Keeping Safe at the Synchrotron

How to stay safe in a synchrotron...
23 January 2012

Interview with 

Guy Thomas, Diamond Light Source


Guy Thomas – Hi, I’m Guy Thomas, I’m the head of Safety, Health and Environment here at Diamond Light Source...

Meera – Now there’s quite a lot to monitor here, there’s a lot of machinery, there’s a lot of metal. It must be quite hard to actually keep everyone safe around such a variety of equipment?

Guy – Yes, you can split Safety into 2 parts; you can split it into the inherent parts with the running of a synchrotron and we’ve also got Users bringing lots of samples and lots of different scientific equipment to the site, so we’ve got things that people introduce on a daily basis as well.

Meera – Well we’re currently inside the ring itself, the synchrotron itself, and we’re on top of where the beam is currently going round just underneath our feet. So from what we can see here, what are some of the health and safety hazards that you need to keep an eye on?

Guy – Well, because of the complexity of a synchrotron, we’ve got practically every health and safety hazard there is, the only one we don’t have here is asbestos because we’re a new building. But we’re stood above a machine which produces radiation, so we’ve got everything from radiation around the side of the building, we’ve got laboratories, and you’ve got the chemical risks with those there, we’ve got lasers in there, biological risks. You’ve got fork-lift trucks that run round the edge of the building, so we’ve got issues with moving machinery, we’ve also got biological hazards because we’ve got a whole Village dedicated to Biology, so the life science work. So we’ve got various viruses and bacteria that people bring here as well.

Meera – So what do you have to set about doing to ensure, I guess, that all these samples and machinery is safe?

Guy – It’s mainly done by risk assessment, the process of risk assessment. So, the static hazards, the hazards we have on site all the time, are part of internal risk assessment process, and all samples that come into the site are assessed by safety professionals to ensure that we can accept the samples and that the experiments that they want to do are safe.

Meera – What’s been perhaps the most challenging thing to control?

Guy – Probably the most challenging and the biggest risk on site is construction. We’re just starting phase 3 which is the building of 10 beamlines. Since the inception of the project, there’s been construction work all the way through and construction is, by definition, one of the high hazard industries in the country. Control of contractors and construction is the biggest one, yeah.

Meera – Now I have to admit Guy I’m quite happy I’m inside the synchrotron with you because I feel like we’ll only go to the really safe parts of it, how did you actually end up getting this position? So I guess what made you become a Health and Safety expert?

Guy – My background is Environmental Science, I took the industrial route from environmental science into industry via the environmental route and found that safety, health and safety, is pulled together with environmental. I then learnt the professional side of health and safety and the two knit together. Before I worked at Diamond, I worked at manufacturing sites and worked in Industry.

Meera – And what lured you into the area? So you have an environmental science background, but what really interested you into this particular aspect of it?

Guy – Well, you have to understand about biology, you have to understand about physical hazards, noise, lasers, radiation, work equipment, and you have to understand some chemical hazards as well. So you have to understand lots about all of the sciences, or at least enough to understand what can harm you in the different activities.

Meera – What would you say are some of the key traits people need to perhaps get into this career?

Guy – I think you’ve got to be calm, I think you have to be quite analytical in the way you think about things and creative as well. There are always new things that come up in safety, so you have to be prepared to go and learn about new things and come up with creative solutions. Otherwise, you would end up stopping lots of things which you want to happen but you just have to find a creative solution to make it happen.

Meera – And I just have a final question about your life outside of Diamond, do you find yourself looking at the safety of things as you walk down the road or if you go into other buildings and I guess if something is unsafe, do you think ‘NO’!?

Guy – Absolutely, there’s a curse of being a safety professional, you can’t go on holiday without spotting the fire extinguishers in your hotel room, seeing that the lift is not safety compliant in hotels in Greece or somewhere, and yeah, you spot all these things even when you’re on holiday and trying not to.

Meera – So unfortunately, a never ending Busman’s Holiday for Guy! That was Guy Thomas, Head of Safety, Health and Environment at Diamond Light Source.


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