Monday, August 17, 2009

Things to be thankful for

Eli has been at conferences. At the next to last one he met an old friend who had recently retired from teaching, but is staying on for research. In his words "The day after I retired, I sat quietly in my office and gave thanks that none of my students or associates had ever been seriously hurt in my lab."

Female Science Professor comments on an assault in a lab that took place at night. It is dangerous to work in a locked lab alone because no one can see if you are lying on the floor gasping for breath, bleeding out or high as a kite on various organic molecules, and even if they could, they would have trouble getting in. This exposes you to assault and battery and worse. Locked buildings are no panacea either as the comments show. Someone mentioned that every lab should have a panic button, but the problem with alarms and panic buttons is that many times no one responds to the alarm. Respect for campus security is not high.

One place where this issue is no issue is government weapons labs. They log you in and out. You HAVE to log in if you are there late. If you don't you are liable to meet the local SWAT team. If you do, they check on you every hour or so. There is no chance that anyone will get in late at night without showing up on a sniperscope.

Most departments discuss this issue in the famous make sure that no one is recording what we say room. It is a real worry. Something like a panic button that really worked would be a great idea. And then Eli remembered that Mom Rabett, when she was living at home had an emergency response system, a panic button that she wore around her neck (when she remembered, Mom was a very active bunny with a lot to do), and which, when pushed would bring a response from the monitoring system operator.

Here is an example

We all could use something like this when working alone in a lab and you only would need one or two for a group since if many people are working late they can cover for each other. They only cost about $30 a month. When activated, the service listens to what is happening and calls the police/fire/ambulance/pizza as needed



John Mashey said...

Uhh, this is slightly Luddite.
Many of us carry smartphones that:
a) have a pretty good idea where we are.
b) Can run apps, like:

Panic Button. I haven't tried this,but it seems like the right sort of idea. In particular, if it's not quite right, it doesn't seem that hard to do, including saying:

a) I am at location X.
b) Call Y if panic.
c) Tweet!

Anonymous said...

Most of the issues of working alone are by no means peculiar to science or labs.

Lab accidents are, and some kind of monitoring, especially for chemistry, seems appropriate. I vividly remember a chemistry student fatally burning himself in the next corridor while I was a student.


guthrie said...

I am sure I have seen adverts in health and safety catalogues or lab supply catalogues for single worker alarms, including more complex ones which go off when you are horizontal instead of vertical. That is, in the last 7 or 8 years.

(Yes, I sometimes read catalogues at lunch break, they are full of interesting stuff)

EliRabett said...

John and Guthrie, the point is not the alarm, but the support system behind it.

SCM said...

We have man-down alarms at our lab. people working late pick one up from reception. you can set it to various levels of 'man down' responsiveness:
duress button only, response if lying horizontal (it is normally clipped vertically to the belt) or response if stationary for longer than a certain time period (it gives a warning beep for a few seconds before it notifies security so you have a chance to cancel the alarm.

John Mashey said...

re: support system, yes of course [just as iTunes is more important than any given Apple device), but I suggest that one usually does better by using:

a) A general-purpose device
b) That can be made to do many things, and communicate with many different folks

In place of more special-purpose combinations, as long as the former can be made to do what's needed.

Given that one has a personal device that can make cellphone calls, communicate across various networks, and can be programmed, one really ought to first try to see if adequate solutions can be programmed to fit different support structures.

EliRabett said...

Hi John,

As a former department safety officer, I think I disagree with you. What I want is a single large button device that you can slap when the fan is distributing crap in your direction, not something that you have to pull out of your pocket, think about which button to push, etc.


One of the differences between industry and universities, is that the security at universities is not as responsive as you would think they should be, and if the time of the emergency is during one of their inattentive moments....ooop.

Another issue is the type of system you describe requires wiring the entire facility (yes, I know some do operate over ethernet/wireless/etc. Grandma only has to link her system to the telephone.

Hank Roberts said...

Do the "Lifeline" devices include a position sensor nowadays? The one my mother used was just a locket with a button -- push to make the box attached to the telephone dial the emergency number, if you couldn't get to the phone to call for help.

And they'd call if she didn't reset the gadget every 24 hours as well -- first they'd call neighbors on a list, then the volunteer fire department (small town).

A position sensor ("old lady down") would be a great improvement on that.

The 'beep, push the button if you don't need help' is a good idea for the elderly every 24 hours or so. Not so good if a researcher has her hands full at the moment, but if it were adjustable it'd make sense.

John Mashey said...

Voice COntrol.
[IOcne upon a time, I managed work on a voice recognition system.]

This isn't quite there, but it is clearly feasible to the point where the only action needed should be yelling "Help!"

Again, I claim that one needs to think forward, and the potnetial of the personal device class is really quite strong, even with the relatively early ones out there.

sidd said...

I do not know the situation today, but safety standards in physix research labs used to be quite lax two or three decades ago.

to wit, the last few paras of:

Anonymous said...

Eli, it might cost you a few billion but have you considered a direct link to Erik Prince?

Chuck said...

My undergrad school in the US had an informal system where all the females who worked late brought their big dogs in with them.

My most recent institution had swipe card access and a strict "no HF after hours" policy.