The House of Commons Defence Select Committee has criticised the Ministry of Defence for prescribing an anti-malaria drug to military personnel without conducting proper risk assessments.
At first glance, we would all presume that military personnel are fundamentally in the highest risk category of all employees. Members of the Armed Forces do have a particular status as employees in terms of the level of danger accepted as part of the role and also the nature of the responsibility owed to them by their employer, the MoD on behalf of us all as British Citizens.
The House of Commons Select Committee enquiry revealed that Lariam, an anti-malaria drug, had been prescribed to military personnel without following the manufacturer’s guidance to conduct a face-to-face medical assessment and a specific risk assessment for that individual. The drug is an effective malaria protection, but carries with it a risk of neurological side-effects such as depression and anxiety. The guidance indicates that an individual should be assessed for (a) their ability to take an alternative medication that does not carry the same side-effect risks and (b) their vulnerability to the neurological side-effects associated with this drug.
In failing to assess the risk of the use generally, and also specifically in respect of individual military personnel, the Ministry of Defence has arguably failed in its duty of care to protect employees. The military is a very useful example when illustrating risk assessment within the employment setting. An employer is under a duty to assess whether a risk needs to be taken and then in taking that risk looking at what steps can be taken to minimise the risk of an injury occurring or to lessen the severity. It is clear that military personnel would need to be protected from malaria when serving in malaria risk zones. This is one of the many risks associated with active duty and forms part of a host of risk assessments which relate to military as well as logistical operational and geographical risks.
Employers across the UK must take the same approach in terms of assessing risk. More often than not these do not involve the life and death assessments conducted by the MoD. Nevertheless, a failure to consider and plan to avoid the risks of injury can have serious consequences both for the employee in terms of suffering injury and also the employer in terms of their health & safety obligations, operational disruption and the financial impact of compensation claim following injury.
If you would like further information from either the employer/employee perspective, please contact Jennie Jones in our Injury Claims Team.