Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Job Hazards

At a recent medical check-up, I was asked if my job or hobbies involve any 'hazards'. I said no, though of course my job involves hazards (and I don't just mean from crazy colleagues, students, and random people). These hazards, such as they are, didn't seem relevant to mention specifically. My profession is listed in my medical record, and that seems like the essential information.

Some of my colleagues who deal with very scary materials have notified their doctors so that appropriate steps can be taken in the event of an accident, but my days of working with the scary stuff are long over. There are some other unusual potential hazards involved with my research, but I couldn't see any reason to mention them.

My department is very good about making sure we keep our health and safety training up to date, though mostly this involves watching videos that are so bizarre that I'm never sure if the people who made them were serious.

Perhaps one of the biggest hazards of my work is related to frequent travel, but that's not a medical issue (unless one's doctor is a terrorist? - sorry, bad joke, I know, but I was in certain UK airports earlier this month and that was not fun).

At my check-up, I was also asked if I am ever harassed or 'made uncomfortable' by people in my work place because of my gender. It's good that doctors and nurses ask these questions so that serious situations can possibly be dealt with or averted, but again, I didn't see any point in answering yes. I suppose the most accurate answer would be "Now and then, but no more than most women in my job deal with routinely".


Am I a woman scientist? said...

I have to ask... was one of those "bizarre" films about 1980's era with a guy explaining the explosive nature of many common laboratory chemicals, with each demonstration becoming more violently explosive? The last scene involves a labcoat-clad mannequin in a lab... the camera pans back slowly until you see that the "lab" is a movie set with three fake walls in a heavily-padded room. Then the stuff explodes (I'm not a chemist so I don't remember what it was... something like nitroglyceride I would guess) and it takes out the entire set. The film was very A-Team-esque. I had to watch it as part of the US Government's health and safety program for it's research labs. Your tax dollars at work....

Female Science Professor said...

I love that explosion one. I can't watch it enough times -- it just keeps getting better with each viewing.

Have you seen the one with the man who keeps a photo of his beloved in his locker? We never actually meet her, but can tell from how he interacts with the photo whether things are going well in his relationship.. or not. When things are not good, his distraction results in mistakes in the lab and very bad things happen involving dangerous materials.

Anonymous said...

Ooh, those videos sound like a blast! (eh, bad pun...)

At my lab (microbiology / genetics) we use quite a lot of ugly chemicals that are teratogenic, but normally in very small quantities, so we're not supposed to be in much danger. However we do make a big deal out of even small things because otherwise some of the undergrad trainees (and even some of the grads) tend to get careless.

Same thing for the bacterial strains we work with ; some are harmless and most would at worst make you spend a night on the toilet, but we do have a few that killed kids in food poisoning cases. They're virtually indistinguishable from the harmless ones, so we just treat them all as potential hazards by default.

I always try to cultivate a healthy respect of these various hazards with my students. We don't get any formal health & safety training (no bizarre videos...) apart from optional fire drill exercises. And I must confess I'm divided on the idea... on one hand I think my reaction to instructional videos would be "duh, I know all this, what a waste of my time" but then again, maybe they could be useful if well made.

Anonymous said...

"No more than most women in my job deal with routinely".

A sad but true statement.

I like the one that deals with Picric Acid. Who do you know that still uses picric acid? And why does every chemical safety video use that as an example? I know post doc's who don't even know what it is.

Jay said...

>>Have you seen the one with the man who keeps a photo of his beloved in his locker? We never actually meet her, but can tell from how he interacts with the photo whether things are going well in his relationship.. or not. When things are not good, his distraction results in mistakes in the lab and very bad things happen involving dangerous materials.<<

Because EVERYTHING can be blamed on women. Even women who never appear onstage.

Anonymous said...

Our most memorable safety video involves showing injuries to folks who actually worked in our center, so it's not very funny.

But, my most amusing movie is the one where they show a workman walking into a room with a MRI. The hammer slips out of his toolbelt and goes flying into the MRI bore, embedding itself in the opposite wall. Then, they show the workman running to the hammer and trying to pull it out. It's hilarious, but of course, everyone who sees it is dying to drop a hammer into the bore themselves :-).


Anonymous said...

If you travel a lot you can get a permanent jetlag. I know a few professors who suffer from this condition. They always fall asleep during seminars...

Anonymous said...

As a primary care physician, I am feeling totally behind the times. I know what most of my patients do for work and usually what they do for fun, but I am not sure I've ever asked anyone if their work involved specific hazards. I'm not sure what I would do with the info. "Gosh, Mr. Jones, thank you for telling me that your job as a race car driver involves the specific hazard of crashes. Be sure to wear your seatbelt." It's one of those things that the patient knows way more about than I do. It seems almost patronizing, as though I were asking if they've thought about what they do and why.

Sometimes if some one tells me something dissonant such as "I want to stop drinking; I work in a bar," I will point out to them the hazard of their work place, but I think most people know what hazards their work involves and have weighed the pros and cons of it.

Whadd'ya think? Is "are there specific hazards involving your work?" a sensible question for a doctor to be spending time on? I never get more than an hour, usually thirty minutes and often just once/year.

Anonymous said...

Re the "unless your doctor is a terrorist"

I've read that it's a sign of health and resilience to begin to be able to make bad jokes about something. The level of the shock and tragedy is indicated by the length of time for jokes to surface.

For example, I think it took a couple of weeks before I heard my first Diana joke after she died in the tunnel. I haven't had any jokes circulated about the 7/7 bombings in London (where it took days and days to get to the last bodies trapped in the Picadilly line).

Being able to find some dark humour helps us survive I think. The fact that the bombings were bumbled by the doctors in question makes humour easier, sooner.

That said, those involved will typically turn to humour quickly in the event (e.g. "at least I've got a good excuse to miss work today!").

Again, the more serious the event, the less humour.

So, as a Londoner-at-large, who visited the nightclub near the bombed car, and travelled up and down the potentially (and actually) streets and tube lines frequently, I am not in the least offended by the joke.

If I was a doctor I might feel a twinge - like I do at all the general lawyer jokes!

Am I a woman scientist? said...

No, I have not seen the photo in the locker one. All the other ones I've seen have been totally forgettable and not at all relevant to the hazards I routinely face in my field. I do remember the one scene all the films seemed to have, about not shooting the fire extinguisher at the base of a flaming beaker. None addressed the chronic problem my college roommate had (chemistry major, natch)... remove the stopper on the flask before heating it. I hear she's a photographer now....

Anonymous said...

there are still many cases where scientists still are blase or don't take hazards seriously...that Dartmouth professor who died from mercury poisoning for example...I think the best thing that my institution does is circulate a "lessons learned" flyer every once in a while which is along the lines of bj's comment about safety videos which show actual injuries from their department.

I think it's perfectly appropriate for a PCP to ask about specific hazards--a chemistry professor's most hazardous exposure might be to lasers rather than chemicals for example.

The greatest hazard is actually when institutional safety training is obviously more about compliance and liability than actual safety. That creates an atmosphere where researchers will skirt the rules just to get work done--and that's when accidents happen!

Anonymous said...

"No more than most women in my job deal with routinely."

Okay, so why not say that to the doctor? Or just simply say, "yes"? Why say no, when in fact it's not true? I know you weren't wanting the doctor to do some kind of intervention on your behalf but if doctors and nurses are trying to collect data on the prevelance of harassment and discrimination, then you've just helped skew the data set.

Why so readily accept as given the "routine" harassment and discrimination, so much that it isn't even worth a mention when someone asks you a direct question about it? That is a really graphic illustration of the power of the patriarchy, that it can lead you to think of such behavior as so routine it isn't worth mentioning. That it doesn't rise to the level of something worth reporting to someone who is asking about harassment and discrimination at work. What would they have to do to you, to make it worth saying yes?

I love your blog, FSP, but I think you missed this call.