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News added on 04.11.2019

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Risk assessment

No risk assessment led to allergic reactions

Two university researchers’ health was put at risk because their work with laboratory animals was not properly managed. What should the university have done to protect its workers?

The University of Edinburgh (UE) employed two researchers to undertake laboratory work with animals in 2003. When they started work, they both declared that they were already allergic to rodents. The researchers continued to work with rats and were exposed to various levels of laboratory animal allergens (LAA) during the course of their employment.

LAA is a respiratory sensitiser, likely to cause an allergic reaction once a person has been exposed. Therefore, it is a substance hazardous to health, so the risk of exposure must be risk assessed and appropriate control measures put in place, including health surveillance.

The HSE carried out an investigation, which found that UE had failed to carry out suitable and sufficient risk assessments of exposure to LAA. UE did not ensure that suitable health surveillance was carried out at regular intervals (annually, as a minimum). Especially as the researchers had made it known that they already suffered from an allergy to rodents, health surveillance was essential to prevent their health condition becoming severe and life altering.

UE also failed to ensure that sufficient information, instruction, supervision and training was provided to the research workers.

UE pleaded guilty to breaching its duty under s.2 Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of its employees. It was fined £10,000.

The University should have risk assessed the researchers’ exposure to animal allergens, especially as it had been informed that they were already allergic to rodents. Proper health surveillance should have been in place to monitor and manage their exposure to the allergens and prevent their health conditions worsening.

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