21 July 2011

Bad Practice

For those working in science, does anyone out there have any examples of bad practice that they've seen or heard about over the years?

  • For example, I heard about someone getting sacked for mouth pipetting polio vaccine.
  • While another person was so confident of his glassware cleaning skills that when he had washed up after using cyanide he would take a drink of water from the glassware.

  • Naked flames are banned on chemical plants; electrical equipment is made safe before being taken onto a plant, operators wear anti-static shoes. But when someone went to put a process on a chemical plant in India, he was shocked to discover that before the process was run, the reactor was blessed with burning incense.

  • A crucial part of chemical processing is safety: with this in mind reactors are fitted with something called a bursting disc. If there is an unexpected build up of pressure in a reactor, the bursting disc bursts before the vessel alerting everybody to the fact that there is something seriously wrong with the process being run. Unfortunately bursting discs are sometimes blown due to operator error and further, they can be a pain to replace. At one company I heard about, the operators replaced some of the bursting discs with coins in order to avoid having to replace bursting discs.

  • Someone used to amuse themselves by seeding a plant scale crystallisation with a bolus of their phlegm.

Anyone got anymore?


  1. We occasionally run reactions in NMR tubes, and occasionally these are put into an NMR machine without removing the magnetic stirrer bar first. The tube generally sticks to the inside of the probe and needs to be shot out with overpressured nitrogen.

    I also heard of urea-catalysed aqueous reactions being run in rather unsanitary conditions.

  2. If you spend any time in UK hospitals it's a routine occurence to see medical staff put down whatever they're carrying, wash their hands, then pick up whatever they were carrying right back up again