Working in any laboratory with infectious or hazardous materials carries with it a certain level of risk. When that laboratory is one of the largest in Europe, the stakes are even higher. Keeping staff safe is obviously of paramount importance – and a huge undertaking here at HSL. Factor in a commitment to managing and protecting the surrounding environment, and it’s easy to see why the HSL health and safety team have their work cut out.
Health and safety
Having trained as a biomedical scientist herself, Emer Nestor, HSL’s Director of Health and Safety, understands the risks and hazards associated with working in a laboratory. This has helped prepare her for her current role, in which she has responsibility for all health, safety and environmental management systems across HSL and TDL.
“We develop, implement and monitor safety systems for everything from our day-to-day laboratory work, to maintaining our facilities and estates, to managing the general health and wellbeing of our staff”, she says. “We look at all activities we carry out as a business, and the staff looking after those activities, and decide how we can make them as safe as possible. These activities can cover anything from sitting at a workstation to performing a diagnostic test to handling a chemical – the scope is very broad.”
One of the biggest aspects of Emer’s job is looking at waste management. “As one of the largest pathology organisations in the UK, we produce an awful lot of hazardous waste. It’s a huge task for us – not only in terms of protecting our staff but also protecting our surrounding environment.”
Managing the environment
Traditionally, the healthcare sector has always prioritised health and safety over any environmental commitment. Times are changing, however, and HSL is really leading the way in this field. “We’re accredited to ISO 14001 – the standard for environmental management in any business,” Emer explains. “Although this is common in the construction and industry sectors, it’s still unusual within pathology. I’m really pleased that HSL recognises how important this is and is a step ahead of others in the industry.”
For Emer, the benefits of environmental accreditation are myriad: “Being accredited to ISO 14001 means that we automatically comply with ever-changing environmental legislation. It helps us to streamline and improve our business processes, from cutting waste to using more efficient heating and lighting systems. Most importantly, it highlights our corporate and social responsibility: we consider our impact on the environment, our neighbours, our clients and our patients in everything we do.”
Challenges and opportunities
Moving into the Halo has presented its own unique challenges for Emer and her team to contend with. Although the laboratory was designed with health, safety and environmental management in mind, certain risks didn’t become apparent until the systems were actually in place: “Our biggest challenge right now is trying to understand and fix those issues while the Halo is live and running. As the biggest laboratory in the UK, smooth, efficient processes are vital to its operational capacity. While there are still issues we need to iron out, I think it’s been a challenge that everyone has risen to.”
It’s no doubt an exciting time to be working at HSL. “Moving into the Halo has certainly been the biggest laboratory move I’ve ever been involved with,” says Emer. “Bringing together people from different sites, and trying to create a safety culture which is harmonised, has been a challenge – it doesn’t just happen overnight. But it’s also been a fantastic opportunity to bring together new ideas and define best practices that we can all strive to work towards. If you’re working in the industry, HSL is where you want to be.”