Washington State residents enjoy some of the finest medical care in the world, but did you know that some leading research in infectious diseases is happening right here at home? Seattle is the headquarters of Seattle BioMed, a non-profit research institution committed to the eradication of some of the world’s most deadly and devastating diseases and one of Salal CU’s Community Business Partners. Who better to talk to during National Safety Month? Following is a conversation with Karen Kuter, Environmental Safety Manager of Seattle BioMed, and Salal’s vote for Best Person to Know in a Zombie Apocalypse.
Can you give us some tips on what diseases we face here in the US (especially Washington State) and when traveling and how best we can protect ourselves from harm?
Respiratory diseases such as the flu, pertussis (whooping cough), and the common cold are of concern to everyone. Right now, pertussis cases in Washington State have been on the rise. My two pieces of advice are to keep current on your vaccinations and wash your hands. Over decades, your initial vaccinations may become less effective. As adults, we may not have had any immunizations in a while, so it’s important to ask your primary care physician for guidance. With regard to handwashing, we’ve all heard that washing your hands regularly is a big part of staying healthy when it comes to colds and the flu. Most people don’t wash their hands thoroughly, so I tell people to sing “Happy Birthday” to yourself as you wash. Sing it slower, like you would sing to a 5 year old, and you’ll get your hands clean! Hand sanitizers are also a great option if a sink isn’t nearby. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are a great resource for up-to-date information on diseases and prevention. They even have a webpage dedicated to the zombie apocalypse!
As Environmental Health and Safety Manager at BioMed, what are some programs you’ve implemented to make your workplace safer?
Because we are an infectious disease research institute, we have spent extra time and resources on our biological safety programs. We are lucky that our management is supportive and has committed resources to keeping our staff safe. Staff in the labs are working with agents that can cause serious disease, so prevention is paramount. Our biological safety program focuses on training in the lab, and accident prevention. We also go through a strict review process for new projects and lab experiments before the work begins, so that we can make sure it’s as safe as possible.
How important is it to have awareness of EHS in the workplace? Why?
Whether you are working in the office, lab, or on a construction site, everyone can benefit from a safer work environment. Anyone who has been injured at work knows that there is an extra sting to a workplace injury. Not only do workplace injuries affect your work, they also can prevent you from doing the things you love to do outside of work! Being unable to go mountain biking, wrestle on the floor with your kids or work in the garden because of a work-related injury is no fun. Office environments create many ergonomic risks from sitting at the computer for hours, so even in the less-hazardous office setting it’s important to educate yourself.
What dangerous things do you see people do?
Summer is coming up! I see neighbors mowing their lawns, using weed-whackers, and climbing on ladders. I can’t believe people mow the lawn in flip-flops! And, using the weed-whacker without sunglasses or safety glasses is just asking for trouble. Did you know that 50% of people who have a fall from just 11 feet, will die? That’s a sobering statistic. Here’s a link to a PDF with some key ladder safety tips.
If you could convince people to make just one really critical change for better health and safety, what would it be?
Make yourself practice “situational awareness.” This is a concept that is prevalent in hospitals and military settings, and gaining momentum elsewhere. Having situational awareness means paying attention to what is going on around you, at work, at home and out in public places. Turn those headphones down, think twice if something doesn’t seem right, and take it easy on the multitasking! When we trace back to the root causes of why people get injured, often there is a point where someone wasn’t paying attention or was distracted, something in the environment or process had changed, or something was out of the ordinary. It seems simple, but can have a huge impact.
Our thanks to Karen Kuter, Environmental Health and Safety Manager at Seattle BioMed, for helping us all be safer! To learn more about the research conducted at Seattle BioMed, or to donate to support their life-saving work, please visit their website: seattlebiomed.org.