Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust has been fined £12,500 and ordered to pay £25,000 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching section 2(1) Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, which requires an employer to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of its employees.
The trust was investigated by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) following an incident on 17 January 2011.
Three employees were exposed to a multi-drug resistant strain of tuberculosis (TB) after a vial carrying the bacteria smashed when it hit the floor while being handled. A fourth employee also risked exposure when she helped with the clean-up operation the following day.
Fortunately, none of the employees were adversely affected, but the HSE identified a number of issues with the trust's management and maintenance of the containment facility, which included:
- Inadequate risk assessments for activities involving TB
- Critical control measures, including the laboratory air flow systems, were not examined, monitored, tested or maintained
- A lack of understanding as to what constituted a critical control measure
- Poor emergency arrangements in the event of an incident, with staff being unaware as to what they should do
- A lack of appropriate training for those in the laboratory who were responsible for health and safety
The case provides an important reminder to ensure that systems of work and staff training are periodically reviewed to ensure they are robust and sufficient. As the HSE Inspector involved in this case noted: "The consequences of that one smashed vial could have been very serious...the incident highlighted some serious flaws with controls and ways of working within the containment laboratory - a facility where the highest possible standards are necessary at all times."