A pathology company that processes Covid-19 test samples for the NHS put its staff at risk of infection through multiple breaches of health and safety rules, inspectors have found.
The Doctors’ Laboratory (TDL) told its couriers they could clean the boxes in which samples are transported as little as once a week, failed to provide training in how to safely use personal protective equipment and may not have provided enough space for social distancing in rest areas, the Health and Safety Executive said.
The HSE told TDL, which also has a £4m contract to test Premier League footballers, that its equipment should be cleaned every day as a bare minimum.
The HSE warned that TDL had potentially raised the risk of infection by providing latex gloves without instructions about how they should be used only in certain situations and were not a substitute for regular hand washing.
It also found that TDL failed to provide guidance about how to deal with spilt samples, an “especially concerning” breach of regulations given the risk of contamination, the HSE said.
In addition, TDL had not provided adequate instructions to a number of couriers who spoke English as a second language.
The company accepted the HSE’s findings, which were laid out in a letter dated 24 August. TDL said the breaches related to a period in May and improvements had since been made.
The HSE’s report came in response to concerns raised by couriers represented by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB).
Alex Marshall, IWGB couriers and logistics branch chair and former TDL cycle courier, claims he was unfairly dismissed in June after highlighting the issues. He and other riders who lost their jobs have brought a claim against TDL which is ongoing. The company denies the allegations and says the redundancies were a necessary financial decision.
Mr Marshall said he felt vindicated that the HSE had found his concerns to be legitimate but added that he found the report extremely concerning.
“They have begun to respond to some of these concerns but this is six months after the start of the pandemic. This is a medical company that has doctors in full protective gear dealing with samples every single day but because we were couriers we were just cannon fodder to them.”
The HSE also raised concerns about a rest area which riders say was too small to allow social distancing. An inspector said it was unclear how couriers could follow social distancing guidelines given the limited space.
There company did not provide enough information to assess risk in the “specimen reception area”, a 3 foot by 5 foot room which could act as a “potential pinch point because there is no one way access”, the HSE said.
A TDL spokesperson said: "At the height of the pandemic new Covid-related guidance was issued on a daily, and sometimes hourly basis. Despite superhuman efforts by our safety team to implement these at speed, not every detail could be captured in real time.
"Where points for improvement to our safety systems were highlighted by the Health and Safety Executive, they were fully accepted and implemented immediately.”
In a recent email, TDL chief executive David Byrne announced the company has won a contract with the Department of Health and Social Care to create a new high-volume Covid-19 testing facility.
The results from this facility will inform the nation’s public health program and strategic decisions around travel restrictions and local lockdowns.