Is this an inspection or an investigation?

Jan 28 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

So we just wrapped up our lab inspection with our safety department and what a relief it is to be done with it.  Now I can bring all my goodies that I had stashed away and put them back up on my shelves.  They generally frown on you keeping even the most minute amount of flammables at your station and my mini-bottles of chloroform (which I use for phenol:chloroform precipitations but BrooksPhD tells me its convenient tool in his bag of tricks to get a date), methanol, and ethanol would draw ridicule and scorn, so I put them away.

Unfortunately trailing our safety inspectors was an administrator who had no clue what we do in the lab.  He saw I was working with Proteinase K this morning and asked if I had a protocol for it and could I provide it to him.  I told him I sure did and showed him the vendor's specification sheet.  This apparently was not good enough for him and he asked did I have a specific protocol for what I was using it for, what exactly I did with it and that that was what he wanted.  At this point I'm staring at him, looking at him like really?

So dutifully I took out a sheet of paper and scribble down this:

"Proteinase K Protocol

-Take vial of Proteinase K from freezer.

-Let it thaw.

-Add to stuff.

-Heat at 55 degrees Celsius for 4 hours.


This now concludes the Proteinase K protocol"

Then said administrative bureaucrat asks if I have an IBC for the Proteinase K.  The Safety person and I both look at each other and say there is no requirement for that.  This is but part of the series of exchanges that I have with Adminitard during the inspections.  After the inspection is over, one of our safety inspector, a former technician who I get along with quite well, confides in me that Adminitard asked to tag along on these inspections along him and his supervisor, a zealous inspector who probably was a Marine Corp DI before doing this.  They also took it upon themselves to go through our fridges and freezers asking what each item was and what it was for.  By a certain point in time I had reached limit and told them that they had to close up the freezer, because the alarms were going off and the temperatures are rising.  I am not losing my samples to these fools.

I understand that safety is an on-going dialogue and even brought up some issues that I had to them, but rooting through my stuff like this is the Spanish Inquisition is not going to make the workplace safer.  Especially when you have no idea what we do or what our coded samples mean.  And no I can't tell you what they mean, some of our samples are blinded.

I'd like to chat more but I'm having to relabel my NaCl and PBS bottles as Sodium Chloride and Phosphate Buffered Saline.  Well at least we are good for another six months or so.  I hope.  Hell hath no fury like a safety inspector and a bureaucrat who have no lab experience or science training.

Fuck my life.

11 responses so far

  • Jade says:

    Wow- he doesn't even realize how clueless he is.
    I suppose it's all in the name of trying to protect you from hurting yourself, or maybe saving the university from liability in case of an accident?
    Seems like someone needs to justify why they have a job - maybe the poor guy needs to act that way so he doesn't get laid off.

  • Dr. O says:

    Adminitard - my new favorite word.

  • Speaking from experience, at an institution where we don't have desk jockeys to do the dirty work for us ... proper labeling of buffers/reagents are greatly appreciated by emergency personnel. Running the solitary microbiology lab in the county in which our institution is located, I have had extensive talks with everyone from the director of the county landfill (where our autoclaved samples wind up), to the fire and police chiefs.

    From the standpoint of emergency personnel, I can see how they would appreciate knowing if the cryptically labeled bottles residing on the shelves at head-level, contain flammable (and therefore explosive) materials.

    Did it result in a lot more up-front effort? Hell yeah, and it was a mess. However if something ever goes go wrong (it better not!), I'll be able to rest knowing I did all that I could to ensure that those emergency personnel got in and out as safely as possible.

  • ex-hedgehog freak says:


    That was what used to blow the fuse for us. Checklists. In my last place, the institute would send around Head Adminitard two weeks before the scheduled safety inspection with a checklist of things to look for. Not just regular Adminitard - Head Adminitard.

    Now don't get me wrong - Head Adminitard was normally a lovely woman. But these two weeks she turned into a nervous blob of flammable jelly that would jump faster than a cage of mice if I tapped the front with the ear clippers. All the shelves and fridges and freezers, all the same questions - what's this mean? Where's the MSDS? Is it flammable? Should you have that up there? Should you be eating that 12 feet away from your bench? And I swear she knew that bottle labelled PBS was actually chloroform (probably should have disguised it as something that would actually have a reason to be in a brown bottle, but hey, in a pinch, go with PBS)

    And the safety inspection itself? Piece of cake - yawned all the way through it. Guess it had some benefits

  • Mike says:

    In a previous life I was an ISO9000 trained auditor, and this all sounds very familiar.

    You get knocked into shape after the first live audit, and after that (unless you're really not interested in doing a good job) you become a lot more flexible in following the intent of the requirements rather than the letter. Doing that also makes it a lot easier to spot the really unsafe stuff that you can miss while checking 50 files of calibration data, where you'll always find something if you look long enough.

  • chall says:

    I find NaCl and KPOH much better labelling than Sodium Chloride and Potassium whatever... since I can read chemical formulas in my sleep but even after 5+ years in English speaking land I mix up sodium and potassium .... and other odd English names for stuff... but sure, maybe have both on there? 😉

    As for Proteinase K; makes me remember a conversation in regards of if Sigma(or other companies) would flag you if you wanted to buy say, 10 kg at the same time? I mean,it does break down bones/cartilage. (this would be one of the unsuitable conversations about scientists turning into the shady side of lifestyles and survival, sort of similar to that chloroform ^^)

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