Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)


17 MARCH 2008

  Q120  Chairman: Who do you report to? You were saying you have to give critical reports of particular facilities. Who do those go to?

  Dr Logan: Inspectors write a report following an inspection visit. They will make recommendations which go back to the organisation.

  Q121  Chairman: I did not mean that. Who collates all that other than yourselves? Is it kept? Does it go to government ministers? Where does it end up?

  Dr Logan: It goes up through HSE, through our board. Some of that information ends up in the annual report.

  Q122  Chairman: In terms of the government, in terms of making policy and ensuring there is policy, who is the responsible minister or department for instance?

  Dr Logan: The Department for Work and Pensions. Lord McKenzie is our responsible minister at the moment. Briefings between the head of our organisation and Lord McKenzie will pick up some of these types of issues.

  Q123  Dr Gibson: We could find that information out, I guess, if we wanted, could we?

  Dr Logan: Yes, certainly.

  Chairman: I have never seen that reported.

  Q124  Mr Boswell: Can I turn to the regulation itself? I am conscious that there is always a complexity about the detail of regulation as against the general duties within health and safety principles about keeping a safe environment and so forth. I am glad you are nodding because I think that acknowledges it. Are you satisfied that the current regulations, even if they are not perfect, if they are properly adhered to, are adequate now to prevent failures in biosafety and biosecurity?

  Dr Logan: Are you referring to the COSHH and the GM regulations?

  Q125  Mr Boswell: I am. SAPO is not in your remit at the moment.

  Dr Logan: Inevitably there are breaches in containment in that people can get infections in the laboratory. We see a small number every year of laboratory infections. We see other minor problems, as I said earlier.

  Q126  Mr Boswell: They do not arise from defects in the regulations or maybe ambiguities in the regulations?

  Dr Logan: Occasionally there is a misapplication. You always have individuals working in a laboratory and sometimes they will do things that they should not be doing. There may be local rules that say they should not have done something in a particular way but I think the regulatory system under COSHH and GM is adequate. The sector generally has a very good health and safety record over the years.

  Dr Coulson: At the moment we are working on joint inspections with the HSE and we take account of any advice that we get from them about the premises that are inspected.

  Q127  Mr Boswell: Given the constraints, the need to seek a balance and also the point you quite reasonably make about there being individuals who fail, even if that is at the level of local instruction rather than within the regulation, do you feel that there are any gaps in the regulations which at the moment are covered only by best practice guidelines or the more general health and safety matters which would benefit by being covered more prescriptively? The kind of thing we have had suggestions about would be the keeping of inventories and notification of missing pathogens for example.

  Dr Logan: The keeping of inventories is something that is quite often raised. At the high containment level people do tend to keep inventories and particularly now a lot of the high containment laboratories are covered as well by the anti-terrorism legislation. The keeping of inventories is becoming much more commonplace.

  Q128  Mr Boswell: On the whole you find that good practice even though it is not necessarily specified in the regulation?

  Dr Logan: In a very busy research department keeping inventories can be very difficult, particularly when people are modifying organisms on a constant basis.

  Q129  Chairman: What about notification?

  Dr Logan: Notification of?

  Q130  Mr Boswell: If there are missing pathogens, when they are not there when you go to pick them up and use them?

  Dr Logan: To notify they need to have a decent idea of what was there in the first place which goes back to the inventory side. We do occasionally have under the RIDDOR regulations notification of missing pathogens.

  Q131  Chairman: Should there be standardised notification under the new framework or under COSHH? Should you standardise the way in which you notify? Should it be standardised in terms of the site or in terms of the organisation? How should it operate?

  Dr Logan: Under the GM regulations for example it is much more prescriptive.

  Q132  Chairman: You are pulling everything together. What is your recommendation?

  Dr Logan: The political imperative appears to be that people want to know down to very specific levels and if that is the case I think it is quite easy for organisations to provide that information—ie, this organisation is working on these organisms in these particular laboratories at this particular address.

  Q133  Mr Boswell: It is also keeping score.

  Dr Logan: Yes.

  Q134  Mr Boswell: If I can chip in on that, it is a formulation I used with Professor Griffin earlier. Your approach to bringing together the regulations will be highest common factor rather than lowest common multiple broadly?

  Dr Logan: Yes.

  Q135  Chairman: When you are talking about the organisation, is that what you mean? It is the organisation that collates it on behalf of an individual lab or an individual site?

  Dr Logan: Yes, absolutely.

  Q136  Chairman: I do not know what would happen at Pirbright where you have the Merial laboratory and the Institute of Animal Health laboratories on the same site.

  Dr Logan: They are two separate organisations.

  Q137  Chairman: This is organisation, not site.

  Dr Logan: It is the body corporate.

  Q138  Chairman: Even if the two organisations share common facilities, which clearly is the case at the moment and may well be the case in the future given some of the improvements for instance to the drainage system there, you still are not looking at making it site specific?

  Dr Logan: No. We have been working closely with Defra to ensure that there is much better liaison between the two organisations at the Pirbright site, so there is much better communication but in terms of the way HSE would traditionally work Merial is a completely separate legal entity from the Institute of Animal Health.

  Q139  Chairman: In terms of a university where you may well in fact have a number of laboratories which are working on level three pathogens, it would still be the organisation which would be the university that you would hold resonsible?

  Dr Logan: Absolutely, yes.

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