For eight years, while performing lab safety audits, I have cited a couple of labs for having keyboards raised. The little legs on the rear of the computer keyboard were up and there was no wrist rest in place. Ergonomically, this is an unsound practice, and it is one item on my safety audit checklist. Needless to say, managers do not view this as a big lab safety issue- not when faced with things like PPE issues, out of date safety checks and various more immediate problems. However, a raised keyboard can create problems for those who perform at the computer often. These problems may not show up until later in life, but the stresses on the wrist of a hand working constantly at an angle (rather than in a straight line as is best) can be serious for that employee.
Last month, while conducting a safety audit, the manager asked me how her lab was doing so far. I reviewed with her the items I had cited, and one was that pesky keyboard issue. I stepped out of the department, and when I returned, I found a pile of keyboard legs on my laptop with a note- “now you can never cite for this again!”
You may not consider this a major safety victory, but it did illustrate a couple of points I have been teaching safety professionals for years.
1: The secret of a successful lab safety professional is that he or she never goes away- they never quit on an issue.
2: If there is only one person promoting safety in the lab, then that is enough to make a difference.
Point 1 is easier to see in this illustration. When I first began performing these safety audits in the labs, I was citing many areas for that particular ergonomics issue (among others). Some of the lab managers I work with strongly support safety, and others do not, but most were in agreement- this was not a big deal and they were not going to worry about it. I persisted. I cited it every year. I did not give up. I did not go away.
This year, when the manager removed the keyboard “feet,” the story spread, and two other managers did the same. It was a minor safety victory- but it was a victory nonetheless.
Point 2 is a bit more obscure, but it is very important. I have worked with some lab safety professionals whose manager does not support safety in the department. They are trying to make a difference in their safety culture and they feel alone and useless. I strongly believe that the lab safety program will have faster success with management and medical director support, more members on the safety team is definitely of benefit. However, I also believe that one person alone can make a difference in the lab’s safety culture.
For the keyboard story, I was the only one who seemed to care about that one safety issue. I made no headway on it for eight years. Success came (albeit slowly) even though I was the only person talking about it. You might be the only person talking about safety on your lab, and you might be repeating yourself often. You might not see it yet, but you are making a difference.
As a lab safety professional, you may come to a fork in the road on your way to safety improvement. The path to the left could be a road of persistence- you may be fighting the same battle over and over again. To the right is the lonely road where only you seem to be supporting the lab safety initiatives. You might even take the middle road where both challenges occur.
No matter the path you may be forced to take in your work place, the same tactics will assist you in navigating to safety success. Be patient, be persistent, and keep talking about safety.