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Bedfordshire vets in court after workers exposed to harmful drugs

Date:
23 October 2014

A Bedfordshire veterinary firm has been fined after workers were potentially exposed to harmful substances found in animal chemotherapy drugs prepared at the veterinary practice over a four year period. 

Employees of Davies Veterinary Specialists Limited, including vets, nurses and support staff, were potentially exposed to the drugs as they prepared medicines to treat animals with cancer at the firm’s premises at Manor Farm Business Park on Higham Road in Higham Gobion, Bedfordshire. 

The company was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after it emerged the fume cabinet used for animal chemotherapy drug preparation was not used in the way it was designed for.  This meant that employees had potentially been exposed to substances that are harmful to human health and can cause cancer. 

Luton Crown Court heard today (23 October) that a dangerous occurrence was reported to HSE in September 2011 after one of the vets believed that the fume cabinet was unsuitable. 

The investigation also found there was no system of work in place to prevent or reduce the risk of exposure to employees, that there had been no maintenance of the fume cupboard for many years and the cleaning procedures were inadequate. 

Staff had not been given any safety training in the safe use of the fume cupboard, and there was inadequate personal protective equipment and no monitoring systems. 

This meant that over a period of over four years, from July 2007 until September 2011, staff working at the practice could have been exposed to the potentially harmful drugs. 

Davies Veterinary Specialists Limited, of Shefford Business Centre, Hitchin Road, Shefford, Bedfordshire, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company was fined £35,000 and ordered to pay £50,378 in costs. 

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Emma Page, said: “The chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer in animals can cause cancer in humans and harm unborn babies. 

“The company had no arrangements in place to ensure employees could work safely when preparing these drugs. Around 125 people work at the practice of which a small number would have been at risk of developing cancer. 

“Simple measures, such as an appropriately designed, maintained and serviced fume cabinet, protective equipment adequate cleaning procedures and proper training, would have prevented exposure.”

Notes to Editors  

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice, promoting training, new or revised regulations and codes of practice, and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk  
  2. Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.” 
  3. Further HSE news releases are available at www.hse.gov.uk/press

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