How did you begin teaching at the Eagleson Institute?
About 15 years ago, I gave a presentation on biological waste management at the CDC Biosafety Symposium (which is managed by the Eagleson Institute) and attended the BSL3 Seminar Series. During the BSL3 seminars, I asked LOTS of questions, which made quite an impression on the seminar’s instructors. Soon afterward, Mary Ann invited me to start as an instructor in the BSL3 Design, Construction and Beyond class. Since then, I have also become a regular instructor for the Advanced BSL3 Work Practices and Procedures class, Verifying BSL3 Preformance: From Commissioning to Certification seminar, and most recently, the Institute's new custom training for Clinical Work Practices and Procedures.
It seems that in every class you teach, you start with risk assessment. Why is that?
Risk assessment is fundamental to everything we do at BSL3 facilities in the US, where we don’t have many prescriptive codes or regulations to define what to do in the BSL3 environment. On top of that, there are many things about BSL3 that are commonly thought of as being "required" or "standard" when they really are more like "tradition" or "conventional wisdom." Examples of this include expecting a certain pressure differential at a BSL3 doorway (without understanding the airflow characteristics at the doorway) and taking extreme measures to prevent any pressure reversals at BSL3 doorways. Using basic risk assessment principles allows us to not only understand the actual risks involved with BSL3s but to efficiently allocate resources like money, space, and time to address those risks.
How many commissionings or verifications of BSL3 performance have you been personally involved with?
I have personally participated in the commissioning of all five of Cornell’s BSL3 and ABSL3 facilities. Since the first one came online in 2000, I have conducted more than three dozen annual BSL3 performance verifications.
The biggest "mistake" I’ve seen is falling into the trap of assuming that, just because somebody else uses a certain design or performance test criterion at another facility (beware "we’ve always done it that way"), that same criterion should be applied to your own facility without performing a risk assessment to determine what the criterion should be based on the site-specific nature of each BSL3. This happens unfortunately when people assume they are not qualified to do (or at least manage) performance verifications for their own BSL3 and they hire someone to "certify" their facility – if the consultant simply uses the same criteria without adapting them based on the site-specific risk assessment for the facility, the resulting performance verification work can be very inaccurate.
|Paul, Mary Ann, and Natasha in Montana for the |
Clinical Work Practices and Procedures Class
I especially enjoy when class participants appear to internalize the essence of what we are teaching (sometimes it’s as if a light bulb turns on above their head!) in the class – that, by understanding the holistic relationship of risk assessment, biosafety, and engineering concepts we discuss, the class participants will be able to effectively manage performance verifications for their BSL3 facilities whether they do the work themselves or hire a consultant for the work. I also enjoy the hands-on demonstrations we do – they really reinforce some of the core concepts.