The CDC- Could It Happen to You?
The CDC- Could It Happen to You?

Unless you work in the laboratories at the CDC, you probably don’t know all of the details of the actual safety lapses that occurred recently. These issues led to the potential exposure of several employees to highly dangerous pathogens. When speaking on these issues, the CDC director stated that he knew there were flaws in their safety program, a pattern was visible before the incidents took place. That pattern is likely easy to see in hindsight, but I wonder if anyone was looking for it before the labs made national headlines.

If there is one idea I repeat often when I speak about lab safety, it’s that you can never become complacent. Safety in the laboratory needs constant and consistent “care,” and that care includes ongoing training, re-training, conducting drills, holding contests, reviewing policies, or anything else that will raise lab staff awareness regarding safety. A solid safety program is not going to run itself. If you can’t do all of those things mentioned above by yourself, get some help. Get the support of lab leadership, of your medical director, or of certain staff that seem to have an interest in helping and an aptitude for safety.

You may be a busy lab safety professional, and it may seem as if you are doing a great amount of work for your program every day. But have you looked at your safety culture lately? What patterns can you notice? I believe that the gaps in the CDC safety program exist in many other labs as well. I suspect that many labs are closer than they think to an incident that could bring OSHA to their doors, or the news media to their sites. While I am disappointed that the CDC, an agency that has created safety guidelines and standards for labs across the world, has had major problems with their safety practices, I do not fault them for what I believe could happen- and has happened – in other labs with weak safety programs.

I understand the CDC is moving forward by utilizing some of the best safety resources in the country. They are moving quickly to repair the damage done, to make improvements, and to ensure public safety, and they will most likely emerge with a solid, orderly laboratory safety program.

What we should all learn from this experience is a valuable lesson: now is the time to step back and look at our own sites for patterns and holes in our safety practices. It’s time to fix these problems now, not to avoid national attention, but to keep our valuable employees and the public safe.  

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