Monthly Archives: December 2017

2018 Lab Safety Goal: Recognize Lab Noise as Serious Risk

RiskWe recently shared a disturbing report about the major gap between organizational culture and lab safety realities. We’ve all seen instances where company culture doesn’t exactly promote an environment where safety protocols can realistically be followed.

Petrotechnics surveyed over 200 senior leaders in the hydrocarbon industry and found that they held grave concerns over the lack of safety follow-through in their organizations. While company literature said all the right things about making safety a priority, the organizational procedures and practices did not hold up their end of the bargain when it came to following through on those priorities.

Most worrisome was the finding that the corporate culture in the majority of these organizations was actually resistant to implementation of process safety and risk management (PSM) procedures. This resistance is not necessarily rooted in carelessness or even maliciousness—rather, it is rooted in the natural tendency for corporations to drive productivity.

Let’s take this insight one step further and focus on a key concern of ours: lab noise reduction.

The Case for Lab Noise Reduction

A noisy lab is not just a threat to the ears of those who work there—though that is well-proven and certainly a necessary priority—it also linked with a range of diverse health issues. These include an increase in stress (with all its symptoms, including lack of sleep, short-temperedness, and an inability to concentrate, all of which can impact the interpretation of results in a critical lab procedure), coronary disease, hypertension and even our brain’s ability to process information correctly (again potentially leading to faulty test reporting).

Lab noise can interfere with critical communications, making it a safety hazard in a much different way. A noisy work environment makes verbal communications very difficult. And when lab personnel are dealing with potentially hazardous materials, there is very little room for error. What if a lab tech was to mishear instructions for handling a certain compound because the noise level in the lab was too high? This mishap could result in cross contamination, chemical burns, or even fires or explosions.

Integrating Lab Noise Reduction into Your Organizational Culture

We believe that lab noise reduction is a key ingredient in the lab safety recipe. Too many people, at all levels of an organization, can take their hearing and health for granted, choosing instead to focus on preventing the more spectacular lab accidents that make the news.

Noise doesn’t seem like an immediate threat or a potential major hazard—its impact is, however, insidious and lasting.

It’s why we’ve integrated lab noise reduction into our IonBench MS, which isolates up to three vacuum pumps in specially designed chambers of our custom designed lab furniture. With a lab noise reduction of over 75%, this dedicated lab furniture will minimize lab safety issues and facilitate efficient and accurate results by allowing everyone in the lab to hear each other, communicate clearly, and focus on research rather than PSM.

The more aware lab managers are to seemingly nonthreatening safety issues, the better the overall productivity of a lab and well-being of everyone there. We encourage you, and your team to embrace an integrated organizational culture that pays heed to even seemingly benign risks like lab noise. A well-thought-out lab noise reduction strategy can be a key element in effective lab safety culture. To learn more about how we can help, contact us today.

PSM Study Reveals Concerning Lack of Lab Safety Culture

Lab WorkersWe recently came across an unsettling report that bears sharing. The source is a Petrotechnics survey conducted in the summer of 2017 on process safety and risk management (PSM). Over 200 senior hydrocarbon-industry leaders with responsibility for process safety, asset integrity and operational risk management, responded with a frank assessment of the safety culture—or lack thereof—within their organizations.

While these insights are taken specifically from the chemical processing industry, we think the significant findings could help remind us all of the importance of supporting lab safety.

Aligning Goals with Plans and Procedures

Much of what concerned us with this report was a significant gap between goals stated in various companies’ literature and the presence of actual plans and procedures that would fulfill those goals in their practices.

While almost all companies had goals related to risk reduction and supporting safety performance, 61% of those surveyed believe their organizations do not have sufficient safety indicators or safety performance measurements. There was also concern expressed by 54% of respondents that PSM is not incorporated into programs and strategies for operational excellence. Specifically, those respondents felt that there was a lack of operative, real-time solutions designed to monitor and manage divergences from expectations or performance standards.

Furthermore, the greatest source of resistance to PSM implementation listed was organizational culture, with an overwhelming 86% listing this as an issue. Fully three quarters of respondents listed maintenance and internal procedures as other hindrances to a fully functioning PSM environment.

Speaking the Truth about PSM Issues

The anonymously conducted survey allowed respondents to freely express their opinions. Several anonymous responses indicated that companies often value productivity over safety.

Specific quotes are telling:

“Process safety is specialized knowledge, not typically understood by operations and maintenance, leading to implementation gaps.”

 “Production takes priority over safety, which often leads to shortcuts and safety incidents, despite corporate safety policies.”

 “Corporate lip service to PSM policies that are not backed up with effective and efficient planned preventative maintenance.”

Particularly significant was that only 6% of respondents indicated that critical safety maintenance was up to date. Yikes.

Making Lab Safety a Priority at All Levels

This study hits close to home. We’ve all seen it before: People lose sight of the importance of planned safety procedures that are regularly tested and implemented. They instead focus on the end result, forgetting the importance of working within lab safety parameters.

As labs are renovated or expanded, project goals evolve, and managers can easily forget the importance of purchasing equipment and lab furniture that will reduce safety risks. Attention that should be paid to the enhancement of lab safety becomes focused elsewhere, and impactful practices and products are overlooked.

Stocking up on safety gear, maintaining a clean and organized space, minimizing noise to ensure clear communication, battling vibration to protect lab equipment—these details are still critical to lab safety.

Adopting a “safety first” mentality is integral and backed by the overwhelming consensus of those 86% responders who believe that an organization’s culture has the greatest impact on PSM. When you’re running a busy lab, and must meet budget and production quotas, it can be difficult to balance safety into the equation. We can help you get on your way to a lab that’s designed with safety in mind, just give us a call.

Breakthroughs Aided by Mass Spec Technology in 2017

Earth in SpaceWe’re often focused on the more nitty-gritty side of mass spec technology and lab safety—but every once in a while, we like to look back and see just how far and wide the impacts of mass spec technology is reaching. It’s astonishing the different ways society has benefitted from the work being done in labs like yours around the world.

As the year draws to a close, we want to highlight these (really neat) scientific breakthroughs.

Asteroid Metals Vanquish Cancer Cells

We begin with work that has its roots in space. Iridium is a metal that is rarely found on earth, but is commonly found in meteorites—perhaps including an asteroid that hit the Yucatan Peninsula 66 million years ago, sparking a series of events that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Today, researchers are wielding iridium with other extinctions in mind: cancer cells. By combining iridium with organic materials and activating the compound with red laser light, the compound transformed oxygen within cancer cells into singlet oxygen, which poisoned the cancer cells.

In the research, conducted by both Chinese and UK researchers, ultra-high-resolution mass spec technology was used to isolate the specific proteins being affected by the compound, and confirm that healthy cells were not adversely affected.

Making Testing as Easy as Breathing

Recent Swedish research has determined that fluids which line human airways can be effectively collected and analyzed through exhaled breath. In the past, analyzing exhaled particles has been difficult because the particle samples are so small. Instead, bodily fluids were collected through blood or urine samples, a much more invasive technique. In this study, liquid chromatography-mass spec technology was used to analyze collected samples. LC-MS was also employed to determine the effectiveness of different breathing patterns on the collection of samples. This research will likely impact a variety of fields that can analyze biomarkers. These include drug testing, the presence and spread of both lung and systemic diseases, and the analysis of various airborne contaminants.

Dating Early Advances in Human Agriculture

In addition to addressing modern challenges, mass spec technology is assisting researchers in understanding some of the earliest technological breakthroughs in human history. Researchers from Israel and Denmark have excavated and analyzed biological remains found at some of the earliest Natufian cultural sites in the Middle East. Natufians were early builders of permanent, rather than nomadic, homes and tended to edible plants. Using Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, or AMS, researchers were able to accurately date over twenty different samples of charred plant remains. AMS mass spec technology allows single atoms to be carbon-14 dated, which is accurate to within plus or minus 50 years. The richness of the cache of plant relics allowed researchers to choose short-lived plant parts—seeds and twigs—for carbon dating, thus making the results of this mass spec technology to be focused even more narrowly.

The impact of the AMS data is profound, because it suggests that permanent settlements and early agriculture arose almost simultaneously in different places around the Middle East. This means that there were multiple innovators in different settlements, coming to similar conclusions about the efficiency of setting up house in a single location.

Widespread Innovation

Clearly innovation is inherent in human nature. Innovators around the globe are making use of mass spec technology to transform both our understanding of our ancestors and our ability to analyze and manipulate the world around us. We are grateful to have a role to play in supporting lab safety and the lab equipment used in these and other studies, and look forward to seeing what researchers like you will innovate in 2018.