Case #1:  Follow safe workplace practices.

Jason is a lab technician working with radioactive isotopes.  He notices that his lab partner Johnny frequently fails to take off the gloves he uses when dealing with samples before he leaves the lab.  Knowing that the gloves are contaminated, Jason is concerned about whether Johnny is touching doorknobs or water fountains with the gloves on, leaving those that come behind him at risk of exposure. 

What should Jason do?

  1. Remind Johnny that his gloves are contaminated and tell him he is concerned about others touching the same surfaces.
  2. Inform the PI that he believes there are safety concerns in the lab requiring his attention but do not give any identifiable information about the source of the problem.
  3. Post notices throughout the building that everyone should be vigilant against unintended exposure.
  4. All of the above.

D.  Each of us is responsible for maintaining a safe working environment for ourselves and our co-workers and customers.  This includes taking any necessary precautions against exposing others to transmissible substances, radioactive materials, etc.  In this instance, Jason has first-hand knowledge of a safety issue and therefore has the responsibility to ensure that it is addressed.  He should discuss the contaminated gloves with Johnny directly and describe how he should take appropriate precautions against exposure.  Jason should also notify the PI that he has safety concerns and remind everyone in the building to ensure safety in laboratories.

Case #2:  Maintain security.

Jeff works in a mixed-use building on campus that holds offices, classrooms, and some sensitive laboratories.  One weekday evening, he stops by his office to pick up some reports he planned to work on at home that night.  He uses his ID badge to enter the front door to the building, and as he walks in, a young man, who looks like a typical college student, with a UAB sweatshirt and full backpack, walks up behind him. 

What should Jeff do?

  1. Hold the door open for the young man, since he looks like he is familiar with the building and could have a meeting or a class somewhere.
  2. Ask the young man if he has access to the building, and if so, let him follow him into the building.
  3. Tell the young man that it is important for safety purposes to know exactly who comes and goes after hours, so if he has access to the building, he will need to use his own ID badge to enter.

C.  Maintaining security of UAB buildings is an important part of providing a safe environment to employees, students, patients, and visitors.  In this case, Jeff should require that the young man enter the building under his own access, if he should, in fact, be in the building on a weekday evening.  This practice will serve to prevent theft and other crime or alternately provide the evidence, in the way of access records or video surveillance, necessary to investigate any crime that is committed inside the building.

Case #3:  Protect the environment.

Mary is a research nurse who transports lab specimens from the clinic to the lab for testing.  One day, on her way back to the lab with a black bag filled with specimens, she runs into Kate, her co-worker.  Kate tells Mary that she is planning to order a sandwich from the nearby deli and asks Mary to come with her.  Mary has not had a chance to grab lunch yet and considers Kate’s offer.

What is the best course of action for Mary?

  1. Knowing that the specimens are hidden in the non-descript black bag, quickly run into the deli with Kate to grab a sandwich and take it back to the lab to eat.
  2. Decline Kate’s offer to go together, but ask Kate to bring back something for her to eat in the break room.
  3. Place the black bag near the entrance of the deli so as not to bring it near the counter or other customers and quickly order a sandwich to go.

B.  Not only is the security of lab specimens or other biohazard materials a safety issue for employees and patients, it is also a matter of quality.  In this instance, Mary should follow protocol, which would state that the specimens should be transported directly from the clinic to the lab.  A lunch stop is not an acceptable detour, and Mary may unknowingly expose the deli’s customers to danger or contaminate the research participants’ specimens by having the bag in the restaurant.

Case #4:  Protect the environment.

Will works in UAB maintenance, primarily in a mixed-use building that houses offices, classrooms, and labs.  One day while working to fix a leak in a sink in one of the labs, he notices a bright red biohazard bag in the regular trash can.  There is no one in the lab to ask, but Will is pretty confident that biohazard bags are supposed to be disposed in some manner other than regular trash. 

What should Will do?

  1. Speak to the person who submitted the work order on the sink about what he found.
  2. Make an anonymous call to the UAB Ethics Matters Hotline.
  3. Pick the red bag out of the trash himself and place it in on the floor next to the can so that someone else sees it.
  4. Mind his own business with the leaky sink.

A.  When a UAB community member spots a safety issue, he or she is required to bring the issue to the attention of an individual in a position to help resolve it.  In his position, Will may not know who is responsible for the lab in which he is working, but he must take action to protect the environment and promote personal safety.  The most efficient and fastest way to address the safety issue that the biohazard bag poses is to speak with his contact from the department.  That person should be able to track down the PI or someone else working in the lab who can best handle the disposal of the material and determine how the safety breach happened in the first place.  The biohazard bag may not be caught in time before it is picked up by housekeeping if Will makes an anonymous call to the UAB Ethics Matters Hotline.  In addition, Will should not put himself at risk of exposure by plucking the biohazard bag out of the trash himself.  Finally, by contacting the person who submitted the work order, it is more likely a supervisor will become aware of the problem and can provide education so future problems may be avoided. If Will moves the red bag himself, no one learns from the situation and it could be repeated. Once he has knowledge of the safety issue, he should follow through until he is comfortable that the immediate risks have been addressed.