So I’m at my bench today, preparing to apply an electric field to a gel-membrane sandwich with high hopes that the proteins in said gel will nestle into a nook within a nitrocellulose membrane, when I’m approached by what can only be described as the “safety gestapo”:
“Excuse me, I see you are going with the sunglasses look with the safety specs on your head, why aren’t you wearing them?”
I glance at my arm to make sure I’m not wearing a yellow star of David and reply: “Because I’m not working with anything dangerous that requires them”.
Feigning interest one fellow asks: “Oh, is that so…so what is it that you are working with?”
Suppressing an eye roll: “I’m doing a Western blot, so SDS, Tris, some lysate….listen, if I’m going to be pH’ing or working with something dangerous, I’ll put on my specs, otherwise I find them uncomfortable and unnecessary” as I point to the normal glasses I’m already wearing, indicating that the standard issue specs that go over them are difficult to see through and exceedingly bulky.
In response: “Hmmm, well you know that the University will purchase you a pair of prescription safety specs that you could wear. I also found this to be quite useful for me in those instances that I forgot my glasses, it was nice to have an extra pair around” and then he smugly adds “that is before I got laser eye surgery and could wear these specs”.
“Well” I sigh “I pay a lot of money for the glasses I currently have, and extra to get high index lenses, anti-reflection coating and a non-scratch coating so that they are comfortable to wear throughout the day. When you work 10-12 hours in the lab the last thing you want to be concerned with is the comfort of your eye wear”
“I see” the fellow responds, then another guy picks up a squirt bottle on my bench and waves it menacingly in front of me and say “but what about this spray bottle of 70% ethanol, that’s quite dangerous, you wouldn’t want to get that in your eyes”
Starting to get a bit annoyed with what is apparently the second coming of the Spanish Inquisition that seems to be unfolding, I sardonically state “Yes, well, you can get something just as potent down at the pub, should I wear safety specs next time I head to the pub too? There would probably be drunk people there so it would be more dangerous” then, sensing a potential advantage I add: “You know you cannot prevent every accident that could happen, are you going to require me to be wrapped in bubble wrap for my walk to the train when I leave too?”
Apparently having prepared for such a response, the fellow adds: “well, to us, just one accident is one accident too many”
To which I respond: “well I’ve been working in labs for 7-8 years now, and I haven’t heard of anyone squirting something overly dangerous in their eyes. If you know what you’re working with and know what you’re doing, then you put them on when necessary. Otherwise, there is really no point”
Then we continue on going back and forth about how the danger isn’t necessarily what I’m doing, but what others might be doing, to which I respond that others are doing experiments that use many of the same reagents that I typically use. I ask them to take note of the fume hood, place to pH, we’re all good! So wtf?!
Then one of the chaps decides to take a different tack: “Well, you postdocs set an example for the undergraduates and post-graduate students. I asked one of them why they weren’t wearing safety specs and they replied that it was because no one else around them was”*
Now this is when I had to be careful and not let my “Americanism” get a hold of me, as these guys were really pissing me off. When this happens, sometimes I have intolerant thoughts; Despite my patience being pushed to its limit I only let my libertarian side out a bit and reply “well there’s something to be said for personal responsibility. One should take responsibility for one’s own personal safety and have some basic knowledge about what what they are working with and how dangerous it might be”.
So we continued the 3 v 1 a little on this and some other points for about THIRTY FUCKING MINUTES at which time I finally say: “listen, maybe you guys need to go talk to someone else about this and have a discussion with them, I’ve got work to do” as I stare longingly at my gels as they cry for my attention, and I look at the clock and think ‘Fuck, now I’m never going to catch the train in time to eat dinner with the wife tonight’
The gestapo continued raising hell throughout the lab, harassing Jew and gentile alike about their proclivity towards wearing safety specs…once they left I tore off my lab coat (they make us wear those all the time too) and yelled “give me liberty or give me death!” and spent the rest of the afternoon rebelling against unjust tyranny…
*In retrospect, this was actually a pretty decent point. Nonetheless…
**I’m actually not this overly antagonistic towards the British. But I would be lying if I said that these sorts of thoughts don’t float through my head every once in awhile; more so when I’m frustrated with cultural differences.