Edinburgh University branded 'shameful' after being fined £10,000 for health and safety failings

The university plead guilty at Edinburgh Sheriff Court to two separate health and safety offences.

Thursday, 7th November 2019, 6:23 am
Updated Thursday, 7th November 2019, 6:26 am
The University of Edinburgh was fined 10,000 for health and safety failings (Photo: Shutterstock)

Failings that led the University of Edinburgh to be fined £10,000 have been branded "shameful" by the University and College Union (UCU).

The University was taken to court by animal research workers who had been exposed to what is known as "labatory animal allergens" (LAA) which are considered one of the top causes of occupational asthma.

The case surrounded researchers - who began working at the University in 2003 - who were already allergic to rodents when they took their positions at the university.

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The court heard that over the years of their work they continued to work with rats and were exposed to various levels of LAA which can lead to irreversible allergic reactions that with continued exposure can lead to further allergic reaction symptoms.

Pleading guilty at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, the University was found to have breached sections 2 and 33 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and fined £10,000.

University "failed to grasp the importance"

The university were also criticised for not carrying out "suitable and sufficient" risk assessments of the exposure given the knowledge the research workers were already sensitised to LAA in an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive.

The regulator added that the university failed to ensure "suitable health surveillance" and added there was a lack of "information, instruction, supervision, and training" provided to the researchers.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Susan Donnelly said: “This was a case of the University completely failing to grasp the importance of risk-based health surveillance.

“If the University had implemented a system of risk-based health surveillance, it would have ensured that an Occupational Health Management system was in place which would monitor worker’s fitness for work. Such systems can prevent an employee’s health condition becoming severe and life altering.’’

Fine "shameful"

A spokesman from the University and College Union, who represent workers at higher education institutions, branded the fine "shameful".

He added: "The health of its employees should always be the top priority of any employer.

"For the university to admit breaking health and safety legislation and be fined £10,000 is shameful.

"The university needs to learn from what’s happened and ensure that this doesn’t ever happen again.”

A spokesman from the University of Edinburgh said safety of people on their campus is "of paramount importance".

He said: “The University takes matters relating to health and safety in its large and diverse estate extremely seriously.

"The safety and wellbeing of our entire University community – students, staff and visitors – is of paramount importance and we have a wide range of policies and procedures in place to ensure that we meet the highest standards in this regard.

"If ever there are any issues around health and safety within the University, we work as swiftly as possible to address them, as we have done in this case, and regularly monitor and review our practices to ensure that our high standards are maintained.”