Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-70)
17 MARCH 2008
Q60 Dr Gibson: Whose responsibility
do you think that is to do itand do not say it is the Government's
because they will have deflected the responsibility, I am sure.
Sir Bill Callaghan: There was
an HSE commissioned report some years ago which recommended that
health and safety should feature in undergraduate courses, not
just in chemistry but engineering and so on. I have to say we
did not get as far as we would have liked because ultimately the
responsibility for courses lies with the academic institution.
Q61 Dr Gibson: Suppose you got radical
and said: "There must be in this course twenty lectures in
this, and twenty experiences in practicals in that", what
would happen in universities? Because as you know in schools when
people talk about experiments they always say, "Oh, health
and safety is a real pain. We cannot do things now because of
health and safety". Would you get the same kind of reaction
from the professionals, do you think?
Sir Bill Callaghan: I am not sure.
I can only speak with some knowledge of what happens I think at
Imperial on civil engineering, where I think as part of the Master's
course health and safety features very much in terms of the course
and in terms of the practical work the students are meant to do,
and that is welcomed by all concerned, but certainly when I was
at HSE we would have liked to have seen health and safety featuring
in all scientific degrees and, indeed, in MBA courses as well.
Q62 Dr Gibson: Do you think there
should be a certificate attached to it? That you pass something?
Sir Bill Callaghan: I would not
necessarily say a certificate but building that into undergraduate
training I think is very important.
Professor Griffin: There are ways
to present it, of course. There are ways which are enabling rather
than disenabling, and the way I would approach it is to say "I
wish to enable you to work on these pathogens because"and
then I would try to enable people to do it, not disenable, and
I know that is what my colleagues at HSE do when they visit laboratories.
Q63 Dr Gibson: Lastly, what do you
think of biological safety officers then, as a class or group?
I remember quite clearly when they were brought in and I remember
how difficult it was to recruit them. Usually the junior lecturer
got the job if they could not recruit somebody. Health and safety
was right at the bottom of the agenda when you were appointing
heads of this, that and the other. Junior lecturers were told,
"You'll do health and safety, won't you?"
Professor Griffin: That is because
it is seen as disenabling rather than enabling, Dr Gibson, and
I think the concept of enabling and getting things moving is important
to get over, and we have not done that.
Q64 Dr Gibson: And you recognise
Professor Griffin: Absolutely.
Sir Bill Callaghan: That is why
we say we welcome the moves towards a more professional status
for BSOs and we would hope the Regulator will encourage that.
Indeed, I think the recent reports probably will have enhanced
the role of BSOs.
Q65 Chairman: Finally, Professor
Griffin, you talked very strongly when Ian Gibson began his questioning
in terms of having a scheme which promoted good biosafety practice
within all laboratories, not just simply Containment Level 3 or
Containment Level 4 facilities. What you did not make clear is
who should have overall responsibility for that. Should it be
the institution, in which case is that a portable, if you like,
certification or qualification or whatever you want to call it?
Who should be responsible?
Professor Griffin: At the moment
it is the institution.
Q66 Chairman: But should it continue
Professor Griffin: This is a very
difficult question, with many facets to it.
Q67 Chairman: You cannot have it
both ways, can you?
Professor Griffin: No.
Q68 Chairman: You cannot say there
are problems, because an institution could be quite lax in that
way. We were in Germany two weeks ago and the Isle of Reims, which
is arguably a very good facility, said: "We do not want people
to be trained elsewhere; we need to train them when they get here
in terms of our work", and that really puts a spanner in
Professor Griffin: Yes. Even if
there were a list of basic competences which were ticked off and
somebody came to my laboratory to work I would take them in the
lab and watch them, not just depend on a certificate. A certificate
is useful as far as it goes but, at the end of the day, there
would have to be assessment.
Q69 Chairman: So it is a starting
Professor Griffin: It is a good
starting point, and it could beand I hate the worda
minimum level of competences which are essential in order to undertake
this work, and they would be pretty minimal at the end of the
day, but I think all of us who would have somebody working in
a CL4 laboratory or P3 laboratory would wish to watch somebody
very closely for a considerable length of time.
Q70 Dr Gibson: What do you say to
the problem that you are working on something but that is not
the hazard? Suppose I was working on a cancer cell. That is not
in itselfI hopea problem, but the viruses that might
be growing in the cancer cell or the bacteria certainly are. Now,
we would never ask to screen for them; we would screen for mycoplasmas
and things, but nobody ever assayed your cultures for viruses,
and you know how cultures get mixed and all the problems and so
on. So how do you handle that one?
Professor Griffin: Now, because
we know of oncogenes and so on, you would have to say you need
a minimal level of safety and that minimal level of safety would
cover the worst contingency, so you would not be going for CL3
but you would have absolutely minimal guide; you would have strong
guidance on contact of body with cells, contact of body with biological
fluids and exactly what to do if that happened, and you would
not just ignore it.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.
Could we put on record our grateful thanks to you not for just
coming today but for the excellent report you prepared following
Pirbright. Everybody benefited from that and certainly, when we
were abroad, people spoke in very strong words about the way that
report had been put together. So thank you very much indeed, and
the best of luck, Professor Griffin, in producing for MRC the
sorts of guidelines which some may want to see and others may
not. Thank you.