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Biological/chemical threats by post

Members of the public and businesses should always remain alert to the danger of terrorism; information on the current threat level to the UK can be found at https://www.mi5.gov.uk/home/news/news-by-category/threat-level-updates.html.  You should be aware of the practical steps to take immediately if you receive a suspect package or come into contact with a biological (eg anthrax) or chemical substance.

Terrorist or criminal incidents of this nature are extremely rare. However, if there is a concern that a suspect biological/chemical package has been received, sensible steps can be taken to minimise the risk of exposure and the possibility of harm. The overall message is to remain calm.

General mail handling - what to look for

If you are in any doubt about a package, do not touch it, move it or open it and call the police on 999.

Some items that can trigger suspicion

General mail handling - what to do

If you believe you have received a contaminated package

Your building manager should

If you find a suspect package outside a building

The building manager should

If anyone believes they have been exposed to biological/chemical material

notify police immediately using the 999 system

What to do if you are an employer or a manager

Consider what you should be doing now, and what contingency plans you need for handling mail and suspect packages and your response plans in the event of your receiving a suspect letter or package. Ensure that plans are regularly rehearsed.

Health and safety at work legislation, including the Biological Agents Directive, clearly states that when selecting preventative measures to control risks to workers and others, employers must select from a hierarchy of measures. These are set out below.

The first step is to review your current risk assessment and your procedures for handling mail in your organisation or business. In doing so consider the possibility, however small, of your business receiving suspect packages.

This advice will be updated as new information becomes available. Employers may take this guidance and produce specific procedures that are suitable for their workplaces.

Annex 1

Guidance on masks and hand/skin protection to reduce the risks from exposure to anthrax

Where the risk assessment you have conducted as part of your contingency planning indicates that PPE is appropriate and you are considering masks and hand/skin protection as part of the measures you adopt to adequately control the risks of exposure from anthrax, you should note:

Masks

An appropriate mask can help to reduce the risk of inhaling anthrax spores. A range of disposable and reusable masks, all fitted with an appropriate filter (P3), are available. The right mask must be selected on the basis of:

- suitability for the task being carried out;

- level of protection offered;

- work factors eg work load, communication requirements etc; and

- personal factors eg face shape, physical condition.

The mask must be worn continuously to provide protection. There can be no eating, blowing of the nose or scratching of the face. It is important that people are trained to use the selected mask correctly if it is to be effective.

Hand/Skin protection

The most important factor in protection of the hands and skin is the covering of cuts and grazes with plasters and availability of hand-washing facilities. Although anthrax does not pass through intact skin, even minor cracks and abrasions in the skin do provide a route for infection.

Gloves provide an extra barrier but must be correctly chosen and used diligently. Particularly important are work factors (eg work could cause cuts and grazes to skin) and training in the use of the protection particularly putting on and taking off gloves. It is also important to consider any additional risks (eg from latex sensitivity).

Further information on PPE

The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992: Guidance on the Regulations - provides practical advice on how to comply with health and safety law related to PPE and on the selection of PPE. In addition further booklets on gloves and respiratory protective equipment will also provide useful further information. See annex 2 on additional useful information.

When considering what PPE to select, manufacturers/suppliers should be consulted for advice on suitable protection for your situation. The Personal Safety Manufacturers Association can provide details of those Companies who will provide advice and suitable equipment and can be contacted via the British Safety Industry Federation Information Desk (e-mail info@bsif.co.uk or telephone 01745 585600).

Annex 2

Additional useful information

The following publications will provide further useful information:

Other related websites:

Updated 2013-07-09