§ Mr. Ernie Ross
asked the Secretary of State for Employment if his Department is carrying out research into behavioural toxicology with respect to exposure to chemicals at work.
§ Mr. Waddington:
The Health and Safety Executive has a continuing programme of work devoted to behavioural toxicology research. Effort is concentrated into five main areas. First, a series of volunteer studies is under way at the HSE's occupational medicine and hygiene laboratory This experimental work is investigating short-term behavioural changes during acute exposure to industrial solvents at or below currently permissible levels. Tests of performance which reflect different aspects of psychological functioning and measures of mood change are being used in these studies to assess their reliability, sensitivity and robustness for use in the field. The second, and parallel, part of the programme is investigating behavioural changes in actual workplaces. This work is aimed at assessing the likelihood of behavioural changes which follow acute exposures—over a day's shift—and those which may reflect prolonged exposure—chronic effects. A third part of the work will seek to establish the significance of toxic exposure as a cause of clinical presentation (a) as an emergency and (b) subsequently due to intellectual impairment.
A fourth aspect of the work is concerned with the question of the possible increase in likelihood of mental illness in those occupations where toxic substances are known to be used. In this context, a number of epidemiological surveys are currently under way to investigate possible occupational differences in incidence rates of mental health disorders. Apart from these empirical studies a critical review of the use of behavioural methods in toxicological research is planned. It will concentrate upon a classification of available test methods from the point of view of validity and reliability and will examine the significance of such findings from behavioural studies with respect to the health and safety of those exposed and to appropriate guidance.