What Cost Safety?

By Pamela Ahlberg

We’ve all done it. Either in a rush, under pressure, or trying to save money, we’ve gambled with our safety. Opting not to wear the bike helmet for a quick ride around town; skipping the sunscreen since it’s really not that sunny; not flossing, despite the dental hygienist’s threats and pleas. While these examples are fairly trivial and affect only oneself, other safety gambles have much more serious consequences.

The question I posed to my children when they were risk-taking adolescents, “What do you win when you win? What do you lose when you lose?” is the same question lab managers need to ask themselves everyday when they consider their safety practices. And based on this month’s cover story as well as the results of our 2013 Lab Safety Survey, the time for asking that question is now.

This month author and safety expert Vince McLeod describes three recent headline-making industrial accidents and examines the organizational and technical failures behind them. Regarding the recent West Chemical and Fertilizer Company disaster, McLeod asks, “How much would it have cost to write a safety plan, prepare a true and complete emergency response plan, and conduct a risk assessment? Would these have prevented the disaster? Maybe, maybe not, but surely they would have helped lessen the severity.” Most troubling is McLeod’s suggestion that such failures are increasing. “Too often we are seeing similar failures or safety-averse decisions in recent times. And the disasters are not only increasing in numbers but becoming more serious,” he says.

Supporting his observation are the results of this year’s Lab Safety Survey, in which we found across the board declines in lab safety practices throughout all types of labs—academic, medical, industrial, and government. 

In addition to lab safety, our June issue focuses attention on two other important aspects of lab management, namely onboarding and negotiating salaries. In “Effective Laboratory Onboarding,” author Bernard Tulsi discusses the increased attention being given to the onboarding process as a way to retain your best employees. “The most urgent corporate goal now is to use onboarding as an effective employee retention tool. To accomplish this, onboarding must be perceived as an ‘ongoing conversation’ and not just a week or two of front-end induction and orientation.” He also makes the case that lab managers need to focus as much on their relationships with employees as they do on their technical ability, especially with regard to the next generation. “From a new employee standpoint, the incoming generation of new technicians in labs want an environment that is more interactive, conversational, and informal, so that they can have a voice that management must respond to.” Additional tips and insights into the onboarding process can be found in Mark Lanfear’s Science Matters column.

As for negotiating salaries—always a difficult and sometimes confusing part of the hiring process— turn to Allison Kerska’s article in which she demystifies the process with information about the new global workforce. “First and foremost, as the world has morphed into a truly global, connected economy, we’ve seen that salaries do not exist in vacuums anymore. They involve real people, demonstrated skills, supply and demand, and a whole host of other highly nuanced factors.”

Technology news this month covers INSIGHTS on laboratory data systems and product focuses on LIMS, fume hoods, HPLC systems, particle sizing and chromatography data systems. If you’re in the market for any of those technologies, check out the appropriate pages for the latest product trends and developments

In the meantime, here’s to safety!

Categories: Editor's Buzz

Published In

Calculating Workplace Tragedy Magazine Issue Cover
Calculating Workplace Tragedy

Published: June 1, 2013

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