Failures: CDC Admits to a “Lax” Lab Culture

On Friday June 11, 2014 the news broke that the CDC had experienced breaches in safety at its labs. This news was a response to the CDC’s mishandling of very aggressive strains of anthrax. An internal investigation has revealed that senior staff did not write up a plan for researchers to follow while working with the anthrax in question; and, the report further noted that several involved scientists did not review the literature prior to beginning their work. Moreover, the investigators also found that the agency did not appear to have adequately prepared infrastructure protocols for workers to follow in the event of an instance of exposure.

Reading this article brought to mind discussions about large-scale failures incited by bureaucratic, hierarchized and segmented workplace cultures. Specifically, Diane Vaughn’s book, The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA came to mind, which details how enormous disasters can be the result of decision-making processes that have been normalized and naturalized in workplaces over time, so that workers are sometimes unable to discern when they might be on the verge of putting catastrophic events in motion through their workplace decisions and actions. Vaughn’s work looked at NASA, and this article looked at the CDC, I am curious to know what insights could be gleaned through contrasting failure at that large-scale level with failure (or perhaps a lack thereof?) in much smaller, local scales and settings.

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