Health and Safety Executive finds severe failings at the Pirbright laboratory

Several failings to adhere to working practices and containment measures at the Pirbright laboratory that leaked foot and mouth were found by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

A report by the HSE following the outbreak of the disease in a Surrey farm in August has identified a number of breaches – including a lack of record keeping, maintenance and monitoring regimes – to biosecurity at the site, occupied by the Institute of Animal Health (IAH) and by two private companies, Merial and Stabilitech.

Breaches included:

  • At IAH, failures to properly manage contractors, complete records of human and vehicle movements into the institute, with poor monitoring and control of access to restricted areas.

  • At Stabilitech, no written standard operating procedures for some procedures carried out in their laboratories which relate to biosecurity-critical areas and poor staff training records.

  • At Pirbright, “less robust” biosecurity arrangements for IAH staff working on blockages in the effluent drains.

  • At Merial, no evidence of a permit-to-work system for the excavation around the discharge pipe, while there was a likelihood that live virus was in the effluent system – and drainage work/work on the nearby roadway continued despite this.

The HSE said that construction activities around the effluent drainage system will have involved the disturbance and movement of soil, therefore contaminating the soil which was then removed by vehicles – another breach of security – which passed down Westwood Lane close to the first affected farm.

The National Farmers’ Union is disgusted with breaches of basic biosecurity safeguards.

NFU President, Peter Kendall, said: “I find it well-nigh incredible and quite indefensible that standards should have been as lax as these reports appear to reveal, given that those concerned were handling some of the most dangerous animal viruses on the planet.”

He added: “This was an outbreak that should never have happened.”

Kendall said it is inevitable that farmers will be asking lawyers to consider the case for seeking compensation through the courts for the losses they have suffered, as the outbreak has cost the British livestock industry tens of millions of pounds.

The HSE report has recommended a review of arrangements for setting and monitoring safe operating practices at the Pirbright site, better record keeping, maintenance and monitoring regimes in relation to the effluent drainage system and tighter controls of vehicle and human movement on the IAH site.

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