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Jun 10

Prepare for the big day: enviromental inspection in lab!

by noel | Categories: Uncategorized | (5405 Views)

“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.

Noel

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. :)

3 comments

  1. psi*psi

    Inspections are annoying. Boooooo!
    Have you tried orienting your barcodes vertically? That way the curved surface won’t interfere with scanner-ninja fun.

  2. sm30

    The problem is you’re looking at it through the eyes of a scientist. Practicing scientists aren’t the same as county inspectors. Inspectors know the code and follow whatever is in the rulebook no matter how unreasonable. Policy makers make rules based on things they don’t know and inspectors come in and enforce the ridiculousness.

    EH&S can be a nightmare depending on where you work. Companies, in particular, run the risk of getting fined in the hundreds of thousands when the inspectors come around. The problem is they’re able to get you on essentially anything they want. Depending on the county you’re in the rules can be insanely strict. EVERYTHING must be labeled, you can’t use common names for anything, secondary containment for everything, dates on ALL waste bottles must be up to date..etc. Add in meetings, training and journal club and you’re wondering when you actually have time to do chemistry. Any synthetic organic lab can be absolutely slaughtered by fines if the EHS people really want to go to town.

  3. Egg

    The thought of causing your PI or department thousands of dollars in fines tends to make people paranoid. They can get you on anything is right! We had an inspection last year and *everything* had to be labeled–the gel boxes (bio lab) had to be labeled with what buffer they had, the tip waste had to be labeled “tip waste — non biohazard”, we hid our trap flasks because they were supposed to be cleaned after the end of each experiment (or daily, whichever was sooner). Of course, no one got any research done that week.

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