03 May 2013
AHVLA could have legal action launched against it following safety lapses
The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) could be open to legal action from current and former employees after a series of safety breaches.
AHVLA has censured by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following a series of safety breaches at a biological agent research centre in Devon.
HSE prosecutors launched the action after they found that workers were not given adequate levels of protection when handling samples of Mycobacterium bovis - the causative agent of bovine tuberculosis (TB), which can be harmful to humans in certain circumstances.
Inspectors at the plant between 2009 and 2011 had failed to make TB samples inactive before they were sent across the country to Weybridge in London.
Employees at the Weybridge plant were put at serious, sustained risk of exposure to the virus, which under certain circumstances, can be fatal.
Although most workers would have been vaccinated against TB through public safety programmes, the breaches represent a serious health and safety failure.
In addition to this unsafe transportation, standard operating procedures and company best practice was not fit for purpose, lacking detail and clarity.
Other problems highlighted by HSE include a lack of training for technicians who handled diseased samples, a failure to follow governmental best practice and the provision of unsafe equipment.
Managers were repeatedly made aware of these problems by AHVLA technicians, but these concerns were generally ignored by executives in decision making roles.
Any worker who believe they may have been improperly protected by the AHVLA could potentially launch legal action that could reap a significant compensation lump sum, as any exposure could potentially have been fatal.
Dr Keith Stephenson, HSE investigator, said: "HSE's investigation at AHVLA, which resulted in the Crown censure, identified several serious failings that led to the potential exposure of a number of AHVLA employees to M. bovis over a period of more than two years. Exposure to M. bovis can be a serious health hazard."
"The evidence brought to light by the HSE investigation would be sufficient to provide a realistic prospect of a court conviction against the agency."
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Posted by Francesca Witney