Friday 8 February 2013

Mistakes are made

I had the first of three Probation Meetings with my HoD yesterday afternoon: a recently implemented formality put upon the workers at the coal-face by HR.We rapidly established that I was contributing to the process of education and getting appropriate, if rather informal, support from my colleagues and I was given the chance to raise any concerns.  I mentioned finding it odd that, however frenetic the start-of-term mill, I hadn't formally been briefed in health and safety.  I was told what measures were in place already and it was clear that I was not in sole charge of a dozen or more apprentices in the trade of science.  So I was somewhat relieved of my anxieties.

In the morning I had a word with the Chief Technician and made an appointment for getting up to speed on accidents, laboratory, recovery from.  Then I went into my 9am 3rd Year biochemistry class where we were tasked to measure protein content in malted barley using the venerable Kjeldahl technique. As this was developed in 1883 by Johan Kjeldahl while working for the Carlsberg brewery, measuring protein in Irish malt 130 years later was almost commemorative. The process involves boiling up the sample in concentrated sulphuric acid until it releases all the nitrogen as ammonia.  So we're motoring along grinding and measuring when I notice that one of my students has managed to immerse her fore-arm in a puddle of conc. H2SO4 and is quietly hosing it down in one of the sinks. It wasn't pretty: with (acid) burns if you can feel it, it's usually too late to avoid damage. Thanks to my briefing a few minutes earlier, I knew who to call and what should happen next. And it was so.  You can legislate and regulate for avoiding that accident in future, but science labs tend to be awash with unknown unknowns, so I'll be especially solicitous of my 1st Year (absolute beginners) Chemists when I meet them next Thursday.

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