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Interserve fined £94k for bio-hazard lab breaches

Interserve has been fined nearly £94,000 for multiple M&E failings at a lab that could have exposed people to harmful bio-agents, a Health and Safety Executive investigation has found.

The HSE found that multiple failures at the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency saw back-up generators fail to respond when power was lost at the building, which handles highly hazardous pathogens.

Hove Crown Court heard how, on 21 September 2014, mains power was lost at the site in Weybridge, which includes high-level containment lab facilities handling hazardous pathogens that are a serious risk to human health and the environment.

Interserve Facilities Management was responsible for maintenance of various M&E systems required for containing and controlling hazardous bio-agents in the containment labs.

The court heard that when mains power was lost, two of the 12 emergency generators failed to operate and two started but subsequently failed, one of which also caught fire.

Emergency services attended the site and power was fully restored later that day.

The emergency generator failures meant all power was lost to several high-level containment facilities for several hours, the court was told, which affected the site’s safety systems.

HSE’s investigation found various failings by Interserve in its maintenance activities on the back-up generators could have resulted in employees being exposed to harmful biological agents.

Interserve (Facilities Management) Ltd of Capitol Tower, Waterloo Road, London, pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

It was fined £93,600 and ordered to pay £32,056 costs.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE intervention programme manager Keith Stephenson said: “Interserve Facilities Management failed to effectively maintain the stand-by generators that were a key emergency control measure needed to work safely.

“Fortunately, the consequences of the multiple generator failures were significantly reduced by the timing of the incident, both in terms of the day of the week and the laboratory studies being undertaken at that time.

“Had the incident happened on a different day or when different studies were being undertaken, staff and the nearby environment could have been exposed to high hazard biological agents with serious consequences.”

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