The University of Edinburgh has been fined for its failings which led to animal research workers, who were already sensitised to laboratory animal allergens (LAA), being at risk of suffering from adverse health effects as a result of exposure to LAA.
Edinburgh Sheriff Court heard how the researchers both began work at the University of Edinburgh in 2003. Both declared that they were already allergic to rodents around the time of taking up these positions. Over the years both continued to work with rats and were exposed to various levels of LAA, a respiratory sensitiser and a substance hazardous to health.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that The University of Edinburgh failed to carry out suitable and sufficient risk assessments of the exposure to LAA, particularly when it was known that the research workers were already sensitised to LAA. They failed to ensure suitable health surveillance was carried out at regular intervals (not more than 12 months apart) and that sufficient information, instruction, supervision and training was provided to the research workers.
After the hearing, HSE inspector Susan Donnelly said: “This was a case of the University completely failing to grasp the importance of risk-based health surveillance.
“If the University had implemented a system of risk-based health surveillance, it would have ensured that an Occupational Health Management system was in place which would monitor worker’s fitness for work. Such systems can prevent an employee’s health condition becoming severe and life-altering.’’
HSADD SAYS: When I see cases like this one, I also think of what other industries could this issue also effect, in this case, not just animal research but NHS Labs and to a degree other trades that need LEV (Local exhaust ventilation), spray booths, welding etc. The long period sensitisation is a big problem as it can be sneaky in it’s approach, but with health monitoring, in place, it can be avoided.