19 December 1997

HSE attacked

on OP poisons

By Catherine Hughes

THE Health and Safety Executive has come under attack, accused of hiding the facts about the numbers suffering from organophosphate poisoning.

The government department responsible for enforcing workplace law was accused of not telling the truth, and ignoring reported incidents in a bid to make its figures look better.

Miles Clarke, from the Isle of Wight, told a pesticides conference in London that he was there to represent a friend who suffered ill-health after being sprayed with OPs. The HSE had ignored the incident after it was reported, he said.

He called on government to state its policy on how an incident should be reported and the definition of an incident.

Mr Clarke accused the HSE of gross under-reporting, setting its own agenda and fabricating the results it published. "It is time for complete openness on the subject which at present is surrounded by conspiracy," he told the conference, organised by the Transport and General Workers Union. He also pointed out that GPs were not having incidents referred which meant that the HSEs published report was far from the truth.

According to Enfys Chapman, of the Pesticides Exposure Group of Sufferers, doctors only receive 12 hours out of their total training on toxicology.

She said there was a reluctance by vets, as well as doctors, to recognise OP poisoning because they feared they may be stopped from using OP chemicals in their practices.

Elizabeth Sigmund, from the OP Information Network, said the HSEs 1986 revised publication on OPs, MS17, was never sent to doctors. Angela Browning, the then junior farm minister in charge of OPs, had not even seen it, Mrs Sigmund claimed.

There was widespread medical and political ignorance of the true effects of OP poisoning, even though there were 600 sufferers. There was also a lack of education and accurate information for doctors concerning the chronic health effects of low level OP exposure.