Safety chiefs lift ban on cancer virus experiments

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The Independent Online
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SAFETY inspectors have lifted their prohibition on Birmingham University's controversial experiments with genetically engineered cancer-causing viruses, after an overhaul of safety precautions at the department of cancer studies.

However, the work has not yet re-started, pending a final decision on its safety by Birmingham's vice-Chancellor, who holds the ultimate legal responsibility for safety at the university. He is expected to give the go-ahead next week.

Last December, the Health and Safety Executive took the unprecedented step of stopping experiments at the university because of fears that the risks had not been properly thought through and that safety measures were inadequate. The executive gave the university until yesterday to reassess safety and to improve its facilities.

Inspectors revisited the university on 24 March and have been analysing its safety assessments since. Peter Ward, the HSE's West Midlands area director, said yesterday: 'The university has co-operated fully with the HSE. They have reviewed and revised their risk assessments to the HSE's satisfaction and put into place suitable controls.'

Inspectors believe that the improvements in the facilities and working practices are sufficient to manage the risks. Mr Ward said: 'This illustrates the need for organisations and employers to properly manage risks to health and safety, and HSE's determination to ensure that safety precautions match up to the level of risk.'