Cross-posted from the Digital Science blog
Last week, we wrote about the results of a new survey on lab safety. One of the findings was that scientists are unlikely to tell others of health and safety infringements in the lab. Here Nathan Watson, founder of BioRAFT, a Digital Science-supported company which co-published the survey, tells his story.
My left index finger should probably glow green under 488nm light for the rest of my life. As a junior researcher, I was producing recombinant viruses to overexpress genes including Green Florescent Protein (GFP) and a number of oncogenes. While isolating the virus carrying GFP, I was supporting the test tube with my left hand and slowly pressing a syringe needle through the tube’s soft plastic wall. I pressed too hard and the needle went completely through the tube and into my left index finger. I washed the finger with iodine and soap, put on a new pair of gloves, and finished the virus isolation.
I told no one.
I checked the cells and my finger daily over the next two weeks, and to my relief, the cells glowed and my finger did not. I corrected my methods when working with the oncogenes and consider myself lucky I had my incident with just the GFP.
This is the reality of research. If you had asked me if safety was important to me, I would have said, “sure it is.” If you had asked me if my lab was safe and if my PI cared about safety, I would have said yes. Yet, did I get training on the specific experiments I was doing or the hazards I was working with? Not really. Safety training, beyond the general lab safety lecture during new employee orientation, often entailed a post doc giving you a detailed protocol and encouraging you to ask questions. Yet, as an enthusiastic researcher who believed he already knew his way around a lab, I (and others like me) was more concerned with the scientific objectives, not the rigid tedium of safe experimentation.
Does this sound like a familiar tale? Let us know your own experiences in the comments section or on Twitter: @naturejobs