Newsletter - May 1998

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Volume 1, Issue 1 May 1998


User Surveys: Protect You and Your Neighbor

Radioactive material in your car, your home, or at church? A little humorous, unless it originates from your laboratory. This type of scenario has occurred at numerous major research institutions in the past several years. Recently, there have been several instances where proper surveys for radioactive material have averted major incidents at Purdue University.

Through the use of proper survey techniques, the impact of a spill or inadvertent contamination can be minimized. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulations mandate that licensees such as Purdue maintain control of radioactive material at all times. Allowing radioactive material to be tracked or carried outside laboratory areas constitutes a clear violation of that regulation. Surveys by researchers help to prevent this type of incident.

A proper survey has two components: timing and scope. The timing of surveys is important since contamination can be spread easily in a short period of time. The scope is important since failure to detect contamination on shoes or the floor could result in the contamination outside of laboratory areas. Here are some guidelines to remember:

  1. Survey bench areas prior to work. This assures you that your experiment is free from unwanted contamination. It also allows you to check your survey meter for proper operation.
  2. Survey immediately if you suspect a spill. If you find contamination, summon help but try to avoid spreading contamination by walking down the hall to a phone. Notify REM immediately if you find floor contamination.
  3. Survey at the completion of your experiment. Make sure you survey your hands and feet prior to leaving the lab.
  4. Survey at the end of the day. As you clean up from your experiment, systematically check areas that you did not survey during the experiment.
  5. Periodically, survey the entire lab to identify areas that are not routinely checked for contamination.
  6. Document surveys using a logbook.

Encourage other individuals to make surveys a part of the routine when using radioactive materials. Also remember that any spill on the floor or an incident that involves personal contamination should be reported to REM immediately. Regulations require that some incidents be reported to the State and NRC. Call Josh Walkowicz at 494-6367.

Ergonomics Purchases Become 50/50 Cost Share

Due to the popularity of REM's Ergonomics Program, a change in funding for equipment has been made. Starting July 1, 1998, purchases of ergonomic equipment will be a 50/50 cost share between the employee's department and REM. This change will help to stretch the University's investment in adjustable workstations. If you have questions or would like an ergonomic survey, please call Stephanie Rainey at 494-1430.

EPA UnFinesiversities

The Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA) recently fined Boston University $750,000 for non-compliance with hazardous waste management and other regulations. Additional tens of thousands of dollars were spent assessing and complying with regulations.

This is not the first incident of this type for higher education. Recently, Stanford, Yale, and others have felt the "wrath" of the EPA.

In an attempt to avoid a similar fate, researchers and others should take a hard look at some of their laboratory practices:

  • Have you had the training offered by REM on proper hazardous waste management?
  • Are you using REM's publication, Handling and Disposal of Chemicals, as your guide?
  • Are you using containers for hazardous waste that are in good condition, with caps closed when not in use?
  • Are you using and filling out REM's supplied hazardous waste labels?
  • If you utilize a "satellite" drum, are you documenting your weekly inspection of the condition of the drum on REM's supplied hazardous waste label?
  • Are you contacting us when containers are full?
  • Do you know what to do in the event of a spill or release of hazardous materials or wastes?

What's Going Down the Drain?

The REM staff has met with the West Lafayette Waste Water Treatment Plant (WLWWTP) staff to share concerns about Purdue's wastewater. REM initiated a study to characterize the wastewater, gathering samples at various locations throughout campus. These samples, over time, are giving REM staff baseline information about the types of levels of chemicals in the discharge that flows to the plant. Though low levels of several solvents have been detected, they have been below federal and state standards. The chemicals found in the discharge water were acetone, methylene chloride, chloroform, methyl ethyl ketone, toluene, xylene, and benzene. REM continues to work with the WLWWTP to monitor what's going down the drain. If you have waste chemicals in your lab or shop, please call REM at 46371 to obtain assistance in proper disposal.

Integrated Safety Plan - One Year Later

Last year, REM initiated the Integrated Safety Plan (ISP) to change the way we communicate and implement environmental health and safety issues throughout Purdue University. The desired outcomes were to:

    1. Reduce injury rates of Purdue employees through effective and timely communication and training.
    2. Improve campus-wide regulatory compliance.
    3. Assure a "system" is in place to handle any safety issue, not just the crisis.
    4. Bring safety into the Total Quality Management Culture at Purdue and ensure individual accountability.

After one year, a number of milestones have been reached. As a result, the ISP will be integrated into the University's way of doing business. Thus far, the executive safety policy was well received by academic safety chairs. The Hazards Oversight Committee is currently reviewing it.

Performance standards were developed for the University, safety self-audit checklists have been designed, and many departmental safety objectives have been established. In addition, a safety checklist for new equipment has been initiated to evaluate mechanical and physical hazards.

New and standing safety committees have become active. Committees in Physical Facilities, WADE Power Plant, and Building Services established annual safety goals. Safety audits have been initiated by the above as well as PUSH, Food Science, Civil, ChE, IPPH, and Chemistry.

Directors, Department Heads, and Deans have empowered people to implement reasonable solutions to unsafe conditions and safety is becoming a "way of doing business."

Although the ISP has already been in effect for a year, there is still much that needs to be done. With the help of all Purdue employees, we can achieve the goals that have been established. During the coming year, REM has identified four key steps to take:

  • Expand Pilot Programs to more departments.
  • Develop & implement a written indemnity policy for regulatory fines.
  • Start conducting audits for compliance with safety performance criteria.
  • Expand the administrative safety committee structure.

Your help is needed!

Help assure that safety issues are addressed regularly via safety committee or departmental meetings, and/or delegate responsibilities of self-audits to those closest to the work. Let REM know how we can help you!

"Successful people move on their own initiative, but they know where they are going before they start."

Napoleon Hill