Ellen Daniels, BCGA CEO
August 2020: Nitrous Oxide Article
The recreational use of Nitrous Oxide has always been dangerous and has caused many deaths. The lockdown earlier this year saw a rise in illegal raves, and in turn, resulted in an increase of small, silver bullet-like objects being scattered across our roads and parks. These little cartridges had been full of Nitrous Oxide, also known as "laughing gas". The abuse of Nitrous Oxide is a topic BCGA has worked on previously, including our involvement in the drafting of the Psychoactive Substances Act.
According to the ONS, 12% of substance-related death mentioning nitrogen or nitrous oxide on the death certificate, which is a shocking figure. It is the second most commonly used substance among 16- to 24-year-olds in England, with half a million having used it in 2019.
The solution to this is simple- we are calling on the Government to implement a straightforward ban on consumer sales of Nitrous Oxide.
What Exactly is Nitrous Oxide?
Nitrous Oxide is a colourless gas used typically in the medical industry as a form of pain relief. It is also used as a recreational substance, and excessive inhalation can and does kill by asphyxiation. Before that, it can cause hypoxia- a dangerous condition when the body is starved of oxygen, and, sometimes death, through heart failure.
Use of Nitrous Oxides leaves users vulnerable to all dangers whilst intoxicated, but its use is also addictive. Repeated use can cause irreversible damage to the central nervous system and liver - and before that, the impairment of judgement, balance, thinking and motor functions.
As well as being a dangerous, addictive substance, it is a powerful greenhouse gas, polluting the atmosphere and damaging the environment. It is 300 times more harmful to the environment than Carbon Dioxide. Streets, parks, university campuses and even schoolgrounds are littered with the used 8g steel mini canisters, presenting a hazard to animals, pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.
There are several legitimate uses of Nitrous Oxide, but these would not be significantly impacted by a ban on consumer sales. For example, it is used in dentistry and other medical procedures as a form of pain relief. In medical use, it is always administered in conjunction with oxygen and under qualified supervision.
It is also used to froth and propel synthetic cream. Professional catering use would not be affected by a retail ban. Synthetic cream dispense jugs are sold in the UK, but we their use is minor, and consumers could easily buy pre-mixed ‘squirty cream' in cans.
What we've done
We previously worked with the UK Government on the Psychoactive Substances Act, which outlawed the knowing or reckless (reasonably ought to have known) supply of Nitrous Oxide for inhalation and has also had good effect in curbing the Nitrous Oxide trade. However, there remains a huge and growing problem in the supply of 8g mini-canisters of Nitrous Oxide gas for inhalation. Moreover, we also helped the NHS write extensive guidance on medical gas cylinder security, as large Nitrous Oxide cylinders are still targeted to be stolen from hospitals and elsewhere, and typically reappear at illegal raves.
We've written to the Home Office about our proposal, and briefed nearly 30 cross-party MPs on our issue, resulting in many positive responses from politicians across the country. During a debate on Nitrous Oxide in Parliament, Labour MP for Canterbury Rosie Duffield declared her support for our campaign, with many MPs expressing their deep concerns on this tragic situation.
We've also had extensive media coverage across the local and national press, and will be continuing our stakeholder engagement over the coming months, as well as meeting with organisations involved in substance abuse. In the meantime, for more information on our campaign, please head to our dedicated webpage, which can be found here.
JULY 2020: BCGA Covid Activity
The compressed gases industry and its supply chains have
been hugely impacted by Coronavirus. As an industry, we have kept up and
continuously monitored supplies to key sectors, as well as ensuring other good
measures such as social distancing are in place as part of safe working.
We're really proud that BCGA members contributed towards the construction and bringing into service of the Nightingale Hospitals as part of our rapid response to the pandemic and assistance to Government and the NHS.
We ramped up Government engagement throughout the crisis, and have been working effectively with policymakers. Below are some of the key issues BCGA has been involved in, working on behalf of members, over the last few months.
Key Workers and Critical Business
After the Prime Minister's announcement in March that the UK would be entering lockdown, we contacted various government departments to ensure that BCGA members would be recognised as key workers in a critical business industry. This meant that employees would be able to continue going to work, as well as sending their children to school.
Following these announcements, we sent letters to key Ministers, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, highlighting the importance of our industry in fighting the pandemic.
We received confirmation from civil servants that our industry was seen as critical, which was a great result. We also were one of the industries chosen to receive this letter from BEIS Minister Alok Sharma MP, thanking the sector for its efforts.
Oxygen has been one of the principle medicines used to help patients recover, and at no time did any UK medical facilities not have supplies of oxygen, despite several media reports stating otherwise. Our members also turned over a large number of cylinders to medical oxygen duty as reserve supply. This as a result of the massive efforts from BCGA members, who continued to work safely and effectively throughout lockdown.
BCGA has an excellent working relationship with Department for Transport (DfT), one of our two sponsoring government departments (the other one being the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy). We worked closely with officials to ensure that extensions to the likes of vehicle MOTs and Drivers' Medical Certificates would not create delays for deliveries of vital gases and equipment to hospitals.
Work with Government and Industry
Throughout the last few months, BCGA has been engaging with officials on an almost daily basis - on issues ranging from the effectiveness of the 2m rule for social distancing and being selected to feed into the official workplace guidance.
We also continue to feed into Brexit developments. We have also joined two different supply chain groups, the Alliance of Chemical Associations and the REACH Cross Sector Group. These groups meet throughout the year, with regular attendance from Government officials, who can hear how the industry feels about Brexit, Coronavirus and issues impacting the sector and its supply chain. Our joining has been welcomed by Government, and these meetings are additional forums for us to continue representing our industry.
Finally, we have our Coronavirus webpage, which is updated with links to the latest Government guidance.
MAY 2020: What about Brexit?
They say a day is a long time in politics, and the last six months must have felt like an eternity for some. We've gone from the papers being dominated by Brexit and the "Boris bump" from the Conservatives' General Election win, to a complete shift in focus onto Coronavirus, with Brexit relegated to small columns buried in the middle of the newspapers.
However, Brexit is still incredibly important. We have questions from members regularly asking if the Brexit timetable is still on track, with the UK exiting the transition period at the end of 2020, and it is something we at the BCGA are in regular discussions about with Government.
Will Brexit still happen at the end of the year?
The answer to this is that yes, according to the UK Government, so far, Brexit will definitely be going ahead on 31st December. Negotiations have taken different forms, switching from in-person meetings to virtual ones. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is rumoured to be flying out to Brussels next month to kick-start in-person negotiations.
However, if there is to be an extension, it will have to be decided by and agreed on both sides by 30th June.
Brexit will have a major impact on BCGA members, particularly around customs, standards, chemical regulations and potentially transport. Road transport regulations are normalised by the ADR legislation, and in the UK, by the enactment of the Carriage of Dangerous Goods Regulation (CDG). Pre-existing CDG regulations bring together ADR and TPED, the latter being an EU Directive. As CDG is a combination of ADR and TPED, the Department for Transport are looking at these regulations and how Brexit will impact the TPED aspect.
There are three possible Brexit scenarios:
~No deal- the UK completely diverges legislatively from the EU, with no mutual recognition and tariffs being imposed on products traded. Revert to WTO tariffs.
~Deal, but no mutual recognition- the UK and the EU could potentially agree smaller deals depending on sectors, possibly with mutual recognition for some and not others.
~Deal with mutual recognition- regulations and standards are recognised by both the EU and the UK and allows for ease of trade. This would be the least disruptive to UK manufacturing.
These scenarios all have different impacts on the industry, with a "no deal" Brexit having the biggest effect, which would see the imposition of tariffs on products crossing borders. We still have to wait and see which of these three options will be agreed upon by the EU and the UK.
What BCGA has been doing on Brexit?
BCGA has still been very active on Brexit over the last few months. We are in regular contact with the likes of Department for Transport (DfT) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), who are BCGA's "sponsoring" Government Departments.
We are feeding into DfT policy development on transport regulations, and have joined several supply chain groups which has allowed us to feed into Brexit policy development around the likes of customs, immigration, chemical regulations and more.
BCGA is also heavily involved in standards development, with Jake and several BCGA members sitting on and chairing different BSI Committees. I have also had discussions with BSI's policy team, and through these different channels we have been feeding through our views on Brexit and its impact on standards.
We are also feeding into the potential amendments to the CDG regulations, and have consulted with members on this.
If any BCGA members have concerns or queries about Brexit and its impact, please don't hesitate to contact me
APRIL 2020: An Unexpected Beginning at the BCGA
I joined the BCGA in February with a full induction schedule to take me up to the famous annual conference. The Conference was scheduled to take place today (23/4), until Coronavirus took over. To mark the occasion, this will be the first in a series of monthly blogs, highlighting what I've been up to over the last few weeks, analysing key industry issues, and outlining some of the key events for the association going forward. The biggest announcement in this month's blog is the launch of a BCGA webinar, with further details below.
During my first 6 six weeks of "normality", I spent a lot of time in Derby, absorbing as much information as possible from Doug, in order to continue the fantastic work he has done over the last 14 years. I also met with TAS, who provide all our administrative support, as well as our auditors. I spent time visiting members, managing to visit an ASU, cylinder manufacturers, filling stations and others.
Alongside Jake, the BCGA's Technical Manager, I also attended many of the TSC meetings, although several unfortunately had to be postponed. It's clear that the industry is key for so many supply chains and different sectors- chemicals, transport, pharmaceuticals, medicines, food and more! This is part of the reason I felt so drawn to it, and I'm looking forward to meeting more members, both virtually and in person, when circumstances allow.
It would be impossible not to mention the impact of the Coronavirus on the BCGA and the industry. BCGA members have been fantastic in responding to the pandemic- from the gas manufacturers to those who provide vital equipment to support key supply chains such as medicine and food. Our members have been vital in ensuring there is as little disruption as possible to other critical sectors.
We've also had excellent communication with government- working with the likes of Department for Transport, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and others to make sure demand for the likes of medical oxygen is met. Moreover, we also worked to ensure that the industrial gases sector and its supply chains are recognised as critical business sectors. We wrote to the Prime Minister and several other Ministers, and received a letter from Secretary of State for Business Alok Sharma MP, thanking the industry for its hard work in such a challenging time, and stating "that there is no restriction on manufacturing continuing under the current rules", which was an excellent result.
We also put together a Coronavirus Briefing paper for members, which points out where to go for the latest government information.
Additionally, BCGA has moved all its meetings to online, which is working well with great member engagement.
Conference was going to be a great opportunity to begin a discussion about the vision for the BCGA and what the plans are for the future. It would also have been a great opportunity to give Doug the send off he deserves. We'll find a suitable opportunity to do that when circumstances allow. In the meantime, we're grateful for his continued support in his role as consultant until the end of June.
In spite of the current circumstances, BCGA is continuing to work on behalf of its members across a range of different issues. In this spirit, I intend to share my planned presentation for conference through online webinars.
I will outline what I think the key issues are for the industry, how these can be solved. The dates for these webinars, along with registration details, will be sent out shortly.
I'm really excited about the future at BCGA and what we can all achieve together.