Hanging with the (Martin) Roff

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It’s kind of like ‘Hanging with the Hoff’, only that my movie star today was another #hygienegod, Martin Roff. I swear, the Health and Safety Laboratory is the hygienists guide to hygiene heaven.

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Martin has worked at the UK Health and Safety Executive’s research laboratories for over 35 years. His varied fields of research includes breathing simulator designs, measurement of human breathing patterns during exercise and surface electrical charge measurement. His more recent work is with fluorescent tracers He is the inventor of a novel visualisation technique for measuring skin contamination from chemicals such as pesticides in-situ (i.e. without need for recovery from the skin) using fluorescent tracers. You can read some of his recent work here and here to name a few.

Martin has a passion for using science to answer the tough questions. He researches processes that can be used by industry to prevent occupational disease with a recent focus on dermal exposure. Martin showed me a process he developed for workers to change their contaminated gloves. This may sound a bit simple, but I challenge you to change your gloves without touching the skin underneath! Martin uses fluorescent tracers to show where gaps in your system might exist. What was obvious to me that his methods were clear, concise and simple, and therefore most likely to be effective. Martin is working on getting these tools out into the public domain and I promise to link to his resources when they are available.

Martin was also kind enough to take some time out of his day to give me a bit of a tour and let me barrage him with questions. First up, we started in the lab. Martin showed me the dodecahedron he designed where a fluorescent tracer can be used to visualise contamination which has been used to assess PPE removal techniques in the nuclear industry among others.


It operates under UV light, so of course I needed a photo!

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When I asked Martin what he liked most about his job, he said that it was the ‘ability to affect change’. He spoke of a story at an agricultural safety and health awareness day that he attended where he was providing training to farmers on the why/where/how to use a respirator. During this, an older gentleman with a cane started to walk up to him and in a very faint, broken voice, said to all present, ‘I want you all to listen to what he has to say. I never wore a mask when I was young, and look at me now’. That gentleman was showing advanced signs of a severe respiratory disease, and was an immediate catalyst for all that were there to start to affect their own change. It’s moments like that that you realise why you are doing this.

Q: What has been a lesson learned by yourself over your many years of work that you could share with other health and safety processionals?

A: It is always more complicated than you think. You will do your best to keep it simple, which you should, but in the end, it’s always going to be more complicated than that!

Q: What are your tips for people who need to provide training to workers?

A: Keep it simple. Break it down into key steps. It should not be so long that people forget the first step by the time you have finished!

I’ll finish on someting simple that I learned today. We often inspect our gloves before we put them on, but a common method to test for leaks is to blow in to them (like I do!). Today Martin told me not to blow into my gloves, as it makes them stick to your hands (true!), but rather pinch up the air to the fingers (like a cow udder) and observe leaks from there. Another example of simple…yet effective!

This is just a taste of the interview I was fortunate enough to have today at the HSL. For more information, including Martin Roff’s tips for other young occupational hygienists, look out for the article in the next edition of OH Matters. Not a member of the AIOH? It’s easy…just join here and you’ll be on the mailing list.

One thought on “Hanging with the (Martin) Roff

    […] I was at the Health and Safety Laboratory in the UK, I asked the expert Martin Roff, for his advice on the correct way to take your gloves off. Martin was kind enough to share the […]

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