Controlling Laboratory Access

Dr. Isis has a post up this morning about a situation that occurred in her laboratory when student of hers that allowed presumptive members of her institutions IACUC around her laboratory without informing her (as the PI). Dr. Isis fear, in that particular post, is that anyone could enter her lab display some official looking title and get by looking everything over, and not be who they claim to be… I’m sure you can do the math.

I too have had a similar situation happen in my laboratory…. where an official looking person, who announced themselves to be a compliance official, waltzed into my lab and proceeded to rifle through refrigerators, freezers, chemicals etc,  and everything else after chatting briefly with someone who works in my lab. I was VERY upset about this particular incident- but my reaction didn’t have anything to do with animal rights per se- although it could have- it had more to do with basic lab safety in a laboratory where we work with human heath hazards.

Big mistakes made on both sides here:

1.  Despite knowing that I was the PI, said official never came directly to me and asked for access to my laboratory.  Said official was seemingly unaware that access to my laboratory (and indeed all laboratories in my department) is strictly controlled, and is this is the responsibility of the PI. Training for compliance officials should include the knowledge that you don’t just walk into someone’s lab without seeking the permission of the PI- those days are over.

2.  Employees in my laboratory know that access to my laboratory is strictly controlled by me, primarily because we possess human health hazards- some infectious some not. Yet when somebody flashed an official looking badge- they lost all idea that the appropriate thing to do would be to send the official looking person down to my office. Period. In our case, this is done because I control access to the lab- for the safety of everyone, the official looking person included. Yikes.

I can only teach those that work in my laboratory the right thing to do, I can’t control the other side of the equation (although I did make them aware that they won’t be entering my lab without seeing my direct permission again). So I’m firmly with Isis on this one- when in doubt… and there should be healthy scepticim about everyone you don’t recognize that attempts to enter the lab, regardless of official looking credentials… they should be denied access and sent directly to my office to seek my permission to enter the lab…


7 thoughts on “Controlling Laboratory Access

  1. I understand the desire to regulate entry to the lab, but how strictly do you adhere to your rules? Do employees ask if friends or a spouse or child can visit? Can/should you really control what and when neighboring grad students enter your lab?

    It always seems that these “rules” are only “rules” when they’re reported to some compliance/oversight body, but they’re seldom ever followed or enforced… and I’m not sure they always should be.

  2. Matthew- I don’t allow kids in the lab. Too many hazards, and kids touch everything. I’m quite strict about that. Adult friends rarely come by- I don’t know why that hasn’t been a problem, but it hasn’t. Use of common equipment in the lab- this occurs when we are around and they are people that we know and we look out for their safety. They are not randomly poking through our freezers, they are not randomly touching inoculated media etc.

    As for rule enforcement- personally- I hate rules, and I have always had trouble with authority. BUT- I don’t want someone to get hurt in a way that was preventable in space I control. The much harder question, is – I think- to what lengths do you go to mitigate a particular risk… if it is a low risk, or a moderate risk- when the official rules or compliance people require you to treat everything as high risk.

  3. Bike- Take kid to work, kid stays in office racking tips. Kid makes $$, kid happy. But you are right- from an educational standpoint- an immersion in real science standpoint- it’s sad.

  4. I wonder how one might deal with this in a “open lab” format like the one I work in.

    We have several bays of benches that extend across the length of the building. Several “labs” have assigned benches in this area, but there is no physical barrier to separate one lab from the next.

    There are doors at either end of the common space which require prox card access, but only after hours. The nature of the research done here is quite collaborative between labs and I like it this way. But is also means that anyone granted access (not like they have any obstacle to coming in during normal working hours as prox cards are not required at those times) to a given lab in this space then has access to all the labs in this space. Happens with sales reps all the damn time.

    Of course, rooms housing sensitive equipment require prox card access all the time, and the animal colony is in a separate building requiring use of prox card at 6 different points just to get anywhere near an animal. I always wondered if this was really an effective strategy for animal security. The same prox card gets you through all the access points, so presumably if one could get ahold of someone’s card all they would have to do is figure out how to navigate the unmarked maze to get there.

  5. AA- That’s a really good point- I know many places have that ‘open lab’ design- and I don’t actually know how they handle biosafety and containment. I’ll have to ask around!

  6. I’d be curious to know how other labs do it. Ours (and the labs we share space with) is pretty lax. We’ve never had any real problems but you don’t want to wait til the horses get out to close the barn doors, so to speak.

    I also wanted to point out that wrt animal security, I think ours leaves something to be desired (lots of checkpoints, but only one access card required to get through them all). I’ve worked in other places that used a pre-gloved hand scan – like those super-fancy fingerprint scans you see on the movie, but it reads your whole palm – and then matched that to the RFID in your prox card. I wore a ring on the day that they granted me access and recorded my scan – couldn’t ever get in without it so I had to be sure I wore that ring every day for the entirety of my employment there. I thought that was pretty good – nobody could just borrow my card and pretend they were me.

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