HSE issues safety alert

The HSE has issued a safety alert for facilities dealing with dangerous biological agents.

The alert is aimed at employers working with hazard group 3 and 4 biological agents under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.

It aims to draw attention to the issues arising from the HSE Pirbright investigation, which involved a review of biosafety measures including primary and secondary containment, working practices and management control.

"Although these issues already form part of the licensing/permissioning requirements, this alert serves as a timely reminder to operators," said an HSE spokesperson.

The alert recommends that employers/SAPO licence holders should immediately:

1. Ensure procedures are in place to adequately control access to the contained area including all visitors, contractors and their vehicles.

2. Ensure the ongoing validation of the containment facility includes all building services and utilities. The validation should include the testing of all key control measures, such as physical containment systems, waste treatment control and emergency protocols. Where facilities are shared there should be clearly defined responsibilities for planned preventative maintenance.

3. Ensure policies and procedures are in place to render safe all waste. Treatment options should identify the operating parameters or conditions known to reduce the number of infectious organisms present in the waste to a level that no additional precautions are needed to protect workers, animals or the environment.

4. Ensure waste treatment plant and facilities, including engineering controls are maintained in efficient working order and good repair.

5. Ensure that any work within the contained area, other than that directly associated with pathogens, is subject to a robust permit to work system. Risk assessment for such work should specifically include any potential effects on containment.

6. Ensure that adequate emergency arrangements are in place to mitigate the effect of any loss of containment, restore the situation to normal and inform those who may be affected.

7. Ensure the assessment of the risk to health of employees and the assessment of the risk of loss of containment include possible effects arising from abnormal rainfall and flooding.

HSE/Defra inspectors will be reviewing these issues during regulatory visits at containment level 4 facilities, and also at containment level 3 facilities based on risk.

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