September 2012

Radiation Safety Training Reminder

A reminder to all staff working with or planning to work with radioactive materials, you will need to complete radiation safety training annually.  If you are new to using radioactive materials, you are required to take the online course titled “Radiation Safety, Basic.”  To complete the course, go to Employee Self Service and select "My Training" under Learning and Development.  Select "Available Online Icon Courses" and scroll down to select “Radiation Safety, Basic.”  Then click on "Enroll in this ICON Course."  Review the slides and complete the exam.  Your exam will automatically be graded and added to your training records. 

For staff who have completed the basic training, you will need to complete “Radiation Safety, Refresher” training each year, on or before the date you completed this training the previous year.   This course can be completed as described above, and by selecting “Radiation Safety, Refresher” from the list of available classes.

If you have any questions regarding required training, please contact Laurie Scholl  at 353-5389.

Minor Lab Issues Can Multiply Into a Big Incident

A recent incident in a lab shows how a minor mistake, compounded by seemingly minor oversights, can grow into something much more complex.  A formaldehyde solution was mistakenly used to clean a chair; the researcher intended to use ethanol, but because the bottles are similar, accidentally grabbed the wrong chemical container.  Once the mistake was discovered, the solution was wiped off the chair using paper towels that were thrown in the regular trash, which is against UI policy.  Because both the chair and paper towels were giving off a formaldehyde odor, lab personnel decided shut the door to allow the odor to dissipate and left work for the day.

Now the story gets complicated.  Several hours later, a custodial services employee started to enter the room to service the area.  By that time, the formaldehyde odor had become much stronger (the room did not have a chemical fume hood that would have removed much of the vapors).The custodian was unable to enter the room and experienced irritation of the eyes, nose and throat.

The situation was further complicated by several factors: the custodian and custodial supervisor did not know the identity of the chemical in question; the contact information on the door was not current so responders had difficulty finding someone to consult with; the chemical inventory for the lab was not correct (formaldehyde was not listed in the inventory); no lab personnel were on-site; no attempt had been made to communicate the situation with other affected personnel; and no notification was posted on the room to warn others not to enter due to the potential for exposure.

These factors caused the situation to escalate from a minor lab incident to one that involved UI Public Safety, EHS, and the Iowa City Fire Department, who entered the room wearing special respiratory and other protective equipment. It also resulted in a trip to the ER for one person due to an exposure to an unknown chemical odor.  This incident highlights the need to ensure that contact information is up-to-date, lab chemical inventories are current, and to communicate to potentially affected personnel or post warnings for unusual situations that may affect others entering your lab.  

Securing Radioactive Material

The Iowa Department of Public Health requires that all radioactive material, including radioactive waste, be secured against unauthorized use or removal.  Radioactive material is considered secure if any ONE of the following conditions is met:

  • Authorized staff are present in the immediate area where the radioactive material is stored.
  • Containers in which radioactive materials are stored are locked.
  • Rooms in which the material is stored are locked against unauthorized entry.
  • The building in which labs containing radioactive material is locked.

EHS performs periodic security audits, including those done after hours in order to assess the overall security of radioactive materials on campus.  Please help adhere to this requirement, as the University can be cited and fined for unsecured radioactive materials.  Contact Laurie Scholl   at 353-5389 with any questions.

Report Injuries and Illnesses Promptly

This article is intended to serve as a reminder to staff to promptly report any injury you sustain while at work.  While this is a requirement for everyone regardless of work location, due to the potential risks involved, it is noteworthy to remind individuals who work in biomedical laboratories of the importance of prompt reporting.  Injuries from a needle stick or other sharp object, mucous membranes or non-intact skin contact with blood, tissue, or other body fluids that are potentially infectious, or direct exposure to a pathogen may lead to an infection.  Hence, for these types of injuries it is critical that an injured worker immediately reports the injury to his/her supervisor, files a First Report of Injury and is seen at University Employee Health Clinic.  Call 356-3631 to speak with clinic staff. 

Chemical exposures (e.g., those caused by splashes or inhalation), are by their nature more likely to require immediate attention.  If immediate emergency medical care is needed, the individual should be seen in the Emergency Department (formerly called the Emergency Treatment Center (ETC)), reported to the supervisor, and a First Report of Injury completed.  If the injury does not require emergency care, evaluation and treatment for these types of exposures would be done at UI HealthWorks at 3 Lions Drive, North Liberty (call 665-2111 to schedule an appointment and/or talk to clinic staff regarding urgency of evaluation).

All other occupational injuries follow the same process, with the individual alerting the supervisor, seeking treatment at either the Emergency Department (if emergency care is required or for afterhours care) or UI HealthWorks, and filing a First Report of Injury.

Although prevention is the primary strategy for reducing occupational exposures, exposures will continue to occur.  A prompt assessment of injuries is paramount to ensuring that injured individuals receive the appropriate follow-up and any necessary treatment is initiated immediately.  For example, in cases where the exposure is to human blood, tissues, etc., an assessment should be undertaken immediately to determine whether post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) should be initiated.  The 2005 U.S. Public Health Service’s guidelines state that when someone is “exposed to a source person who either has or is considered likely to have HIV infection…PEP should be initiated as soon as possible, preferably within hours rather than days of exposure.” 

Prompt reporting of injuries and illnesses is also necessary to ensure the University remains in compliance with several regulatory requirements.  For instance, in situations that involve work with recombinant DNA/organisms, the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) Guidelines for Research Involving Recombinant DNA Molecules (NIH Guidelines) require that any research-related accidents and illnesses be reported to the NIH’s Office of Biotechnology Activities (OBA).  Work with select agents and toxins also requires prompt injury/illness reports. 

Injury reporting should not be delayed or unreported due to fears that negative consequences will result.  On the contrary, by reporting an injury, EHS staff will work with the injured employee and supervisor to identify changes that could be implemented to prevent future recurrences, thereby improving processes and reducing the chance that others may be similarly injured.

It is important that the injured staff’s Principal Investigator and supervisor provide complete details about the hazards of the materials involved in the incident to the Occupational Physician and EHS in order to provide the appropriate treatment and understand the risks involved.  In addition, anyone working in the laboratory should always adhere to good laboratory practices and safety guidelines. As previous LabNews articles have affirmed, it is exceedingly important for all research staff to be familiar with the health hazards, signs and symptoms associated with exposures and infections from biohazardous agents used in the laboratory.  And it goes without saying that individuals must always understand what hazards are associated with any materials they work with, whether the materials are chemical, radiological, or physical in nature.

The First Report of Injury Form must be completed within 24 hours.  More information is available through UI Worker’s Compensation.   If the exposure is biological in nature, an exposure incident form needs to be completed by the supervisor and submitted to EHS.  Please contact Rachel White  (353-5679) or Haley Sinn  (335-9553) with questions. 

Did you know?

When glass breaks, the cracks move at speeds of up to 5,000 feet per second. That is twice as fast as a 0.30-caliber rifle bullet travels.


Publish Date: 

Saturday, September 1, 2012