June Health Hero: The Health & Safety Advocate

Posted by: | June 7, 2011

Irene and a fellow cycling enthusiast

Since joining UBC in 1986, Irene Barrett has prioritized safety both in her lab and in her life in general.  She joined the local Health and Safety committee in her first year at UBC.  Originally, she was interested in the health and safety courses that emphasized safe handling of biohazardous organisms and chemicals, in order to prevent long-term health issues.  Since that time, her focus on safety at UBC has expanded: she has been an active member in the University Health and Safety Committee since 2009, and a member of Ergonomics sub-committee for the past year. In her formal role as a lab manager, she conducts research work with postdoctoral fellows, staff and graduate students, in the Hieter Lab, Michael Smith Laboratories.

Recently, Irene has become a key advisor in a project about lab specific ergonomics.  She has been working with Abigail Overduin,  Ergonomics Coordinator, to review different types of pipettes available for use in the lab.  The work requires her to identify the features of each brand/model of pipette, with the goal to create an informational guide to advise UBC faculty and staff on the purchase of new pipettes by the end of the summer. Recently there has been an increase in the amount of repetitive micro-pipetting (handling very small volumes requiring accuracy and attention to detail) due to an increase in high throughput large-scale cell culture experiments.  This could pose a health risk for lab workers, as repetitive pipetting can cause strain on wrist, elbow and shoulder joints.

After years of working on health and safety at UBC, Irene recommends that others “Be aware of the potential safety hazards of the work being performed, organize the work to be performed to minimize extended periods of repetitive body movements.”  She hopes other faculty and staff will remember that “pre-emptive planning and choice of equipment can prevent long term health issues.”

Irene’s roles as an advocate for safety and health extends beyond her work at UBC.  As a coach for a children’s triathlon club and a leader in a bicycling group for people over 50, she emphasizes safety first by requiring participants to wear helmets, implementing, good cycling techniques and following rules of the road.

There are so many faculty and staff at UBC who are working on local and university-wide health and safety committees, helping the University to ensure that our campus life is better for all. June is dedicated to all of you who work on addressing issues and are proactive about finding solutions.

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