The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to appoint a high-level official to oversee lab safety following several mishaps in its laboratories over the past decade.
A job posting for an associate director for laboratory science and safety has been listed as open for about a month. A CDC spokeswoman confirmed that the posting was for a new lab safety chief position first reported by Reuters on Wednesday.
Lab safety has been an ongoing concern at the agency. A CDC laboratory technician last week was potentially exposed to Ebola when a small amount of the live virus was delivered to a lab that had planned to receive dead Ebola virus. This past summer, more than 80 employees were exposed to live anthrax after a sample was incorrectly sent to their laboratory.
In the CDC Senior Executive Service position, the associate director for laboratory science and safety will report directly to Director Dr. Thomas Frieden. The new official will serve “as the agency's senior laboratory scientific advisor and consultant to the CDC director,” and will oversee the development, implementation and evaluation of agency-wide laboratory safety and quality management, according to the CDC job description.
The full-time position is expected to pay from $120,749 to $181,500 per year and will be based at the CDC's Atlanta headquarters, according to the posting. Applications will be accepted through Jan. 20.
Public health labs have lacked a single point of contact at the CDC for safety issues, said Scott Becker, executive director at the Association of Public Health Laboratories, which represents federal, state and local facilities.
In placing the CDC lab safety official high on the agency's organizational chart, Becker said, “It says to me that Dr. Frieden and the CDC are taking the lab safety issues very seriously. It's an interesting role because, at such a high level, it will not control any of the labs, but it will coordinate and improve the safety culture across the labs.”
Although the CDC had a strong laboratory focus at its founding in 1946, it has since expanded its into such areas as public health and bio-defense. Becker said the organization needs to assign someone not just to put out fires, but to proactively address quality and safety concerns.
“Laboratory work is inherently risky, and there are humans involved, so you can never get the risk to zero,” Becker said. “But the important thing about laboratory culture is to learn from every mistake made so you can improve.”
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