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Safety Alert relating to Pirbright Investigation

Safety Alert to employers conducting work on biological agents of hazard groups 3 and 4

HSE and Defra logos

This safety alert is for the attention of those employers working with hazard group 3 and 4 biological agents under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 and holders of licences issued by Defra under the Specified Animal Pathogens Order 1998 working with Defra category 3 and 4 specified animal pathogens. It may also be relevant to other sites working on biological agents of lower hazard groups/containment levels and laboratories undertaking genetic modification activities under the Genetically Modified (Contained Use) Regulations 2000.

The investigation into potential breaches of biosecurity at the Pirbright site in Surrey, following an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in August 2007, reviewed biosafety measures including primary and secondary containment, working practices and management controls. The report of this investigation is available at

This safety alert is to draw employers'/SAPO licence holders' attention to issues arising from the investigation which need wider dissemination and action. Although these issues already form part of the licencing/permissioning requirements, this alert serves as a timely reminder to operators.

Employers/SAPO licence holders should immediately:

  1. Ensure procedures are in place to adequately control access to the contained area including all visitors, contractors and their vehicles.
  2. Ensure the ongoing validation of the containment facility includes all building services and utilities. The validation should include the testing of all key control measures, such as physical containment systems, waste treatment control and emergency protocols. Where facilities are shared there should be clearly defined responsibilities for planned preventative maintenance.
  3. Ensure policies and procedures are in place to render safe all waste. Treatment options should identify the operating parameters or conditions known to reduce the number of infectious organisms present in the waste to a level that no additional precautions are needed to protect workers, animals or the environment.
  4. Ensure waste treatment plant and facilities, including engineering controls are maintained in efficient working order and good repair.
  5. Ensure that any work within the contained area, other than that directly associated with pathogens, is subject to a robust permit to work system. Risk assessment for such work should specifically include any potential effects on containment.
  6. Ensure that adequate emergency arrangements are in place to mitigate the effect of any loss of containment, restore the situation to normal and inform those who may be affected.
  7. Ensure the assessment of the risk to health of employees and the assessment of the risk of loss of containment include possible effects arising from abnormal rainfall and flooding.

HSE/Defra inspectors will be reviewing these issues during regulatory visits at containment level 4 facilities, and also at containment level 3 facilities based on risk.

Updated 2013-01-17