Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)
17 MARCH 2008
Q40 Chairman: Why?
Professor Griffin: Because of
the danger of spills or breakdown of facilities; because of what
would happen if there was a very major leak, and if that leak
was perhaps even terrorism-related, to the general population.
Q41 Dr Iddon: That is quite a clear
answer. Thank you. Regarding universities, do you think any university,
however well off it was financially, should be allowed to establish
a CL4 laboratory to work on dangerous pathogens, or do you think
it would be more cost-effective for them to share existing CL4
facilities elsewhere, outside the universities?
Professor Griffin: I do not think
any university should do now. I think there should be clearly
a university with a programme looking at dangerous pathogens with
experience in microbiology and having important questions to ask.
If it is possible to share facilities, then that is very cost-effective,
of course; as I have said earlier, it is very expensive to run
these facilities, so I do not think every university should have
one, and I think universities should be encouraged to share.
Q42 Dr Iddon: Professor Griffin,
you are leading a review of CL4 capacity in the United Kingdom
by the Health Protection Agency, I think, but I think the research
is commissioned by the MRC.
Professor Griffin: That is right.
Q43 Dr Iddon: Could you tell the
Committee what your terms of reference are, please, and when you
are likely to report?
Professor Griffin: Yes. We have
had two scoping meetings now, the last on Friday, and the report
will be available on 1 October this year. The report will look
at capacity, answering one of your questions, and will look at
the ability to have surge capacity in terms of serious incident
or serious new infection. It will look at security in terms of
siting to see if there is real evidence that a greenfield site
is better than a brownfield site: it will look at international
co-operation and international regulation, in particular the States
Dr Iddon: Thank you.
Q44 Dr Gibson: As you said yourself,
a major part of this whole enterprise is the training of people.
Have you any comments on that to begin with? Is it uniform, or
left to individual universities and individual units to do themselves,
and does that make for ambiguities and problems?
Professor Griffin: That is a really
important question, and I have been wrestling with this myself
since I took on the Chairmanship of ACDP and you have put your
finger on the two most important aspects. If we look at CL3 and
4 together, just for a moment, there are no lists of competences
required in order to have someone work inside a laboratory. It
is either P3 or P4 level. Each institution will have its own training
schemes, will assess competence and will match that against the
risk of the procedure being carried out. There is no national
certification or diploma to say that somebody has reached a level
of competence. It is an apprenticeship scheme, Dr Gibson, and
it does concern me, to be quite frank.
Q45 Dr Gibson: Do you think there
should be such a scheme?
Professor Griffin: I think there
Q46 Dr Gibson: Is there any chance
of that happening?
Professor Griffin: Yes. In preparing
to come to this meeting I have been investigating what courses
there are around, and how diagnostic laboratories accredit their
workers to work in CL3 particularly, which is relevant to the
diagnosis of TB or HIV. The first thing to say if we look at hospitals
first is that the MLSOs who work in the laboratory for containment
diagnosis all have to have a First degree in a biological subject,
and that degree has to be accredited as having 75 per cent of
human biology, in loose terminology. They then have to work within
the laboratory for three years keeping a portfolio of what proceedings
they have carried out, and they are only allowed to work at CL2,
which essentially is open-bench and small ventilated hoods. At
that point they are accredited and can start to work in CL3 under
supervision, and then they have a two-year apprenticeship during
which time their competence is assessed, but at the end there
is no signing off, no diploma, no certification. Now, one of the
problems if we now look at academic laboratories is what do you
do when you have a visiting distinguished professor coming to
work in your department who wishes to do P3 work and he or she
might not have had proper training but he or she wishes to work
in a P3? What do you do for a newly graduated First degree person
who is doing a PhD in TB or HIV who has very little laboratory
experience and requires to get up to speed very quickly? I contacted
the Medical Research Council to see the courses that they run
and they run a two-day course for laboratory managers, so the
managers are familiar with the sort of rules that we are dealing
with, and they run a half-day course for graduates just going
into research to work in P3 --
Q47 Dr Gibson: On site or in a centre?
Professor Griffin: In a centre.
Q48 Dr Gibson: So people have to
go to them? They do not go out to people and instruct the individuals?
Professor Griffin: No. They run
it on a site and then individuals go back, and then it is the
responsibility of each of the home laboratories to risk-assess
the project on what is going on and then to supervise in really
great detail the individual carrying out those procedures.
Q49 Dr Gibson: I guess you remember
how Sheila McKechnie came to fame in health and safety work; it
was a smallpox outbreak at Birmingham and it was not the people
in the laboratory where it was being carried out, it was the people
below, the photographer, who actually died. Now, I worry about
cleaners, technicians, porters, firemen and firewomen who go there
under certain conditions. How are you going to instruct them,
or do we just forget them?
Professor Griffin: Well, they
depend on the governance of the institution and on the risk assessment
on the equipment and particularly on the good safe handling --
Q50 Dr Gibson: But I am a cleaner
and I go in at six o'clock and it is rather like this place, they
do not know what hazards there might be around. It seems to me
they are not instructed either, besides your PhD student and your
very eminent Professor.
Professor Griffin: They would
have restricted access and restricted ability.
Q51 Dr Gibson: You hope, but they
have the keys usually.
Professor Griffin: For P3 laboratories
and CL4 laboratories they would not have keys.
Q52 Dr Gibson: And you are convinced
that happens everywhere, given that each centre, as you say, has
its own rules?
Professor Griffin: Well, I have
not visited each and every centre, of course, but in my own experience
of Porton and St George's, yes, that is the case.
Q53 Dr Gibson: Porton is a de luxe
institute and it has had its experiences, but I doubt if the average
university department has that kind of condition appertaining
to it because it goes against the grain. There are two things
about academia and laboratoriesyou can go in any time of
day or night, because that is the way it is, you go in and work
overnight, and, secondly, they kind of object to a biological
safety officer telling them what to do. I see you smile there
but you know what I mean, because universities get round it by
appointing a safety officer who probably does not know as much
as you might do on the issue but who has the responsibility from
the registrar, or whoever, to carry it out.
Professor Griffin: Yes. I understand
exactly what you are saying and this really then comes down to
risk assessment, the head of a division doing this work and the
serious nature of this work.
Q54 Dr Gibson: Do you think that
is carried out?
Professor Griffin: It is certainly
carried out in my own group --
Q55 Dr Gibson: I am sure it is.
Professor Griffin: -- and I hope
it is carried out elsewhere.
Q56 Dr Gibson: How do you feel about
your peers? Yes. I think I know.
Professor Griffin: But it gets
down to individual responsibility. No matter how good a licence
is and how many times it is inspected, an individual counts.
Q57 Dr Gibson: But is there a culture
in universities and these kinds of research laboratories that
we are talking about who are worrying about health and safety?
Does it get in the way of the Nobel prize at one end, the Grade
5 at the other and so on, the pressures that are on people?
Professor Griffin: I think in
groups handling dangerous pathogens, yes, people are aware.
Q58 Dr Gibson: Are they worried?
Professor Griffin: Yes, they are
worried for their own health as well.
Q59 Dr Gibson: So what about the
undergraduate and the MSC student? In their training, whatever
it is, do they get enough instruction in the health and safety
problems? It always seemed to be in undergraduate practicals there
was very little said about safety and health, whether it be chemistry,
biology or whatever, and I am as guilty as anybody else, because
you want to get on with the job, you have three hours to do it,
and you do not want to spend a whole hour talking about the possible
hazards when you want them to learn how to do it.
Professor Griffin: Yes, I would
entirely agree. There is not proper instruction on containment
levels and risk, and, of course, practicals would not be going
on with people using HIV.