In which I lose my temper

Late last year I blogged about the new health and safety rule handed down on high from the research council that funds our institute: all staff must wear safety glasses at all times while in the laboratory – regardless of what they are doing. I won’t rehash my objections here, except to summarize that about 95% of what I do involves transferring non-toxic liquids from one tube to another, and when I do perform something hazardous, like poking around a liquid nitrogen tank or dealing with concentrated sulphuric acid, I wear the appropriate safety gear.

I’ve worked in a number of labs the world over, and I’ve never encountered such a draconian eyewear policy. What, I wondered, could be its impetus? One of my fearless and intrepid colleagues, Ian the Microscope Guy, dug a little deeper and found out:

I looked up the research council’s policy and it explained that there were 12 injuries in 2009 relating to the eye. The breakdown is as follows:

7 Chemical splashes
1 Chemical vapour (formaldehyde)
1 liquid nitrogen

Then it gets a bit silly….

1 Ice from freezer
1 plastic fragment (freezer tray)

Then it gets REALLY silly…

1 soap

Now, every lab in our building was forced to spend an inordinate amount of time writing up detailed risk assessments for every conceivable manipulation we do in the lab, including what safety gear is required (although handwashing with soap, I’m afraid to say, is not on our lab’s list). And we are all charged by regulations to be familiar with these procedures. It has not escaped my notice that the first nine, non-silly items on the list would have been prevented if people had simply been following the pre-existing rules about wearing goggles at the appropriate time. Actually, make that eight: strictly speaking, glasses would not prevent formaldehyde vapor from contacting the eye, so that person should have been working in a fume hood – another requirement clearly indicated in the risk assessments that seems to have been flouted.

So will the new rules lead to a reduction in eye injuries? I’m not convinced: risk assessments covering the scenarios that led to these injuries already dictated that care should be taken (either by the manipulators themselves, or nearby bystanders), and it clearly wasn’t – so wouldn’t these sorts be just as likely to disregard a more wide-sweeping rule? Meanwhile, what sort of havoc could be caused by perpetually restricted peripheral vision?

One of the most astonishing things about the policy is that the funding body, in order to implement its rule, had to pay for prescription safety specs for every single bespectacled researcher working in one of its funded institutes – I don’t know the numbers, but I can imagine there must be many hundreds of us. In these times of drastic cutbacks, I really shudder to imagine the final bill, and how many antibodies and enzymes we could have bought with that cash instead.

But there’s no use complaining about it now; the rule has kicked in. This past Friday, after putting it off as long as humanly possible, my benchmate Helen and I trundled down to High Holborn to order our special specs. We were optimistic – surely these days, the design of such items must have become more fashionable. Maybe we would actually be pleasantly surprised.

But our hearts sank when the clerk pulled out the box of samples, about a dozen models in all and each of them utterly hideous. Matters got worse when it became clear that most of the models were off-limits to people as myopic as me (R:-13.00/-0.75×2°; L:-11.00/-1.00×5°, since you ask) or my colleague (slightly less bad but still over the limit). Matters got a bit more worse when the clerk warned us the lenses might be an inch thick for people like us. When I finally had chosen the least hideous of the two possible pairs on offer, I was then informed that as my prescription was more than a year old, I’d need to be retested.

Dear reader, I lost my temper. For starters, I can assure you that anyone with a prescription of R:-13.00/-0.75×2°; L:-11.00/-1.00×5° is never going to get a decent assessment from a high street optician. After about two decades of being unable to see and not knowing why, I’d finally sucked it in and paid £300/hour to a Harley Street consultant ophthalmic surgeon with a posh accent and a natty bow-tie who, after two sessions, was finally able to prescribe glasses through which I can actually see. I was not about to spend the research council’s hard-earned, taxpayer’s cash on safety specs that I couldn’t focus through, and I certainly wasn’t going to go back to Harley Street until I felt I needed a change. It didn’t matter how hard I tried to convince the clerk that my current glasses prescription gives me 20/20 vision. The bottom line was that it’s against the optician’s health and safety regulations to fill spectacle prescriptions more than twelve months old – no matter what the customer wants. The final scores? That’s Lab Health and Safety 1, Optician Health and Safety 1, Jenny, nil.

So if you ever visit my lab in the afternoons, which is when I usually have to remove my contact lenses out of fatigue, I’ll be the one with the glasses over glasses, messing up my experiments because every time I look down, the outer safely specs slip off my nose and fall all over my rack, splashing solutions everywhere.

But don’t worry about my skin – I’ll be wearing the white coat.

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
This entry was posted in Health and safety gone mad. Bookmark the permalink.

76 Responses to In which I lose my temper

  1. rpg says:

    I hate it when the powers that be can’t see beyond blind adherence to rules.

  2. nico says:

    What’s even more frustrating is that this sort of blanket regulation is more likely than not imposed in order to cover someone higher up’s posterior, rather than to ensure the actual safety of the bespectacled staff. That or bring the insurance premium down (as if!).

  3. I could be wrong, but I’m wondering if some of the incidents involved bespectacled researchers injuring nearby non-spec’ed labmates. This is the only reason I can think of to make everyone wear goggles at all times. But you really shouldn’t be that close to someone doing something dangerous without protecting yourself. I’ve been known to leave the building altogether when certain people flout fume hood rules and use toxic volatiles right on the bench. No job is worth that.

  4. Eva Amsen says:

    The picture! The ad on the mirror!

    *laughs*

  5. Commiserations, Jenny. As a fellow speccy I can sort of relate, though luckily our local H&S people are rather less fanatical. Of course, in my own case I would already have a simpler solution since I hardly ever set foot in a lab any more.

    On your more practical dilemma, I fear elastic on the safety (over) specs is the only solution to the falling-off-into-the-test-tube-racks-problem. Just tell people they’re the same ones you wear for paint-balling, skydiving, or some other extreme sport of your choice, since those would always have a retaining strap.

  6. Austin, you’re a genius. I forgot I bought a specs cord when I went white-water rafting last year. They might just do the trick!

  7. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    I know! It’s brilliant!

    (Sorry, Jenny! I do sympathise. But as someone who’s spent much time trying on various hideous pairs of glasses before switching to contacts in 2003*, usually spurred on by lying assistants encouraging me to try pairs that I knew would look stupid on me, I’ve pulled that exact same face many times!

    *Switch due toy learning to ski. It’s bad enough when your goggles steam up, far worse when your glasses steam up inside your steamed up goggles).

  8. nico says:

    You could use one of those UV face masks, I found them more comfortable than safety specs for long sessions. I bit the bullet and went for laser surgery (contact sports: tried contact lenses, they’re a bad idea) and wouldn’t go back.

  9. Steve Caplan says:

    Unbelievable! I thought you were kidding–or at the least, exaggerating on the previous blog. This is the most atonishing and unreasonable demand I have EVER seen for biomedical researchers. Have you done any research to see whether there is ANY other institute ANYWHERE that has such a crazy rule?

    Aside from the ridiculousness, it’s almost always the case that when rules that are stupid and difficult to abide by are made (as you noted), the net effect is that no one will possibly take them seriously and this causes people to ignore simple precautionary measures that should be followed.

    Just hope that no one has a head injury in your institute–otherwise you’ll all be wearing helmets in the lab…

  10. Catherine says:

    I would have lost my temper too. What a waste! Surely the very act of putting on extra gear when needed flags it up in your head as “oh, I should concentrate a bit here”. Wearing goggles all the time – well your faces say it all.

    In our institute, the latest Health and Safety vs lab workers inconvenience is that all fire doors must be left closed all the time. Yep, when you’re trotting in and out to the incubators and cold rooms with culture flasks, transfer tanks and whatnot, you must always have an extra (clean) hand free for the door handle. In what way is this going to reduce accidents?!

  11. cromercrox says:

    These rules are always introduced by personnel, or what we’re supposed to call Human Resources nowadays. At the risk of incurring wrath from on high, note that if you ask a kid what they want to do when they grow up, there’s a chance that they might say ‘scientist’, but they’ll NEVER say ‘I want to work in HR’. I rest my case.

    Note – being of a certain age I can haz varifocals. The problem is that computer screens are at the exact distance where the two different prescriptions collide, and I have to have a special pair just for looking at my computer. This is a pain in the terminals. But I’ll never, EVER have contacts (too fiddly) or laser surgery (insufficiently vain/ too risky).

  12. Not for the first time, it seems that science is being run by pinheads who sit in offices dreaming up ways of making life more difficult for those who do the work. They must feel terribly important.

  13. Chris Taylor says:

    It’s institutionalised ham-fistedness fueled by fear of litigation based on failure to anticipate all imaginable harm gone mad (nuke the site from orbit).

  14. Next thing they’ll probably insist you go on a course teaching you how to wear spectacles.
    But seriously I think you and others affected should not just complain here but also complain complain complain to whoever introduced the rule. They can’t just be allowed to introduce these regulations every time they think up a new risk. Could you at least send the blogpost to the head of the funding body for starters? And maybe get up a petition?
    We live in a world where all risks now require a completely disproportionate response – largely because people are scared of being sued. They should not be allowed to introduce new regulations without doing a cost/benefit analysis.

  15. Chris Richards says:

    I think this is simply a reflection of the way society has developed over the last 15 years. To be fair it is not the ‘pinheads’ who should be blamed it is the ambulance-chasing ‘no win no fee’ lawyers and the morons who are so willing to commence personal injury legislation when they have a minor accident.

    In an increasingly litigious society organisations will seek vainly to limit all risk and by so doing will make everyone’s life a misery.

  16. steffi suhr says:

    There’s a case for ugly safety glasses: we used to put out safety glasses in bins for general use on the research vessels, always bearing in mind that there would be a grad student or three (besides most of the PIs) who would not have thought to bring any safety gear with them on a cruise. To make sure people wore them, we first tried buying “cool” looking ones for a while – but they almost always ended up walking after a cruise.

    Nobody seemed to be tempted to pack the ugly specs into their trunks.

  17. Alas, my prescription is too severe for laser surgery – I’d do it in a flash if I were eligible. Best they could do would be to bring me down to about -7.00.

    I find UV masks, the kind with the plastic head-tightener, really uncomfortable. I’ve got a relatively small head and they never seem to fit — and then when you start sweating, they always steam up.

  18. It would be quite fun to do experiments in those inflatable sumo wrestling outfits.

  19. Very fortunately, our place has fire doors on magnetic widgety things that close automatically when the fire alarm goes off – so they can be left open at all other times. And thank goodness, because whenever the batteries go dead and we have to struggle with doors with full hands for a few hours, it’s a nightmare. Having said that, I have a healthy respect for fire doors — have you ever seen footage of what a fire door looks like after a fire? I guess if the magnets weren’t there, I’d rather have the doors closed. They really can make a difference between a minor blaze and a lot of dead people.

  20. The thing I worried about when I wrote this blog post was that one of the 12 people who’d been injured would leave a comment about how they were now blind and they didn’t want this to happen to anyone else. It’s easy to be cavalier, but eye injuries are a tragedy. Still, I am convinced that the pre-existing rules were good enough, but what was lacking was people taking them on board – which is ultimately down to the lab lead and how he/she instructs his/her team. I fully agree with Catherine above, who said, Surely the very act of putting on extra gear when needed flags it up in your head as “oh, I should concentrate a bit here”. You don’t want to become immune to the perils.

  21. There are so many things wrong with science that I feel like I need to pick my battles (e.g. http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110302/full/471007a.html). This is relatively trivial in the grand scheme of things, and the last thing I want to do is become labeled a troublemaker – above and beyond what I already am, of course. ;-) But if someone else wants to start a petition, I’ll gladly sign!

  22. The blue ones that Helen has on in that picture was the least hideous of the lot – unfortunately off-limits.

    The clerk said, optimistically: “Well, big lenses are ‘in’ now – just look at Victoria Beckham’s sunglasses.”

    Riiiiight.

  23. nico says:

    I can’t recall having the steaming issue with the UV mask, maybe it was a different material. And the headband is definitely and issue, I know it triggers headaches in some people. Anyway ladies don’t sweat, they glow.

    Shame surgery isn’t an option, I suspected that might be the case when I saw your prescription. One other reason I did it is that this way there is one less expensive thing for my son to break in the flat!

  24. nico says:

    Never heard a kid say “I want to work in PR” either. Come to think of it, I’m not sure editing features very high…

    The scariest bit in the surgery is when they flip up a slice of your cornea like a lid and your vision goes all blurry (there’s a more modern technique where this is not done, all laser). Then the laser comes on and it smells like burnt hair-keratin, innit.

  25. Absolutely agreed, Jenny. Also agree with one of your earlier points about: “idiotic rules bringing ALL rules into disrepute and thus increasing risk people ignore them, including the sensible rules”

    Dorothy Bishop is right about the need for SOMEONE to complain, though. Have you tried the union? There is clearly no law that says this particular measure is necessary, or all Universities would do the same, which they don’t.

    Based on things like laws that deal with adaptations that employers should make for disabled users, I would strongly suspect that the laws/rules will actually says things like”

    “The employer should mandate reasonable precautions and all necessary training”

    The accent is then on what is deemed reasonable, which of course is down to local interpretation.

  26. BTW, – 11 – -13 Dioptres is, errrm, seriously impressive. I’ve always thought I was fairly bat-blind at – 4-ish.

  27. Mike says:

    I’m surprised there isn’t an option on modern computers to vary the screen focus a bit to suit one’s needs… perhaps someone has already developed an application for this. If not, I’ve published the idea first here, so copyright, or something.

    One obvious shortfall with this for spectacular spectacle sporters is when the prescription differs between eyes, as with Jenny’s, mine and probably most others. Ho hum. Back to the drawing board.

  28. Mike says:

    Jenny – do you have any insight into cost-benefit analyses here? Have any of the 12 injured actually been seeking compensation from the funding body?

    It may have been one of those things where they’ve agreed some out-of-court settlement (to appease the plaintiff) accompanied by more specific (read: idiot-proof) regulations (to appease the court), as well as providing new safety specs to those requiring them, and it still works out cheaper than going through full court proceedings.

    That’s all just speculation though.

  29. @Austin – it’s funny, we blind people get pretty competitive about our diopters. Helen was quite perversely disappointed to find out my prescription was so much worse than hers. I am, apparently, legally blind in America. But the flip side is that I have bona fide microscopic vision: since I can focus about an inch away from things, I can see much closer detail than anyone else I know. Only comes in handy when I’m wearing my specs and can move them up – when I’m wearing contacts, I have to wear reading glasses over top!

    Mike, I’d like to know more about the backstory too, but I don’t. Your speculation sounds plausible. Yet if the blanket regulation makes things worse (breeds a sense of complacency and/or restricts peripheral vision, leading to other sorts of accidents), it will be a pretty disappointing outcome.

  30. Tom says:

    If I were surrounded by colleagues who thought that using fume hoods for things that should be done in fume hoods was an optional extra, I think I’d focus my energies on doing something about that, rather than blogging about the dreadful injustice of being asked to wear safety glasses all the time.

    And if I were in charge of health and safety in a place where the above sort of thing persistently went on, I’d be highly inclined to start making blanket rules for the people who worked there as they don’t appear to be capable of acting safely when left to their own devices. What action did the person’s immediate supervisor take when the above happened, I wonder?

  31. Tom, I’m not sure why you automatically assume I haven’t “focused my energies” on doing something about the fume hood violators. I am, in fact, one of the most vociferous complainers in the building on issues of safety, with productive outcomes in most cases. And just to clarify a point: if you read my post more carefully, I did not at any point state that the policy was “unjust”; I merely questioned that it would achieve its aims (there being a few reasons why it could actually backfire, as elaborated) and questioned the use of taxpayer funding for an over-elaborate solution. You’re of course free to disagree with my assessment, but please don’t make suggestions about what I can and cannot blog about.

    I don’t know if you’ve spent much time in labs, but in my experience over two decades, behavior is very difficult to change. The messy people will never clean up their messes, no matter how many nagging notes or stern warnings in group meetings are issued. Unsafe people will ignore safety advice. If they are the sorts who will end up with an injury when they have full knowledge of how to avoid it, will an institutionalized rule help? People here are already flouting the rule – the people who always acted safely are wearing the goggles all the time, and the ones who never bothered, take them off the minute the lab manager leaves the room. So I stand by my assessment that a blanket rule may be completely ineffective, and I wonder whether people might be encouraged to take a little personal responsibility for their behaviors – and their consequences.

  32. rpg says:

    I happen to think that everybody working in a lab should sign a legally binding, witnessed statement that they will take full responsibility for their own safety and will not sue the institution or management in case of an accident–with appropriate caveats for body corporate responsibility.

    Then if anybody does anything stupid their remains should be put on public display.

  33. ricardipus says:

    @Austin – yes indeed, that is some impressively poor eyesight. Jenny, are you able to wear contacts with that degree of correction? Just curious.

    Also – this may well have been asked and answered in your previous post on this topic, but does your dearly beloved institution not allow the type of goggles that fit nicely over existing eyeglasses? Uncomfortable I know, but a darn sight (hahahahahahaha) cheaper than prescription safety glasses.

  34. @rigcardipus The natty gent with the 55 letters after his name has, finally, been able to give me contacts that work. My diopter/astigmatism combo is too bad for soft lenses and toric lenses — alas, that means I’m saddled with rigid gas-permables, which are tough and long lasting but, after a long morning, start to feel like the pieces of glass that they are. I rarely make it past 2 PM in them – which is why I need special specs. (My vision isn’t 20.20 with contacts but it’s close enough – unfortunately though, my middle-aged farsightedness has set in now, so I can’t focus up close any more while wearing contacts and have to wear reading glasses over top.)

    The lab manager trialled 3 or 4 pairs of goggles designed to go over glasses, but none of them fit well. As I discovered at the opticians, safety eyewear doesn’t come in different sizes, so it’s take it or leave it. I wonder if such products are aimed primarily at a largely engineering (and therefore male?) clientele? — they all seem way too big for an average woman’s head.

  35. Middle-aged farsightedness is a bugger. The thing that has surprised me is just how fast it proceeds once it starts to happen – OK to disconcerting in a few months, in my case. I am resolutely refusing to go bifocal, though in consequence reading is a trial-and-error business these days (with or without glasses depending on print size and lighting). I read more on-screen now than I used to, since I can Crtl + the text as necessary. And thank goodness for 17 in plus flat panel monitors.

    I wore soft contacts in my late teens and early 20s long ago, but gave up after a few years due to allergies (inc to solution preservatives) and conjuncitivitis. Then when I tried again in grad school (pre toric soft lenses, or when they were scarce/pricey) I found they didn’t correct my astigmatism so lots of reading was a bit problematic or required “add-on” reading glasses. I suppose I could have tried again when toric soft lenses became commonplace, but by then I just couldn’t be arsed with all the faffing about.

  36. Toric lenses are lovely. Just sayin’. I miss them like crazy.

    My problem with reading glasses is they make me seasick. I’m hoping to get used to them one day.

  37. Andrew Holding says:

    Having come from a chemistry background I was confused by all the
    complaining on this rule, to me it’s just a normal ‘not to trust your
    co-workers to be following safe practise in the lab’ argument. Also
    it was clear to me that this was a default and you could do a risk
    assessment that stated you don’t need glasses in a certain area.

    Also worth noting is that the ice mentioned in the list I got sent was
    from a contaminated freezer was a bio hazard in the eye, which is
    quite a lot more serious that the above suggests. But yes some of them
    (re:soap) are probably a first aider being anally retentive with the
    injury book.

    Don’t know what the right answer is for you, but I spent most of my
    PhD using correct fitting over-glasses absolutely fine, solvents meant
    contact lenses were a no-no.

    What has annoyed me is I’ve repeatedly asked my current
    (non-chemistry) department for over-glasses and as I didn’t like
    prescription-safety specs since they’re too heavy and stores after a
    year still don’t stock them!

    I’ve had corrective eye surgery since, so it annoys me less, but I feel for
    people who can’t get the right safety equipment.

  38. Andrew Holding says:

    What if someone then hurts another employee through stupidity?

    More importantly some things you can’t sign away, simply because that would be open to abuse.

  39. rpg says:

    Well, that’s why I made the comment about appropriate caveats–and in your example you wouldn’t be suing the institute, you’d be suing the prick who did it. Which is part of the point.

  40. Andrew Holding says:

    Ah but the prick was employ by the institute who should have fired him for being a prick.

    It’s the abuse issue more, offloading corporate responability onto people is a problem. Even the requirement for saftey glasses is an example of this. You clearly can break the rules, and than makes the employer not responsible.

  41. Thanks for your comments, Andy, and sorry for the technical problems. (We’ve now fixed it, so feel free to use the term “laser eye” to your heart’s content!)

    About this: Also it was clear to me that this was a default and you could do a risk
    assessment that stated you don’t need glasses in a certain area.
    . That would be the sensible thing, but unfortunately according to the building manager, there are no opt-outs in our unit except (bizarrely) the Drosophila labs, and looking down a microscope.

    I didn’t mean to trivialize any of the injuries on the list (Ian’s description of “silly” was perhaps a bit harsh, for which I apologize). But I would never, ever hammer at ice in a freezer without safety goggles, as the ice goes flying everywhere. Everyone else used to wear them for this purpose too – so I wouldn’t necessarily think this isn’t a common sense use. Out of curiosity, what sorts of labs have freezers so unregulated that the ice itself is contaminated with biohazards? Shouldn’t everything be safely contained in tubes and boxes? And if everyone knows the freezer is crawling with biohazards, shouldn’t goggles have been worn as a matter of course while hammering/defrosting them?

    If I’m lucky I’ll find a pair of specs that fit my small girly head. It’s the only solution that will work for me, but our selection is pretty bad. :-)

  42. rpg says:

    But what you’re saying is that you should offload personal responsibility onto the corporation.

    Which is dumb. And leads to all sorts of nastiness, as detailed by Jenny (and there’s probably an argument that it’s equally dangerous).

  43. I’ve never personally seen anyone’s eyes injured at long-range from a lab accident, but I’m sure it could happen. Still, I’m just wondering how common it is, because if this were a serious problem, as someone pointed out somewhere else, most institutes in the world would have this rule. 12 injuries in one year from all the units in the UK – and how many were to second parties as opposed to the person injuring themselves? And what are the odds of that given the total number? Weighted against the discomfort and potential hazards of wearing goggles all the time. As was pointed out somewhere else, stuff could fall off lab shelves onto our heads, or we could slip on spillages, but we aren’t required to wear helmets at all times. It just feels…disproportionate.

    I’d love to see the real stats.

  44. I should also point out it really depends on the lab. In our lab, we hardly EVER use solvents. I spend most of my time at the tissue culture hood (which, despite being protected fully by a glass “windscreen”, we still have to wear goggles – reflection/visibility has been a real issue there with my glasses on glasses in front of glass shieldy-bit, BTW), pipetting non-toxic medium into plasticwear and dealing with nonbiohazardous cells. 6 hours in front of a hood with the full shield, and I’m wearing goggles. It just makes NO SENSE. It’s frustrating.

  45. Andrew Holding says:

    They should have anti-steam inside them. It could well need replacing on the ones Jenny are using.

  46. Andrew Holding says:

    The real problem that needs adressing from what you’ve written is the requirement to actually provide you with a solution that works for you, so far it appears they havent.

    Try googling for alternative saftey specs. Some companies make much better looking ones that the ones photo’d. Don’t know if your perscription is too much for them though.
    e.g. http://www.safetyspecs.co.uk/Bolle%20safety%20glasses.htm

  47. Nobody’s going to give me a prescription lens without a recent eye test, and I just can’t afford to go private on one this year. I would welcome alternatives for the over-specs, though – thanks for the links.

  48. Andrew Holding says:

    Long range incidents are fairly common in chemistry, and anywhere pressurised system exist. In your lab I wouldn’t be qualified to comment to pass comment.

    For me it’s a culture thing though, I’m used to wearing gloves and saftey glasses all the time. I still do it get made fun of it by people. Limited visibility in a fume hood (and mobility very often for synthesis work) is something I’ve learnt to work around. So I get on with it, I’ve had ‘completely safe’ things explode on me, which makes the risk/benifit analysis fall on the wear glasses side of things.

    For you though the risks are different, I can’t really comment. But the truth is I had to cope with the limitations caused by health and saftey, and I got on with it because it made sense once something blew up in my face (litterally). Now the risk is much lower I don’t hear any different complaints (people complained as much in the chemistry lab), and I still see the odd potential for something to go wrong so I don’t wait for it to go wrong to proove the H&S people right.

  49. Andrew Holding says:

    No-one? That sucks, I would have thought you could still buy them, they just won’t garantee them to work.

  50. Andrew Holding says:

    Oh I forgot to say, you should always be able to risk asses out of stupidity. So yes what you’re saying is stupid.

  51. rpg says:

    Andrew, sometimes, and this is a point I don’t think Jenny made strongly enough, these ‘safety’ measures make things worse. These goggles restrict your vision, which can cause all sorts of problems (especially when sat at a microscope. I’m waiting for the first facial trauma incident). I’ve nearly dropped a bottle of solvent because hands are less slippy than gloves.

  52. It’s apparently a UK statutory thing. The same reason you can’t buy drugs over the counter. I suppose if you get into an accident because you’re wearing lenses that aren’t right, you could sue the optician. I’m not sure, it’s just a guess, but I presume that’s the impetus for the regulation.

  53. nico says:

    I don’t think you can change the focus (apart from moving the screen back and forth?), but you can change the size of font and icons on most modern OS. Most also have special settings for near-blind people.

  54. Hi Andy, just a point about this: ‘Oh I forgot to say, you should always be able to risk asses out of stupidity. So yes what you’re saying is stupid.”

    The point is, you perhaps always should be able to, but in the case of my unit, there are no exceptions allowed to the rules as set down. I find this sort of inflexibility perplexing. Perhaps, like you, I’ll get used to it in a few years. But as matters stand now, if I had a choice of labs to go to in my next stint, this rule could actually be the deciding factor against me going into an MRC unit. If experimenting is no longer enjoyable but is just uncomfortable, I’d rather work in a freer environment.

  55. Andrew Holding says:

    Erm, my fault. I didn’t type what I meant.Totally agree with your comments.

  56. cromercrox says:

    Can’t you write to your HR person, all friendly like, and say that the only way you’ll be able to comply with the new regulations AND be able to see is to spend the research council’s cash on a private consultation and get the job done properly? I bet they’d comply.

  57. rpg says:

    You’ve just confused the hell outta me.

  58. Andrew Holding says:

    By “what your saying is stupid” I didn’t mean Jenny was stupid, rather the situation is.

  59. Susan P says:

    Ugly safety glasses must be a UK thing. In the US, we consider them a fashion statement and have several versions of small over-the-glasses specs that are lightweight and don’t fall off.

  60. @stephenemoss says:

    I’m enjoying all this chat about visual acuity, but I can only sympathise with your safety spec plight. I think it’s not just the inconvenience and plain stupidity of certain H&S regulations, its also the implied assertion that we are not to be trusted to use our own common-sense in these matters. You can have a fistful of first degrees and higher degrees, and decades of lab experience, but you are treated like an irresponsible child with a box of matches when it comes to safety. It’s extreme nannying, it’s pointless, and it’s very likely to be counter-productive.

  61. Tideliar says:

    How about a pair of pince-nez under the safety specs? Tres chic huh!?

    :)

  62. rpg says:

    Indeed:and what about provision for monocle-wearers?

  63. I think any mention of monocles has to be preceded, or followed, by the expression “my dear old thing!” or at least an expostulatory “what what?”.

  64. rpg says:

    My dear boy, I do hope you’re not extracting the Michael, what?

  65. Absolutely not in the least, my dear old thing. Frightfully rum idea, what?

    PS I really did once have a teacher who addressed us (individually) as “Old Bean” or “Old Fruit”. Really.

  66. Elf and saftey says:

    The Health and Safety Act 1971

    Recklessly interfering with Darwin’s natural selection process, thereby extending the life cycle of dim-witted ignorami; thus perpetuating and magnifying the danger to us all, by enabling them to breed and walk amongst us, our children and loved ones.

  67. Achillespubtalk says:

    Perceived overzealous health and safety is a perennial complaint in labs and workshops but if you have experienced a serious incident you can never get enough of it afterwards, especially concerning eyes. Many years ago I was duty head in a college when an engineering evening class student had refused to wear his long hair in a net and it got caught in a lathe and whipped off the top of his scalp – he died – not a recommended sight. Jenny perhaps engineering can come to your rescue, thinking of the excellent ranges of welding goggles that you can wear with spectacles – and they come in sexy tints where designed for hazardous chemical environments!

  68. rpg says:

    evening class student had refused to wear his long hair in a net

    The rule was presumably in place, and yet it didn’t make any difference. What makes you think that a rule to make everyone wear safety specs while labelling tubes will make any difference to safety? Stupid will out.

  69. Ian the EM guy says:

    Oh the first minor facial trauma incident has already occured when my boss wearing safety specs went to look down some eye pieces of the ultra microtome and painfully, but not seriously hit the eye pieces with the specs and hurt her nose!

  70. Ian the EM guy says:

    As the name suggests, I do a lot of electron microscopy. Apartt from the radiation labs ours is probably the most dangerous lab in teh building. We routinely use gluteraldehyde, paraformaldehyde, osmium tetraoxide, uranyl acetate, liquid nitrogen, chloroform, and lots and lots of razor blades. The thing is that when I use the dangerous things, I wear a lab coat and if I need to safety specs. However, when I’m on my own in a lab and washing my stained grids in tiny droplets of water for example, I see no need to, and so I don’t.

    Don’t treat me like an idiot by telling me I have to wear specs all the time. I know when I should and when I don’t have to, it is written into the protocols and teh risk assesments. That is teh entire point of the protocols and risk assesments.

    You can never legislate for everything so don’t try. Accidents will still happen.

  71. ricardipus says:

    Jenny – any chance you could *mail-order* safety glasses using a copy of your most recent (yet expired) prescription, and get reimbursed? I’m sure there are companies, not necessarily located in the UK, that could oblige – legitimate ones, I mean, not something fly-by-night.

    [reCAPTCHA for this comment: "University woupt"]

  72. David Smith says:

    “Alas, my prescription is too severe for laser surgery”

    So was mine. But I went for it and the extra freedom it gives is worth it. No more
    slidey, slidey slidey
    down my nose’s hidey.

    Don’t broadcast this ‘un, but one time I picked up a lab rat to inject into its gut. I was holding it a mite too loose and it reached up with a hind paw and got hold of the syringe. It then flung the syringe out of my grip and between the opening in the front of my lab coat. The needle penetrated my shirt and a few layers of skin. A very neat sub-cute shot had been set up. All I needed to do was to push in the plunger.
    I illegally never reported the event (there was blood!) and have been on the lam from the law since then.

    Imagine the rules THAT could have brought on. I merely laughed and made sure I had a slightly better grip after that.

  73. I have noticed an over abundance of safety regulations in the UK since I’ve moved here. We also have some draconian safety spec rules in the lab. However, where I am at, very few people actually put them on, and only when the safety enforcing folks are around. My PI has actually been arguing with the head of the school to change the rule such that we only need to wear goggles when working with dangerous substances. Seems as if he has been reasonably successful as of late.

    Overall, though, the culture of over-bearing safety here strikes me as a bit much. I mean, who is going to memorize all the crap in the risk assessments. And do we seriously need to write a risk assessment for every procedure? Theoretically any time I made some small change in my protocol or switch a reagent I need to do a risk assessment. It seems that attempting to enforce poorly thought out safety rules is more important to some than productivity…

    anyways…just found your blog! Nice to see another ex-pat in the UK!

  74. Apologies for not addressing your comment in moderation for so long, Funk Doctor X – my brain has been a bit offline over the past few days!

    In general, I think risk assessments can serve a useful purpose – when we put ours together, it did sort of highlight some things I was hazy about, such as which drugs we were routinely using were hazardous at which concentrations. But if the procedure does not deal with items that aren’t hazardous, I think it’s just overprotective and silly to wear protective gear.