Working Safe and Smart in Machine Shops by James Kaznosky

With the Fall 2013 academic semester upon us, it is a good time for a refresher in the Columbia University Shop Safety program. Academic machine shops, like research laboratories, present a myriad of potential hazards, which, if not identified and controlled, could cause harm. The most important reminders about safe shop use are: never use equipment unless trained and familiar with its safe operation; use a buddy system when working; restrain hair and loose clothing and remove jewelry; wear proper PPE and never modify equipment, including protective devices. For more information about Shop Safety visit http://www.ehs.columbia.edu/ShopSafety.html

Safe Use of Radioactivity – What to Wear at Work by Radiation Safety Team

Imagine this scenario – it's a hot summer day and personnel in the lab are wearing shorts and open toe shoes. You however, are wearing a lab coat, gloves and eye protection and are standing at your work bench pipetting samples into centrifuge tubes. A co-worker walks by with a rack of micro centrifuge tubes and stops to chat for a minute. As they turn to leave, another co-worker walks by and they collide. The rack of tubes is knocked from their grasp and hits the floor; two tubes pop open and the contents splash on your leg and their foot. Your co-worker tells you that the tubes contained P-32 for a RNA assay, so you quickly grab a survey meter and locate spots of radioactive contamination on the back of your bare leg and top of their feet. Although you are wearing the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for the work (i.e. lab coat, gloves and eye protection), you are not wearing proper work attire which results in skin contamination. A lab coat is short – usually extending to just above the knees and is not designed to protect from splashes on exposed skin, and certainly does not cover the feet.
Skin contamination can result in radioactivity passing through the skin into the body, or if it remains on the skin, delivering a substantial radiation dose (100s of mrem) before it can be removed. Because radioactivity, similar to other hazardous materials, can be dropped, spilled, splashed or otherwise spread accidentally in the lab, the Radiation Safety Manual (http://www.ehs.columbia.edu/RadiationSafetyManual.pdf) and the Policy for Personal Protective Equipment in Research Laboratories (http://www.ehs.columbia.edu/PPEPolicy2.pdf) prohibit open-toed shoes, sandals, shorts and short skirts in the laboratory.
Bottom line - Good radiological and chemical hygiene practice includes covering exposed skin to prevent contamination. Keep appropriate work clothing (long pants or long skirts, and closed-toed shoes) at work, especially during hot weather when you may be inclined to wear shorts and sandals to get to/from work. This way you can change into and out of appropriate work attire and work safely.

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