For Safety's Sake...

Jan 31 2012 Published by under Grad School, Lab, Safety

I'm sort of in a bit of a pickle here dear readers. I work with someone who while nice and a pleasant well-meaning coworker, they also have a less than stellar track record with respect to safety. They have committed no serious sins of safety but have numerous minor infractions and seemed to have to told repeatedly that they are not doing something the right way. Minor radiation contaminations throughout the lab, working with volatile chemicals outside the hood, and spinning unbalanced rotors (at not too high of speeds but high enough to make me really concern) seem to be the majority of their infractions.

I keep the lab manager apprised of what is happening and try to correct the person myself when ever I see them committing or about to commit an infraction. While no safety violation was a fireable offense, the culmination of these little offenses is starting to lead to a characterization of the person as sloppy and unsafe. I'm extremely concerned and pissed off with this individual after their latest gaffe that ended up affecting me (not seriously though luckily).

I'm sort of at my whit's end and don't really know what to do next. My PI is aware of most of the safety issues but I think they will always tend to push it underneath the rug.

19 responses so far

  • MitoScientist says:

    Pimp slap.

  • fusilier says:

    If you don't have hiring/firing authority, then CYA in triplicate.


    James 2:24

  • Bashir says:

    If you are in the right position can you give this person a "come to jesus" talk?

  • Is there a Health and Safety unit at your institution you can go to for help? I know students at my school like to complain about safety audits, but I've had good experiences with asking them about safety issues.

  • qaz says:

    You might want to remind your PI of the recent incident at UCLA where a student died and now the PI is being charged with a crime (and potentially going to jail!) because of safety violations. There has been a lot of talk on the nets and blogs about whether this is appropriate or not, but the articles seem to imply that the PI "pushed [reports of violations] under the rug". Safety violators had found violations weeks before that had not been repaired by the time of the incident.


    PS. "Minor radiation contaminations throughout the lab, working with volatile chemicals outside the hood, and spinning unbalanced rotors (at not too high of speeds but high enough to make me really concern) seem to be the majority of their infractions." do not seem like minor violations to me. At BigStateResearchU where I am, minor radiation contaminations throughout the lab and volitile chemicals outside the hood would get a laboratory's protocols (IACUC, IBC, IRB, etc.) revoked. I don't know about spinning unbalanced rotors ('cause I don't work with that stuff), but I do know that the lab next to me has a big warning sign on its centrifuge detailing the cost of repairs and threats that the PI will take such cost out of violators hides.

  • chall says:

    you know, it's really pointing more towards that s/he isn't caring about other people/things and as you're saying "being sloppy". I guess tht might be a way to talk to them about it?

    I had to talk to another grad student in my old department since they were doing similar things... I have a thing for "not balancing the rotors" since I worked in an environment where several labs used the same (very expensive and accurate)machines and if the tubes weren't balanced the machine would break and that would've been BAD. So, I explained how it might work to not balance "too accurately this time in the microcentrifuge at 3000rpm BUT if they coninued to do it eventually the sloppyness would spill over to one time when it wasn't going to work and then they were going to get fired".

    That said, I might have explained the whole "you're coming off as a nonchalant and sloppy researcher and you're not that golden to be able to avoid the bad rep of that". Did I mention they and I didn't really depend on eachother? I just really didn't want them to ruin the machines that I needed. Selfish me 😉

  • Sxydocma1 says:

    "Minor radiation contaminations throughout the lab"

    This is a big deal and not minor. Luckily, radiation is something you can track. Imagine all the other types of "contamination" that are going on that you cannot track. This person needs a stern talking to immediately.

  • When I see people being a little too casual with the EtBr, I have been known to say things like, "That's ok, I didn't want to have children anyway."

  • The dangers of ethidium bromide are grossly exaggerated. Unless you drink the fucken shitte, it isn't getting inside you to any dividing cells where it can do anything. The dangers of laboratory-grade radioisotopes are also grossly exaggerated. Your lifetime risk of disease and early death from sitting on your fucken asse on a goddamn labstool all day and eating the fucken pizza and french fries in the med school cafeteria are orders of magnitude higher than those imposed by typical molecular biology chemical and radiological agents.

    Crazy-asse shitte like that fucken lithium crappe that blew that fucker uppe at UCLA is obviously different.

  • gerty-z says:

    I agree with CPP that the hazards of most molecular biology stuff is pretty exaggerated. Some of the shit that EH&S requires is pretty alarmist. That being said, I think it is a problem when someone in the lab is so obviously selfish. This is not a collegial way to behave. Clean up after yourself and be a good lab citizen. Even if you don't give a rat's ass about the people you work with, at least pretend. There is a non-zero chance that when you are being evaluated for a job in the future that someone will ask how well you work with your peers. If everyone thinks you are a douchey ass-hat that doesn't pull their own weight this might be a problem.

  • becca says:

    The least confrontational way is probably not to say "you are sloppy" or "you are dangerous" but rather "I am paranoid" (I have the advantage of having been pregnant in a lab before, I blame it on that) or "Our EHS folks are right bastards and this stuff could get us shut down, please don't do it!" (this worked pretty well at keeping people from eating in my last lab. Not perfectly, but pretty well).
    IF the person is decent/cooperative enough in general, this indirect way can work.

  • ecologist says:

    I'm surprised at a lot of these answers. My take is this --- if these are real safety violations (and I take you at your word that they are), then you have absolutely no obligation to be nice, to be less confrontational, to figure out ways to say "I'm paranoid", and so on.

    Try this instead. Write up a list of the violations you have observed. With, preferably, dates. Sign and date it, and keep a copy. Schedule a meeting with your PI, politely express your concerns and give him/her the list. Ask the PI to address the issues. Tell him/her that if this doesn't happen, your next memo will be copied to the Health and Safety Office. Explain that you are doing this because you want the lab to be a safe and productive work environment, that you don't feel that it is currently, and that you want to protect the PI and yourself from the liability that is involved if it is not safe.

    Be calm, be professional, have things documented, but do not feel any need to be timid about it. It is the PI's responsibility to deal with these things. He/she should welcome the information and the opportunity to keep the lab safety standards up to what they should be.

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