[Updated below - statement from Scottish Sea Farms] All 37 staff working in the fish processing section of the Scottish Sea Farms’ site at South Shian in Loch Creran, north of the Connel Bridge near Oban, have been experiencing flu-like symptoms with severe vomiting, coughing and ‘tight’ chests in an illness which seems to have a duration of around three weeks.
Argyll and Bute Council has sent in inspectors to try to identify the source of the outbreak but so far there is no indication of cause.
The concern is that the cause might be connected with the toxic chemicals used to protect the farmed salmon against disease and prevalent infestations with sea lice; and to disinfect and anti-foul the salmon cages.
Doctors are said to have informed the fish farm that this may be a public health issue.
Management at the fish farm are said to have told the workers that their illness is due only to smoking at work. If this were so, it would have to be at a level where all staff were chain smoking as they worked, in the ridiculous scenario of an informal fish smoking process.
Such an attempt to avert concern adds insult to illness marked by its universality amongst the workforce.
Staff waked out of the plant on 11th October after being told that any feeling unwell were free to go.
The Council has said that Environmental Health officers have conducted water sampling, which has revealed nothing; that an audit of company procedures has shown no deficit; and that medical examinations of the sick staff have found no common cause.
Update: Statement from Scottish Sea farms
The following statement has been received from a spokesperson for Scottish Sea Farms.
‘On 11th October 2012, 20 of 40 staff reported for work and made management aware of symptoms of cold/flu. These members of staff were sent home with instructions to consult their GPs. Scottish Sea Farms immediately launched an investigation which included requesting a site visit from the local Environmental Health officer.
‘Following a full internal investigation and an inspection by Environmental Health, no source for the illness was identified; all chemicals used for cleaning the plant were confirmed to be at acceptable and normal standards. Environmental Health officers were comfortable for processing to continue and saw no need for any further investigation.
‘Occupational health nurses carried out health assessments on members of staff as they returned to work, with lung function tests showing as normal or unchanged (from previous company medical tests). The members of staff that were ill returned to work over the course of the next few days and processing operations continued as normal.
‘Scottish Sea Farms takes its responsibility as an employer and a food producer extremely seriously and would immediately stop operations if it felt that there was any risk to staff welfare or food safety.’