New report details numerous safety breaches in British labs

An investigation by The Guardian has revealed dozens of serious safety lapses in government, university, and hospital laboratories in the United Kingdom that handled deadly pathogens. Over the past five years, there were 70 incidents that were serious enough to warrant an investigation from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

There were numerous cases in which the screw-ups were so bad, the laboratory had to be shut down. The worst incident was back in May of 2012, when scientists at an Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) laboratory mixed some test tubes and accidentally sent live anthrax to at least three other laboratories instead of inactive anthrax samples.

Scientists take extensive safety precautions when dealing with live anthrax samples, but since these samples were thought to be inactive, one of the recipients opened the tubes on an open lab bench which exposed two people. Fortunately, according to Gizmodo, neither of them became ill because they had been vaccinated.

Professor Richard Ebright, an American bio-safety expert at Rutgers University in New Jersey, reviewed The Guardian’s reports. He said that, taken together, they revealed failures in procedures, infrastructure, training, and safety culture at some British labs. Ask quoted by The Telegraph, he asked: “Does British agriculture have a death wish?”

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