsible for identifying bone necrosis in compressed air tunnel workers, for authoring the Blackpool Tables, and for drafting three editions of the CIRIA Report 44, the 'Medical Code of Practice for work in compressed air'.

The current chairman is Roy Slocombe.

High Pressure Compressed Air

In recent years several tunnels have been built which required the application of high pressure compressed air (HPCA) for interventions in the head of the Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM). This is a significant development in hyperbaric activity in tunnelling and takes hyperbaric technology, from the diving industry for use in tunnelling. The BTS CAWG collaborated closely with the ITA WG5 'Health and Safety in Works' to jointly draft ITA Report No 10 'Guidelines for Good Working Practice in High Pressure Compressed AIr', published Feb 2012. A revised version was published in April 2015. A further revision, which significantly extends the guidance on saturation exposures, was published in March 2018. A copy is available for free download here.

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Guide to the Work in Compressed Air Regulations 1996

This document from the Compressed Air Working Group and with support from HSE, was published in 2012 and is a full revision of HSE guidance document L96 and the addendum for oxygen decompression released in 2001. It provides comprehensive guidance on The Work in Compressed Air Regulations 1996, and is available for free download here.

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Engineering and Health in Compressed Air Work, Slocombe, R., Buchanan, J. and Lamont, D. (2003), London, Thomas Telford. ISBN 9780727732545

This publication presents the proceedings of the Second International Conference on Engineering and Health in Compressed Air Work, held in Oxford in 2002. The 35 papers in this volume cover a wide range of health and safety issues which arise in compressed air tunnelling and include a number of papers on research which informed and supported the decision to introduce oxygen decompression in the UK. It is available to buy online from Thomas Telford Bookshop at http://www.icebookshop.com/bookshop

Engineering and Health in Compressed Air Work, Jardine, F.M. and McCallum, R.I. (1994), London, Spon. ISBN: 9780419184607.

This volume presents the proceedings of the International Conference on Engineering and Health in Compressed Air Work, held in Oxford in September 1992 and reflects the knowledge that was held at the time. The publication can be purchased online from Amazon.

Decompression of Compressed Air Workers in Civil Engineering, McCallum, R.I. (1967), Newcastle Upon Tyne, Oriel Press.

This volume was published following an International Working Party held at the CIBA Foundation, London in October 1965 and reflects the knowledge that was held at the time. It is no longer in print.

Radiographic Atlas of bone lesions in compressed air workers

In 1964 the MRC Decompression Sickness Panel funded a national collection of X-ray films obtained from radiographic surveys of the shoulders, hips and knees of active British compressed-air workers, of which there were many thousands at that time. The original radiographic atlas formed from selected films was compiled through the work of Dr Philip Griffiths and defined the classification of bone lesions, which are symptomatic of dysbaric osteonecrosis. Further information is available on the free download.

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The complete Radiographic Atlas is available for downloading here.

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