Archived news articles - 2005

Business Times - 12 Apr 2005

Stiff penalties for those who flout biomedical safety

New rules to ensure more high-end research investments: MOH


(SINGAPORE) Tough new penalties including life in jail have been proposed for abuse of new safety regulations governing biological agents and toxins. The move is aimed at promoting a safety culture in biomedical laboratories to ensure Singapore continues to attract high-end research investments.

Under the proposed Biological Agents and Toxins Act (BATA), the operators of labs that handle biological agents and toxins will face fines and/or jail if, for instance, they fail to obtain government approval to possess or transfer such materials.

'There has been an increase in the number of institutions working with high-risk biological agents and toxins in Singapore,' said Professor K Satku, director of medical services at the Ministry of Health, which is the lead agency for the Bill. 'Hence, it is necessary that operators of high-containment laboratories put in place the management structure, engineering control as well as work procedures and practices to protect the laboratory workers, the general public and the environment from exposure to high-risk biological agents and toxins,' the ministry added.

The most severe penalty - a fine of a million dollars and/or life imprisonment - will be imposed on a person found using or possessing a biological agent for biological warfare or so-called non-peaceful purposes.

The provisions of the proposed Act cover facilities, agents and transport controls. Once it becomes law in the second half of this year, lab operators will up bio-safety committees and appoint coordinators. They will also have to make sure their facilities and equipment are safe and in working condition, and that no biological material, including waste, is discharged into the environment.

'Currently, most labs are fully compliant and there is no blatant infringement,' said Koh Peng Keng, senior director of operations at the Ministry of Health. 'What this Bill does is formalise current practices that are already in line with international ones.'

In the US, the import of biological agents comes under the purview of the Centres for Disease Control (CDC). The Patriot Act of 2001 makes it illegal for anyone to possess biological agents or toxins for non-peaceful means.

'We want to ensure there is a culture of safety in the industry and that will be beneficial to those who work in the industry as well as to the public,' Mr Koh said. 'This will draw more high-end investments in the biomedical sciences to Singapore.'

Singapore Press Holdings Limited The Straits Times (Singapore).Copyright 2005