Lab Safety: Relationships Mean Everything

Oct. 15, 2003
As an industrial hygienist, building the right relationship with your laboratory might be more important than you think.

By Dave Gallup

We've all had them, bad relationships. The consequences of being in a bad relationship can range from being emotionally taxing to legally disastrous. The majority of people realize that most businesses rely on their relationships, and operate at their best when those connections are functional and solid.

When it comes to industrial hygiene (IH), the stakes are higher than most. It is crucial for IH professionals to feel a trusted bond with the laboratory that they work with.

Laboratories that cater to this group need to be acutely aware that cutting corners in standards and customer service will ultimately be their own undoing. Maintaining relationships in the modern, fast-paced and impersonal world requires that laboratories clearly communicate their high level of respect for their clients. How should they do this?

They do this by being there for their clients. They do this by being ready to assist in litigation, to serve as a trusted advisor, to be on the edge of evolving technologies, and, beyond being accredited, being a leader in setting quality standards. What does this amount to in the end? Trust from the clients.

In an excerpt from "Contempt of Consumer: It's a Real Crime," written by Seth Godin*, the old (an often considered antiquated) business philosophy of the Fuller Brush Man is revisited. The Fuller Brush Man knew what he was doing. Fuller's door-to-door salesmen learned a basic rule: After you ring the bell, take a step or two backward. That way the person inside the home won't feel intimidated opening the door to a stranger. This wasn't just a tactic. It was a strategy one designed to help the company grow by treating people with respect, in contrast to rival salesmen who were taught to jam a foot in the door.

Today's high-pressure tactics leave no room for the courtesy of these old philosophies. Speed and profit are often the only gauge by which success is measured now. Is this quick turn-around and volume-focused thinking really effective for long-term business? As our industry evolves, perhaps we need to "take a step or two back" and revisit the practice of respect for the clients and desire to establish long-term relationships with them.

This concept holds true in every aspect of laboratory service. IH professionals are educated and informed. This is not a group that will entrust a sub-par laboratory with their samples or their credibility. As they are selecting their laboratory, IH professionals must ask themselves these important questions:

  • Does my laboratory really have the expertise and experience in mold (or other hazard) analysis?
  • Is this laboratory capable of helping me in litigation?
  • Will they provide me with current and applicable information for litigation?
  • Am I receiving accurate results from the laboratory concerning my samples?
  • Is my laboratory there for me when I need their attention?
  • Is my laboratory aware of the most current methods and standards?
  • Do I consider my laboratory to be a trusted advisor?
  • What operational standards does my laboratory adhere to?
  • Is my laboratory accredited?
  • Is my laboratory looking out for me?

Some of these issues and concerns facing the IH professional can be found by answering the question: Is my laboratory accredited by the AIHA? AIHA's EMLAP accreditation gives a laboratory's clients assurance that systems and standards are in place and being followed. This is a necessary, but not sufficient step toward having confidence in the quality and reliability of the laboratory. Additional information should be gathered regarding the experience of the staff, their training, the quality of the equipment, and the QA/QC systems that are applied.

As the IH professional navigates the path of business evolution, the most important question they should ask themselves is: Am I happy with the relationship that I have with my laboratory? The answer to this simple and defining question means everything.

About the author: Dave Gallup is CEO of Environmental Microbiology Laboratory Inc., San Bruno, Calif. EMLab has over 30 years experience in mold testing and bioaerosol analysis, and helped pioneer today's indoor air quality (IAQ) industry. EMLab's analytical staff includes only college-degreed and highly trained analysts, the majority with advanced degrees. The company has an industry-leading management and scientific team headed by Gallup, company founder and senior mycologist Janet Gallup, and Dr. Harriet Burge, director of Aerobiology and chair of EMLab's Scientific Advisory Board.

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