Mains power was lost in September 2014 at the of the Animal Health & Veterinary Laboratories Agency, which includes high-containment laboratory facilities required for safe handling of pathogens that are a serious risk to human health and the environment.
Interserve Facilities Management Ltd was responsible for delivery of maintenance activities for many of the mechanical and electrical systems required for the containment and control of high-hazard biological agents in microbiological containment laboratories.
The court heard that when mains power was lost, two of the 12 generators in place to supply emergency power to the site failed to operate. Two others started but subsequently failed in operation, one of which also caught fire.
The emergency escalation system was triggered, and the Fire & Rescue Service attended the site. Power was fully restored later that day.
As a result of the emergency generator failures, the court was told all power was lost to a number of high-containment facilities for several hours, affecting the site’s safety systems.
An investigation by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) found a number of failings of the contractor in relation to the maintenance activities undertaken on standby generators that could have resulted in employees being exposed to a risk of harm from biological agents.
Interserve (Facilities Management) Ltd of Capitol Tower, Waterloo Road, London, pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and has been fined £93,600 and ordered to pay £32,056 costs.
“Interserve Facilities Management failed to effectively maintain the standby generators that were a key emergency control measure needed to work safely,” said HSE intervention programme manager and lead investigator in the case, Dr Keith Stephenson. “Fortunately, the consequences of the multiple generator failures were significantly reduced by the timing of the incident, both in terms of the day of the week and the laboratory studies being undertaken at that time. Had the incident happened on a different day or when different studies were being undertaken, staff and the nearby environment could have been exposed to high hazard biological agents with serious consequences.”