Francis M E La Ferla

Under Attack: understanding some important biological and chemical fundamentals of toxicology and their relation to safety and health practice

The current mantra in UK safety and health is that we “shout safety and whisper health”. For me, this is not so much that health has been ignored but that safety and health practitioners have not sufficiently understood the complexity of occupational health risk. Training courses have skimmed health subjects with little or no coverage of toxicology.





Francis M E La Ferla’s Under Attack provides an accessible tour of this potentially complex subject. Using his considerable experience teaching the subject to undergraduate students, the former World Health Organization adviser for Europe provides a good introduction to this subject and its implications for workplace health; the reader need not be a chemistry and biology major.

As the subtitle of the book suggests, its focus is on the biological and chemical fundamentals of toxicology. With a spattering of entertaining historical references, Dr La Ferla covers all the different systems of the body: skin, digestive, respiratory, lymphatic and so on and the impact that chemicals, natural and synthetic, can have on them. He sets this in the context of the fact that we live in a world full of chemicals, many of which are essential to life and captures what for me is the essential point of toxicology: it’s not so much the nature of the substance, but how we are exposed to it, how much enters the body and then, most critically, what the body does to it.

It is a little indulgent, occasionally repetitive and slightly haphazard in structure but this is clearly the work of a passionate expert. Though the latter chapters cover some broader subject matter that feels like an afterthought and grates a little, I enjoyed this book and felt that it provided the right breadth and depth, whether the reader is approaching the subject from new or as a refresher.

Aimed at safety and health professionals and students, the book keeps its focus on workplace health risk with some signposting to activities that can be carried out in the workplace to raise awareness and tackle the risk.

Chapters 7 and 8 provide a more detailed focus on occupational cancers and industrial materials respectively.

Since I still see “COSHH risk assessments” that simply repeat what’s on a safety data sheet, I believe this is essential reading for all safety and health practitioners. A basic understanding of toxicology and effective application of that knowledge in the workplace is crucial if we are to raise our voices and tackle occupational health risk effectively.

Download your copy 

For more information email the author, Francis M E La Ferla:



  • Could you just clarify the

    Permalink Submitted by Steve Hewitt on 18 September 2018 - 02:02 pm

    Could you just clarify the cost of this book?

  • Hi Steve (and any other

    Permalink Submitted by Nick_Warburton on 24 September 2018 - 08:04 am

    Hi Steve (and any other interested parties),

    Francis has requested that anyone that wants to purchase a hard copy or an electronic version contact him at the email address above and he can advise. My understanding is that he wants the book to be free for members to use but obviously there will be a cost for package and postage if you prefer a hard copy and this will vary depending on where you are located in the world. He is in the process of setting up an online facility so interested readers can download it but requests that readers contact him via the email address for more information.   


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