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Safety Division

Safety in Research Work

Staff involved in modern biochemical and medical research have to deal with a broad spectrum of chemical, biological, infectious, and radioactive substances. In the laboratories high technology devices and automation systems are employed. And today the methods of genetic engineering have largely replaced classical laboratory techniques. This demands corresponding safety measures, which must be continually adjusted to new developments in order to protect the workers from exposure.

For the realization of the necessary protective measures, safety engineers and medical officers were hired, as required by the law on safety at work, together with officers responsible for radiation protection and biological safety, in accordance with the respective regulations on radiation protection and genetic engineering. All these persons have well-defined functions in their particular areas. They advise the scientists and the Management Board on questions of safety. The control measures stipulated by the various safety laws provide a means of ensuring that the relevant safety rules are properly observed. One such control measure is the regular performance of safety audits. These are inspections of the work place which, through a combined effort of all parties, allow an effective identification of shortcomings.

Partly as a result of the harmonization of laws within the European Union, the rule book (incorporating laws, ordinances, accident-prevention regulations, guidelines, norms, etc.) is becoming ever longer and more complex. An important response has been the construction of an internal set of guidelines.

These help the laboratory staff to deal with safety questions, and also serve to complete the range of measures relating to protection at work. A large number of implementation instructions - both for dangerous substances and for procedures - is needed, as is evident when one remembers that several thousand different chemicals and reagents may be employed in a typical research institute. The availability of databases providing the staff with rapid access to information about safety parameters is to be recommended.

Depending on the particular field and the scale of the research, it may be necessary to take on additional officers. The law on waste materials specifies that every scientific institute should have an officer responsible for waste management. He or she has both advisory and control functions and, in particular, provides for the department specializing in waste disposal. The internal waste guidelines drawn up at the German Cancer Research Center, which contain a listing of the individual types of waste, have proven to be very valuable. Special officers responsible for the protection of water resources or those stipulated by the federal law on emissions are only necessary when the corresponding plants or installations are present. Effluent and emission control are normally taken care of by the usual safety staff.

In order to avoid putting pregnant women at risk in the research environment, an eraly and comprehensive counseling is necessary, together with an inspector of the working place. The handling of dangerous substances can usually be reduced to an acceptable level by transfering the woman concerned to a less hazardous work place.

The honorary safety officers of the departments play a joint advisory role as members of the committee for safety at work. This committee meets several times a year. Any safety problems that have arisen are discussed here and measures are adopted for solving them. According to its size, an institution may be well advised to maintain its own volunteer fire-fighting service. This is the case at the German Cancer Research Center. This ancillary force is called upon in the case of accidents and emergencies which the laboratory personnel cannot deal with alone, for example, incidents requiring breathing apparatus. These fire-fighters should stay in close contact with the professional fire-brigade.

An essential activity facilitating information exchange and mutual aid is participation on external boards and committees, for example, those of the Association of National Research Centers (AGF), the insurance associations, the Association of German Safety Engineers (VDSI), and international organizations.

Of course all the safety specialists, medical and other officers interact closely among themselves and with the Staff Council. This is the only way to ensure that staff are protected from danger and exposure. The low numbers of accidents and work-related illnesses at the German Cancer Research Center confirm the effectiveness of the efforts made.


Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum
Stabsstelle Sicherheit / Z060
Im Neuenheimer Feld 280
D-69120 Heidelberg

Phone +49 (0)6221 42-2866
Fax +49 (0)6221 42-2882

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