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100+ accidents in five years at high security labs

08 December 2014

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reports published in the Guardian newspaper (Ian Sample, science editor, 5th December 2014) revealed that UK-based high-security laboratories that handle the most dangerous viruses and bacteria have reported more than 100 accidents or near-misses to safety regulators in the past five years.

The reports show that over 70 incidents at government, university and hospital laboratories were serious enough to merit HSE investigation.

According to the newspaper, Prof Richard Ebright, a US biosafety expert at Rutgers University in New Jersey who reviewed the reports for the Guardian, the incidents were attributable to failures of procedure, infrastructure and the training and safety culture of some British laboratories.  While many of the incidents were the result of human error, others were the result of equipment failure.  

At one high security laboratory, a world-class centre for animal virus surveillance, the failure of a ventilation system, and also of the alarm that should have warned staff of the danger, resulted in eight breaches of safety legislation over a three month period.  

Richard Eady, director of electronic airflow control and monitor manufacturer and consultant, Temperature Electronics, is an expert in developing laboratory equipment designed to enable customers to reliably comply with health and safety legislation. Of the HSE report he said:

"Accidents happen, even in the best facilities, but careful investment in the right equipment can help to minimise the risk.   The installation of airflow and ventilation monitors designed to alert operators to potential problems before safety is actually threatened are vital.

"While you can’t put a price on safety, installations of this type don’t have to cost the earth, and   our local exhaust ventilation (LEV) monitor launched in spring has already been widely adopted in laboratories across a range of sectors, enabling managers to comply with legal requirements to ensure that their LEV system always works effectively, cleaning the air to keep operators safe from dust, fumes and other airborne contaminants.”