On Monday, Yahoo posted a news piece about “the 15 jobs that are most Damaging to your health”. This report identifies histotechnologists and histotechnicians as the most health hazardous job out of 974 professions. No wonder there are no histology technicians left to replace the baby boomers who are now trying to retire. There was a lot of commotion on the histology forum (histonet, http://www.histosearch.com/histonet.html) Tuesday and Wednesday about this controversial subject. Some were giving examples of the lab conditions they worked in the past. I’ve heard the stories from some of the older histotechs about them eating, drinking and smoking in the labs while performing gross dissection on patient tissues. They also told stories about how there were no fume hoods, MSDS sheets or safety precautions taken for any chemicals. Techs were encouraged to melt paraffin off their hands using xylene. In the past 25 years those safety precautions and regulations have been put into place but still do not mean much unless the lab adheres to them. http://finance.yahoo.com/news/the-15-jobs-that-are-most-damaging-to-your-health-155706120.html
The first histology lab I worked (2004-2010) in had little or no safety precautions set up for the workers. All the chemicals that did not go down the drain, went into the techs blood stream working in the lab. The owner a 30 year veteran of histology explained that he had been grossing tissues without gloves for 30 plus years and did not believe in any of the health risks associated with histology chemicals, because he did not exhibit any abnormal symptoms. That’s too bad for all the employees who have ever worked for him or continue to do so. This is a prime example of gross negligence by a professional employer.
The forum also talked about trying to set up a system like the nursing association, with all the histology technicians submitting their doctors yearly check-ups to categorize and identify possible health and safety issues associated with the profession of histology. After years of data was compiled on all the histotechs who completed the surveys, this would give rise to a database that might correlate and predict life expectancy for the average histology technician. The possibility for new safety regulations and precautions may also result.
I feel like the dangers of histology chemicals, those that I know of, should be addressed. I work in a histology lab that is situated within many other different labs. It is the general belief within the histology world, that the chemicals (wet and dry) we deal with are harmful to breath, touch and be around. Maybe not in the short run (most of them) but definitely in the long haul. I know that the chemicals used in the other industries are by comparison are far worse. That may be, but the use in histology research by all labs seems to be unregulated for the most part. This is the opposite for clinical histology labs, they are highly regulated and controlled to a T. In this country (US) everything to do with humans is highly regulated. For those researchers working in labs, safety may not always be a great concern. I realize, their focus is on something grander and may not be focusing on the day-to-day idiosyncrasies. This is all well and good for them, but their actions set the tone for others to follow. I call this monkey see monkey do. I know this happens because I did it. In the past, I worked for a research lab that did not even have chemical, dissection, and safety hoods. Lab coats could not be found unless you bought your own. No one wore safety glasses, ever. There was no paid chemical waste removal. All chemicals went down the drain, regardless of what it was. The drain led into a septic system that was next to a river. Once I asked the owner if we could hire a company to remove our waste. He laughed and said it would cost too much money and if I wanted to get paid, I should never bring it up again. I did not agree with this practice but felt bad like my job was in jeopardy if I rocked the boat. Not a good situation for anyone there and anyone living in the neighborhood. I remember one day while I was there, one of the wet chemicals leaked through its container. I smelled something and got up to investigate. The smell was very strong and filled the entire building. My eyes watered and my nose began to clog. I found the offending liquid on the shelf leaking down to the next level. It was ammonium hydroxide (28-30%). The container was the wrong kind of plastic bottle and it leaked about 100 mills before I found it. Standing in front and on top of it I put gloves on and grabbed gauze to soak it up. After about 5 minutes, a co-worker came in and hauled me out of the room into the outdoors. Out into the cold light and winter conditions, I still could not see the problem. I was blinded by the habits of another that now were my own. My throat and nasal passages had closed, eyes stinging, ears not hearing but still I protested. Someone has to clean it up, I can’t leave it there, it’s dangerous. 5 1/2 years of negative conditioning had led me to a destructive path. The owner sat less than 10 yards away but never came to see what was going on. He could not smell it and had no idea that there was a spill. We did not have a safety plan in place. The fire department was never alerted, no report was ever written, but I suffered. The physical damage was done in a matter of minutes. In the weeks following, I came to realize I could no longer smell many substances that before the accident were easily identified. In hindsight, I realize that I took on characteristics of my former boss who did not use safety guidelines in his company. This took me years and a couple different lab settings to realize the gross negligence of safety. This will never happen again. Too bad I had to learn the hard way. Today, safety is my number one concern for others and myself when working in a laboratory setting.