An Immodest Proposal For Biological (And University) Lab Safety

Nature has posted a commentary from a biomedical security consultant suggesting a way forward in light of recent problems with hazardous sample security.  In short, the author suggests that facilities dealing with other hazardous materials (or processes) are worth emulating.  The goal of this imitation is to instill a culture of safety not present in facilities that handle dangerous biomedical specimens like anthrax.

So while the specific practices and materials involved in the nuclear industry are not transferable to biosecurity, the author thinks that it would be useful to imitate the perspective the industry has of safety.  This includes expanding responsibility for safety from just designated officers to everyone at the facility.  Also important is encouraging a focus on reliability and an awareness of when things deviate from normal, even just a little.

I found the argument persuasive, but not just for biomedical security.  Given the horrible track record of lab safety in universities, it seems that a lot of research facilities could benefit from a culture of safety instead of just a lab safety officer.


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