The laboratory science world was aghast this week on the news from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), [Emphasis is on CONTROL] where researchers were exposed to Anthrax due to procedures not being followed. “Shortcuts may have been taken” and “untrained staff may have…” were phrases that peppered news accounts of the incident. In the coming weeks and months we will hear the extent of their exposure. At this writing the number of researchers exposed was raised from 75 to 84. The CDC has been the global standard to protect (and advise) humankind in regards to health and safety threats. With an annual budget of $11.3B they seem to be well funded to achieve their mission.
However that organization, along with all others, is only as strong as their weakest link. Please pardon the cliché’. It seems in this case the weak link is not following procedures. A few televised news reports placed blame on untrained staff. I would like to assure you that there is also a procedure in place to train staff. So rather than a training issue, it is actually a not following procedure issue. Supervisor did not follow up on the employees? Also a not following procedure issue. I feel confident in saying that a Federal Investigation will ensue and blame will be officially placed.
The take home opportunity for those many of us who work in laboratory settings is to use this unfortunate story to reinforce with our staff the necessities for following Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s). While many SOP’s do not deal with such acute life and death scenarios they do speak directly to adherence to regulations and good scientific practices.