Science firm in cancer chemical breach

AN internationally-renowned science laboratory has breached health and safety over its control of cancer-causing substances.

AN internationally-renowned science laboratory has breached health and safety over its control of cancer-causing substances.

In December 2007 the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), in Lowestoft, had been ordered to carry out safety improvements after it emerged that workers could have been exposed to carcinogenic chemicals.

The alert was raised after a member of scientific staff developed skin cancer which medics said could be linked to the use of arsenic compounds.

This triggered an in-house investigation which prompted action to improve safety but led to a second incident when dust, possibly contaminated with the same arsenic compound, was released during the disposal of equipment.

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Cefas reported the incidents to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which served two notices demanding improvements at the site. It was reported that the worker diagnosed with low grade skin cancer had been successfully treated and there had been no other cases.

Yesterday, it emerged that Cefas had accepted a Crown Censure - the equivalent of a prosecution for a government body - for health and safety breaches.

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A HSE spokesman said that investigations in October 2007 at the Cefas laboratory in Pakefield Road identified failings in the assessment and control of substances hazardous to health for known carcinogenic substances, including a failure to maintain control measures.

Inspectors also identified that Cefas had failed to provide sufficient health surveillance between 2005 and 2006.

These failings breached the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) 2002. The HSE spokesman said the failings have since been remedied.

Cefas said the Censure was accepted on the basis that while the investigation identified failings in the management and control on hazardous substances there was no evidence of harm to any employee, nor was there evidence of a defined, identified risk.

Richard Judge, Cefas' chief executive, said: “We take health and safety very seriously. Nonetheless, four breaches of COSHH regulations were identified and these are regrettable.

“We have worked closely with the HSE to address specific issues raised as a consequence of their investigations. There have been investments to improve plant and equipment, a strengthening of health and safety practices more generally, and recruitment to reinforce our capability in this important area.

“We are grateful to our staff for their energy and support in helping us respond to the HSE's findings. There have been positive outcomes from this experience.”

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