During the course of this Bad Science thread I took the initiator to task for trotting out what I called “the tired old canard” about health and safety issues restricting science teaching. While there is no truth to the urban myths about the Health and Safety Executive banning all kinds of things, I sometimes wonder if the bureaucracy and over-interpretation of legislation is contributing to the view that science (and technology for that matter) are too much hassle.
This post has been prompted by reading the report by a consultant who recently blessed our department with his wisdom.
Amongst other things, he suggested that every laboratory should have a first aid kit in it. This has never been suggested as necessary on any first aid course I have attended, nor can I find any legal requirement. All of the qualified first-aiders in the school (including me) have a first aid box in their work-room and take it with them when they are called out.
The real fun, though, was when he checked our procedures for storing radioactive sources. While he concede that ther are in an approved storage cabinet he said that it was “too near” a flammables cabinet. There’s a brick wall between them. However, we are going to have to move it to another store-room and inform the fire brigade that we have done so.
It would appear that we also have to audit them every year. Make sure we still have them, that is. As it is, every time one is taken out, the fact must be recorded, including the date, the time of removal and the time it was returened to the store. I would have thought that this sufficed in ensuring that we do not lose any of them but it would appear not. Somebody must check that they are all where they should be. Now if he thinks we would lie about putting them back, presumably he also thinks we would lie about finding them in place. This implies we should pay for an independant auditor to check. I wonder if he has anyone in mind?
Then there’s the leakage tests. I have been doing such tests and recording the results in the same way ever since the legislation was introduced. My recording method has been approved by two inspectors qualified in radiological protection in that time but apparantly this is no longer good enough. A special form must be used. Apart from arranging the data in a slightly different way to the one I devised, I see no difference but there you go.
We have a jar of granite pieces. We are informed that this must have the trefoil warning symbol on it. I am aware that granite contains traces of uranium and thus is very slightly radioactive but we are talking about the material considered safe enough to be used to make kitchen work surfaces. In Aberdeen they build houses out of it. In New York, Grand Central Station is built out of it.
It seems to me that much of this is unwarranted nit-picking. If this sort of approach to H&S is common one can see why the urban myths are believed. This belief in turn allows bean-counters to get away with using “Health and Safety” as a smokescreen for budget cuts.