UK safety agency fined after E.coli spill

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Escherichia coli

The UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) has been ordered to pay ₤45,000 (€54,000) after accidentally spilling up to one billion doses of E.coli 0157 at one of its laboratories.

Prosecutors at the Old Bailey court said the incident, which occurred in 2007, exposed "general complacency"​ about the transfer of infectious waste at the HPA centre in Colindale, north London, as well as revealing a lack of risk assessment know-how from staff. It was alleged faulty bins were used to carry the bacteria to a disposal unit and employees were not wearing protective clothing.

The HPA is an independent body set up by the Government in 2003 to protect the public from threats from infectious diseases and environmental hazards.

Judge Martin Stephens said the failings were an "acute embarrassment"​ for the agency. He fined the body ₤25,000 and also ordered it to pay costs of £20,166.

No public risk

The HPA told that since the spill it had overhauled its health and safety procedures and introduced measures to “reduce the likelihood of a similar incident occurring in future”. ​The body added it regretted the circumstances that led to the fine and accepted the court’s punishment.

“We are keen to stress that none of the staff present at the time of this incident suffered any ill health and there was categorically no risk to the public from the spillage,”​ said the spokesperson. “Nevertheless we accepted the seriousness of this incident, referred it immediately to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and cooperated fully with their investigation.”

The agency was prosecuted by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) for a breach of section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, following an incident in October 2007. The incident occurred when waste from a laboratory was spilled while being prepared for sterilization in a laboratory autoclave - a machine used to treat and sterilize equipment or laboratory waste prior to disposal. This resulted in the potential exposure of staff present to E. coli O157.

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