I have the unhappy designation of Departmental Health & Safety Officer. Tis a poisoned chalice full of foul smelling ichor. My main duties revolve around meticulous form completion; maintaining a hazard register and a chemical register. There is a pressing need to conduct a monthly 'Health & Safety Audit' and an insistent obligation for each staff member to complete an annual 'Health & Safety Questionnaire'. Anyway, it appears to me that as long as I dutifully complete the assigned tasks the management gods are appeased and life, as we know it, rolls along with wistful abandon. Furthermore, real health and safety issues, issues that actually impact on the worker are conveniently ignored, especially where money is required to remedy the situation. For instance, we have a long-standing issue with the air conditioning and temperature control systems in the laboratory. As this requires a complete and expensive refit, the management have conveniently ignored our repeated requests, entreaties, nay pleas, for refurbishment.
Last year I decided to audit the atmospheric levels of a chemical compound used in the processing of cells for chromosome analysis. One of the chemicals used in the mixture is acetic acid which is liberated into the atmosphere during the process. Visitors to the laboratory often remark on the pungent odour which appears to permeate/pervade the area. Of course, the scientists and technicians can no longer smell the chemical due to a long and frequent acquaintance. Also, copper pipes in the fridges and freezers have corroded resulting in equipment failure on a regular basis. Consequently, I thought it would be a good idea to check on the recommended exposure levels and was appalled to note that the permissible levels in an environment should not exceed 8ppm over an eight-hour period. With this knowledge in hand, I obtained a dosimeter for measuring acetic levels in the atmosphere. Although not highly accurate, the meter gives an indication of acetic acid concentrations, albeit in a semi-quantitive manner.
Over the course of several months I’ve assiduously measured the acetic acid levels in the lab, especially during peak activity. Eventually, this will form the basis of a health and safety report, which once completed, will be forwarded to our Occupational Health Department for deliberation and perhaps thereafter passed on to Higher Powers. Very early on in the study it became apparent that levels were high normal or over limits deemed safe. This work often had to take second place to my normal duties and I was hoping to submit my ground-breaking study sometime in July. But the fates and the furies had other ideas. And it came to pass that a senior manager got wind of my endeavour. Within a thrice I became the attention of a gaggle of upper management types. To a man they wore perplexed and worried frowns over suits of burlap grey. Mayhap, they were expressing concern for the health of their dedicated scientific staff? Or could there be a darker, ulterior motive? They fired off a volley of insistent and pertinent questions. My answers did not allay their troubles. Head suit, gasped: “Oh my god, we could be fined 200k.” At that revelation they shuffled into my boss’s office to further spread the woe. To fix the issue will cost a meagre 10k- I wonder if they would be so willing to comply if the legislative ‘Sword of Damocles’ was not swinging adroitly above their well coiffured bonces?
Once management had departed, and as if in a fevered dream, I was approached by my very harassed looking boss. “Flaxen”, he intoned, “I want your report on my desk first thing in the morning”. Bugger, says I, as I was hoping for a relaxed evening with the local ‘swingers’. All the crusty bits had been scraped off my gimp suit and a new ‘glory hole’ had been lovingly fashioned. Instead, I’ll be huddled over a keyboard until the wee hours poring over statistics and standard deviations- ARSE.
Moral of the story: If you want anything done, cloak it in the guise of Health & Safety. It stirs like a Behemoth and lurks at the margins of all corporate decisions and if they fail to heed/feed the beast, they will incur the wrath of power wielding Health and Safety Pendants. The penalty for non-compliance is dire and immensely expensive. It is important to remember that a judicious and constructive enhancement (fiddling sounds too harsh) of data is okay, especially if it conforms to your own nefarious agenda- all the best scientists do it.