The Safety Engineer's Reply Will Make You Wonder.


The Cytology staff inspects the new stainer.

“Dr. Raff, the new stainer won’t turn on.”

“That’s strange, the electrical safety engineer said it was fine yesterday…”

Our lab has been in business for almost 12 years now. We use lots of automated analyzers, stainers, cover-slippers. They are subjected to daily use, so plenty of wear and tear. We purchase some of them used from a handful of vendors that specialize in refurbished laboratory equipment. And being of a fairly small size, we don’t have much back-up. A particular machine better run or the serviceman better get here quickly. We keep up a good relationship with the service companies, we don’t want their technicians feeling like lonely Maytag repairmen (or women.)

We also want to keep a safe work environment and meet our credentialing requirements, so we hire an electrical safety engineer to check all our equipment each year. The rule is simple; if it has a plug, it gets inspected. He tests each piece for leakage and shorting and any other electric hazard and slaps an “Inspected” sticker on it. And any new piece of equipment we bring into the lab gets a safety check before it gets put into service. We don’t want anyone shocked when they flip the “On” switch for the first time.

Last week we took delivery of two pieces of equipment, a new incubator for our ever-increasing number of bacteriology cultures (shipped with the wrong power cord,) and a gently used stainer for our Cytology Department, replacing a workhorse stainer whose microswitches were failing and unreplaceable. The new incubator looks sharp and it only took a handful of emails and phone calls to get the correct power cord from the manufacturer. And the replacement stainer is more environmentally and worker safety friendly than its predecessor, so that’s a win-win situation.

I called Bill, our electrical safety engineer, to let him know about the new instruments and he came yesterday afternoon when the lab was quiet for the safety check. Bill was here for a half hour and then stopped by my office to drop of his worksheet and let me know our equipment passed the safety check; we were ready to rock.

So imagine my surprise this morning when the staff couldn’t get the stainer to turn on! We read the quick start manual, flipped the switches, checked the circuit breakers, but nothing happened. No lights flashing, no whirring engines.

Once again, I called Bill. “Our stainer won’t turn on, but you had it working yesterday, right?” “Well,” he said “it passed its safety check, but when I turned the power on nothing happened. You seemed busy, so I didn’t mention it to you. I guess I should have.”

Um, yeah! Not telling me the equipment you just checked is “safe” but won’t actually operate is sort of like a pilot announcing halfway to Europe “We don’t really have enough fuel to cross the Atlantic, but you all seemed to be in a hurry so I took off without refueling. Please prepare for an emergency water landing.”

Our great lab staff did the troubleshooting and solved the problem, but from now on, no service person leaves the front door without answering one basic question. “Does it work???”

For those of you asking after the blog earlier this week, the new car is an Audi A6. So far, it purrs.

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