Scut Work and Safety Roles in the Lab: Safety Journal Club, 9/8/2020

Topic/Paper: Scut Work and
Safety Roles in the Lab

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The Science of Safety Journal Club met on 9/8/2020 to discuss the paper presented by Ralph Stuart called “To Hive or to Hold? Producing Professional Authority through Scut Work” which came out in the journal Administrative Science Quarterly in 2015.

Presenter: Ralph Stuart

After Ralph Stuart’s presentation (see .pdf), the participants were broken into 2 groups of 7 participants each to discuss.

Group Discussion (Breakout Room 1)

·       EH&S – How can you separate work in this manner, hard to imagine that you would not do all four activities in order to offer good customer service, hard to distinguish between each lab research group

·       Grad school – students more “dirty work” vs PIs

·       Some can be a “main hub” for what work is/can be done

·       EH&S groups struggle when they take a regulatory approach when they take a hands on and cooperative approach

·       Two ways in scut work issue (from HES view):

o   Here is what the reg says and here is what you need to get it done.

o   Hey folks, we have to solve a problem. Here are my ideas, what are your ideas and how can we work together to get it done?

§  Second approach would be more productive.

·       Huising paper: Good in theory, but not in reality.

o   As a lab manager, you want do and be able to do a lot of the work; valuable actions are completing tasks (scut could be task based)

o   Labels useful for academic discussion, useless when it comes to getting practical things done

Group Discussion (Breakout Room 2)

·       The conclusion of the paper is not at all surprising. One of the problems I’ve seen is that there isn’t enough interface between graduate researchers (the frontline) and safety professionals at my institution. The safety professionals don’t really know what is going on our labs – and we don’t know enough about what the safety professionals do or can offer to even know what to ask. LSTs can work to bring these 2 populations together to interface more to bridge this gap.

·       Game of spotting things that were wrong with a hood set-up incorporated into a safety training by an LST: researchers have difficulties finding at least 10 things wrong (in context where a lot of things were wrong and it shouldn’t have been hard), also safety professionals were able to see, live, how researchers see and think about these problems; the safety professional expressed surprise at the conversations they were eavesdropping on – saw a lot of utility in learning this.

·       I’ve had experience as a lab technician then on the other side as a lab safety professional and I have seen some of the same issues.

·       I’m at an undergrad institution, so the mix of issues is a little different. We have no overarching EHS department. The further you go up the chain of command, the less knowledgeable/useful people are in terms of laboratory safety.

·       During my time as EHS, I would walk the hallways and read posters from the “hazmat” perspective to gain an idea of what safety challenges could be encountered in these labs. I would try to knock on doors and talk to people in labs, but I often found labs empty or with just one person who only knew about their own work.

·       Cultural differences between researchers and staff—constant recurring problem. Regular business working hours. If they walk into lab and try to find people, maybe they will maybe they won’t—TAing responsibilities and a lot of other things happening during those hours for grad students. Most work gets done during non-business hours. That is perhaps the time to cross paths with them. Non-overlapping schedules is a challenge when looking for more creative ways for getting engagement between safety professionals and researchers.

·       In the 1980s/1990s, career lab technicians used to exist in large research-intensive departments. These people were around for ~20 years and had historical knowledge and were often responsible for lab safety. These positions seem to have disappeared over the years with budget cuts after the 2008 crash, leaving no “long-term” people housed in the research labs.

·       Bio oriented departments typically have lab staff, chemistry don’t. Arguments exist that if chem labs had lab staff, safety would be better—interesting to consider that these positions used to exist, but no longer do.

·       Trying to drag a grad student group into training (grad students time and attention limited—unreasonable to consider teaching, researching, and having life at same time) is different than trying to drag other professionals who expect training

Groups came back together

·       Two spheres, but they may not know what each other is doing or not many meaningful interactions; do not know what the other does.

·       EHS versus researchers

·       Perception of safety people as compliance rather than as someone who can assist in research

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