Debbie Knight

Don’t let them see you sweat!

In observation on September 11, 2012 at 9:00 am

There is a lab in my division that will become a new faculty member’s space. The lab door has a radioactive sign posted on it — a remnant from its former occupant.

The reason the lab door still displays this sign is that it takes a lot of work to decommission a lab for radioactivity. We (as in our division and the university safety officer) were waiting to see if the new faculty member would be using radioactivity in any of his experiments — if he did, we would keep the lab posted.

As it turns out, the new faculty member will not be working with radioactivity, so we had to decommission the lab. This isn’t simply a matter of removing the sign from the door. You have to assure that there is no radioactivity present in the lab, including all the working surfaces, cabinets, and equipment in the lab.

Each square foot area of the lab has to be tested for radioactivity. This involves a “wipe test” where a piece of absorbent paper is wiped along the surface and placed in a vial filled with a fluid (called scintillation fluid) that helps intensify the signal that is given off by a radioactive material picked up on the piece of paper. In a large lab, that’s quite a number of wipe tests that must be performed.

I emailed our safety officer to let him know that we needed to close out the lab. And knowing how intensive the process is, I wrote:  I know it’s not the most “fun” aspect of your job.

I was floored when he wrote back and said it actually was a fun part of his job.

No quotation marks around the word “fun.”

No sarcasm.

He seriously liked this part of his job.

Of course, that made me wonder what all his job entailed that having to do such intensive testing would be considered “fun.”

I didn’t have to wonder for long because while he was in our building, he went ahead and performed not only a radiation inspection in the lab to decommission but also in my lab.

Happy day for me:  a surprise inspection!

The inspection covered radiation safety (relatively easy since we haven’t worked with radioactivity in over a year). But the inspection also included biological and chemical safety — which included an extremely long checklist of questions to be answered.

Ah …  it was this part of his job he found not so much “fun.”

And I quickly realized it wasn’t so much “fun” for me either.

The checklist was l-o-n-g.

It took quite a bit of time for both of us.

And anticipating what the next item might be on his list and whether my lab is in compliance made me squirm. And fret. And, of course, sweat.

Yep, this is now officially not my favorite part of my job.

But it wasn’t without some benefit.  While we are careful to follow the safety rules and regulations in my lab, there is always something a good inspector will find that needs correction.

And, yes, this time was no different. We do have a couple of things we will need to address.

But, in the end, I know it will make our lab a safer place to work.

I suppose it’s a good thing these inspections are unscheduled, because I think I’d be tempted to call in “sick” next time. I think I could convince my boss I had come down with a serious case of 24-hour ebola! 🙂


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