A world-renowned animal disease research facility in Surrey has been fined for shortcomings in the management of safety during experiments with cattle infected with the foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV).

It follows two incidents at the Pirbright Institute in November 2012 and January 2013 in parts of a contained facility housing infected animals. Neither incident resulted in the release of the livestock disease to the external environment, however, the shortcomings in control and non-compliance with licence conditions were considered serious enough to warrant legal action.

City of London Magistrates’ Court heard the two incidents occurred when a ventilation system designed to create a negative pressure was operated in a different configuration from normal.

The Pirbright Institute, of Ash Road, Pirbright, Surrey, was fined a total of £22,350 and ordered to pay a further £50,000 in costs after pleading guilty to eight breaches of the Specified Animals Pathogens Order (SAPO) 2008.

Speaking after the hearing Dr Simon Warne, a Principal Specialist Inspector from HSE’s Biological Agents Unit, commented:“At facilities where research is undertaken with foot-and-mouth disease virus it is imperative that control measures are applied in a rigorous way. In common with other sites that pose major or significant hazards, either to people or the environment, there needs to be protection in depth. This involves having a number of protective measures, with each one providing some degree of assurance in the event of other failures.

“Our investigation identified failings with the Pirbright Institute’s management arrangements and controls for undertaking a series of experiments with foot and mouth disease virus. Whilst the foot and mouth disease virus was not on these occasions released to the outside world because of the multiple levels of protective measures in place, the failings were still significant.”