An animal disease research facility has been prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive for breaching the Specified Animal Pathogens Order (SAPO) 2008, the first time the legislation has been used.
The Specified Animal Pathogens Order 2008 (as amended) prohibits any person from having in their possession any Specified Animal Pathogen listed in the Schedule to the Order (for example, avian flu or rabies) or any carrier in which he/she knows such a pathogen is present, and from introducing into any animal any pathogen listed in the Schedule, except under the authority of a licence. Foot-and-mouth disease ("FMD") is a ‘Specified Animal Pathogen’ for the purposes of this Order.
Two incidents occurred in November 2012 and January 2013 at the Pilbright Institute in Surrey, within a contained facility housing animals infected with FMD. The two incidents occurred when a ventilation system, which was designed to create a ‘negative pressure’, was operated in a different manner to usual. The usual practice for such a facility involves maintaining differential negative pressures, allowing air containing FMD to be drawn from ‘clean’ areas into ‘dirty’ ones, before being filter-cleaned – this would prevent FMD escaping from the facility into the air.
Any changes to the way such a facility operates must be agreed in advance with both the HSE and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs ("DEFRA"). In these two incidents, this did not take place, and as a result, the protective measures were compromised and the negative air pressure was compromised. In November 2012, there was no effective alarm system in place to warn staff of the loss of negative air pressure, and this incident only came to light after investigation into the January 2013 incident.
There was no evidence FMD was released into the outside environment, however due to the shortcomings in control and non-compliance, the nature of the facility and the highly contagious nature of FMD, the decision was taken to prosecute.
The facility was fined a total of £22,350 and ordered to pay £50,000 in costs after pleading guilty to 8 breaches of the 2008 Order, including breaches of the licence granted under the Order.