Wednesday 2 July 2014

An Inspector Calls

                                                         Dr Saxon, in repose

I work in a busy diagnostic laboratory. Every year we are subject to an internal laboratory review and every three years we have a major laboratory inspection. By shear chance our internal inspection precedes the major inspection by a meagre two weeks. We run a tight ship and inspectors have to dig really deep to find the most minor of transgressions in our procedures and protocols. This year we are been judged by a new, more rigorous standard – it has an impressive long name, which I can’t remember. We had the internal inspection last week.

Like all well run laboratories we have a hazard register. This register itemises all the chemicals, procedures, environmental conditions and instrumentation which may constitute a hazard to staff. We are obliged to assess risk and document all relevant control measures which are in place to mitigate risk. Fair enough. Some of the chemicals we work with can be unpleasant if they are inhaled or splashed on the skin. The laboratory is built in a city which happens to straddle a seismic fault. The city is subject to earthquakes and clearly this represents a major risk. Consequently, all items of equipment are restrained and emergency torches, food and water are scattered throughout the facility. All this makes sound common sense. But it seems that the new regulations require more. It now seems that all items of equipment that have moving parts are to be reassessed (new regulations, you see). I don’t work in heavy industry. I work with analysers which process blood samples and go ‘beep’, a lot. Any moving parts are sequestered behind perspex. But I suppose if you are particularly determined you could unscrew, remove the lid, and push your finger into a moving part. You might get a small bruise or even chip your nail polish. And we mustn't forget the hot plate which is set to 75 degrees Celsius. If you hold your hand on the plate for a couple of minutes you might end up with a slight burn. To my mind this comes under standard laboratory safe practice and heaven forbid ‘common sense.’ But apparently not. And in order to comply with the new standards I've got to spend the next week assessing all laboratory equipment and updating the hazard register to cover all possible eventualities no matter how remote or downright stupid.

As long as everything is documented and noted in triplicate everything is fine as far as the inspectors are concerned. Never mind that the senior lab staff are rushing around for six weeks prior to the inspection making sure the documentation is word perfect. Bugger the fact that during this hiatus we are not doing what we are paid for and that is providing a service for sick patients. Sorry, they are not patients these days, they are clients- I’m sure we had to document this important change, somewhere.

Not that I’m cynical or bloody minded. These days, I am resigned and philosophical, and too close to retirement to be otherwise. Although there have been occasions when I've been sorely tempted to burn down the lab……….. ARSE.   


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