E.coli O157 & Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome

Health Protection Agency Fined

13th July 2010

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has been fined 25,000 for a spillage of E.coli O157 at its centre in Colindale, north London.

The Old Bailey heard that although nobody was infected, three employees were put at risk of contamination. Prosecutors described a "general complacency" about the way infectious waste was handled at the centre and judge, Martin Stephens, said the HPA should feel "acute embarrassment" over its failings.

The bug was being carried in bins which had defects, even though these faults had been noted 18 months earlier. Employees taking the bacteria to a disposal unit were not wearing protective clothing and prosecutor, Andrew Marshall, stated that there had been a complete lack of understanding of risk" when an initial assessment of the spillage was carried out by staff. Between 100ml and 200ml of liquid was spilt, containing up to 10bn E.coli organisms.

The HPA pleaded guilty to a breach of health and safety laws and the incident was reviewed by the Health and Safety Executive. This was a serious breach of the HPA's duty to ensure the health, safety, and welfare at work of all its employees. In this case practices for handling the bacterium safely, were not met, therefore exposing several staff and potentially their families to a real risk of infection.

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