- The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said that there have been more than 40 incidents at specialist labs between June 2015 and July 2017
- Mistakes allegedly led to staff falling ill at labs run by hospitals, private companies and Public Health England
- One scientist contracted the infectious disease Shigella, while another private company employee was hospitalised after falling ill with salmonella poisoning
Safety breaches at UK laboratories have spread infections to scientists and exposed others to potentially deadly diseases, it has been reported.
The Health and Safety Executive launched investigations into more than 40 incidents - amounting to one every two to three weeks- at specialist labs between June 2015 and July 2017.
Mistakes led to staff falling ill at labs run by hospitals, private companies and Public Health England (PHE), according to the Guardian.
The HSE said that most British labs have a good health and safety record, with a high level of control of the most hazardous organisms
The safety breaches have spread infections to scientists and exposed others to potentially deadly diseases, it has been claimed
Dengue virus kills 20,000 people worldwide each year - here health workers fumigate against the mosquito which spreads it in Lima, Peru (file picture)
One scientist, working at a PHE lab contracted the infectious disease Shigella, while another, who was employed by a private company, was hospitalised after falling ill with salmonella poisoning, the paper reported.
Beyond the breaches that spread infections were blunders that led to the Dengue virus - which kills 20,000 people worldwide each year – being posted by mistake, the paper said.
Two other reporter failings include:
- Staff handling potentially lethal bacteria and fungi with inadequate protection
- One occasion where students at the University of the West of England unwittingly studied live meningitis-causing germs which they thought had been killed by heat treatment
The HSE said in a statement: 'The sector has a good health and safety record, with a high level of control of the most hazardous organisms.
'The role of maintaining this record is down to the diligence of the dutyholders themselves as well as our role as the regulator.
'There have been a limited number of instances over the past two years where biological agents have been received by UK labs from other labs within the UK that were unsolicited, mislabelled or unlabelled.
'However, these cases are in the minority and there was no significant threat to public health.
'We are satisfied that the action we took in each case was proportionate.'
A total of 82 incidents were reported to the HSE's microbiology and biotechnology unit over a two-year period, but no investigation was deemed necessary in 40 of the cases.
Such reports are made where an incident 'resulted or could have resulted in the release or escape of a micro-organism likely to cause severe infection or illness'.
PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie said: 'Nothing is more important than the health and safety of the public and our staff.
'We are open and transparent when rare mistakes happen, and always improving our safety systems.'