“The real reason that I need a laptop is so that I can take my ES&H trainings at a location where booze is allowed.” – wisdom from a colleague
For some reason, Berkeley is one of the two UC’s on a semester system (the other one is Merced). Because we suffer extra long academic terms, we also get out of summer early. As everyone else struggles to finish all the finals, this is my third week interning with a synthetic group. Tomorrow is somewhat a big day. It’s auditing day. I want to pose this question to y’all experienced lab-goers: what’s with the unspeakable fear with the EHS people?
Yesterday, I returned to the lab after some fun with Raman. I was greeted by several unfamiliar faces, poking their heads into the cabinet, drawers, refrigerators and scanning every bar code they could find (to this moment I still don’t understand–all the chemicals are properly labeled and cataloged!). A colleague explained to me that the lab is getting audited by the corporate people on Wednesday. Then asked me to hold on to the trash can while he pull the extra-large hefty bag out and stick a waste tag on it.
As a former clean room and currently managed by fun, friendly, energetic PhDs who are slightly OCD about cleaning, I really think the excessive cleaning is quite an overkill. What was originally a clean and organized lab now looks spotless and eerily uninhabited. Everything is perfectly placed. Every bottle has the label facing forward. Every glassware is washed (by me) and sorted. The fume hood is now completely vacant. This place looks like some kind of model lab you can build in a conference exposition for people to visit.
Why does this happen every time the authority needs to inspect our workspace? Why is it necessary to pause and put away your active work because someone is coming in to see if you are following all the safety and environmental protocols? It’s not only natural, but necessary that there are reaction running, vacuum pumping, dirty dishes waiting to be washed, spatula and wash bottles left on the bench because YOU ARE DOING YOUR JOB!
Since we finished cleaning yesterday, I went through the whole day today, working 3 projects simultaneously without disturbing the perfect details of the lab. I’m not sure if this whole deal is something EHS mandates, or it’s just a thing that we as scientists do because we are embarrassed by the mess–like how I make effort to clean my room before my parents visit (kind of). Either way, I guess it’s not enough to just abide to the rules on a daily basis and exercise the common sense of a good chemist, but some last minute cramming is also required.
P.S. I was unsuccessful in scanning bar codes for bottle disposal–it turned out that they don’t like to be bent when you scan them. I guess retail isn’t my calling, after all.