Recommend shoes for working in radioactive lab
August 5, 2014 7:42 AM   Subscribe

I work in medical imaging research. We just got a new imaging system and I am about to start working with radioactive materials. I need help identifying a good pair of lab shoes.

I understand that it is standard practice to keep a backup pair of shoes at work in case your primary shoes get contaminated. Since I'm still a little nervous working around radioactive materials, I've decided that I'd just as soon have a dedicated pair of shoes for the hot lab, with my regular shoes as the "backup". This is a lab environment so I need closed toe, top of foot coverage.

The shoes should be as nonporous as possible for easy cleaning if something does get spilled on them (so, like, not canvas). I won't be working in this lab all the time, so they don't have to be something I'd want to stand in all day every day, but I'd just as soon they didn't go out of their way to be uncomfortable. Not crazy expensive is a plus. I wear women's 7 1/2.

Help me out, hot lab folks!
posted by telepanda to Work & Money (11 answers total)
Crocs lab shoes. I know nurses who wear higher-end clogs (clogs with heel strap, by the way - strapless clogs don't meet safety standards) like Dansko or Born but they are for real not cheap. These start at $30.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:47 AM on August 5, 2014

I used to work in a hot lab. Here is what I wore:

If you're the kind who doesn't mind ugly shoes, NAOT makes good, solid, comfortable slip-into shoes. I wore the men's Bjorn clog (I am size 11 and these fit best) by them. They were awesome and lasted for years, worth the $160 price tag.

But even the NAOTs paled in comparison to my Dr. Martens boots. Those are the bomb if you can get away with them. (I spent my day in the lab, so I didn't have to care about looking professional to deal with patients.)
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 7:57 AM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Working in a kitchen, I really loved the professional Birks, which are one piece that you can put inserts and the footbed into. I bought them when I started pastry school and I have gone through who knows how many footbeds (~$30?), but the shoes themselves are still great.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:59 AM on August 5, 2014

It's not a replacement for dedicated shoes, but will the lab provide Tyvek or other impermeable shoe/boot covers? Those could save you a whole lot of hassle.
posted by sevenless at 9:00 AM on August 5, 2014

This is a research lab and I will never deal with patients, so ugly is fine and professional is not an issue. We will wear shoe covers. This is more of a just-in-case, plus me being extra careful since I am new to handling materials that need to be handled with this much care.
posted by telepanda at 9:49 AM on August 5, 2014

I hope I'm not missing the point of the question, or something in the question. I've been a radiation worker of one type or another for over 10 years now, and often deal with public education so my instincts on this are usually to make sure the hazards and non-hazards of radioactivity are understood.

You're going to receive radioactive materials handling training, I hope? I'm asking because you seem disproportionately worried, and it is really important to know what is and what is not a risk when dealing with radiation. Sometimes people get so hung up on the "but RADIOACTIVE!!" part that they put themselves or others at risk in ways that are actually dangerous, out of fear of something that can actually handled safely.

No snark intended: Is there even any risk of contamination? Or will you just be using, say, sealed gamma or beta emitters? Do you know the difference between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation? Do you understand your monitoring and dosimetry program?

Depending what kind of lab and what kind of research you're doing, it may be that you may be dealing with radioactive sources but never encounter any kind of risk that you can actually carry radioactive contamination away with you. And if there is, there will assuredly be some sort of Geiger counter, frisker, whole-body scanning device, or what-have-you which you can use to check. Make sure you learn the best practices for avoiding spreading of contamination.

It *is* good to have backup shoes, if you do have any chance of contamination--in case your shoes come up contaminated somehow and you need to wear another pair home while those get cleaned. But those should follow the safety standards of the lab for all the other activities you'll be doing--closed toes/impermeability for chemicals/steel toes for sharp or heavy dropped objects/electrical treatment/etc. There's not special materials that'll be recommended for radioactivity.

You should have a health physicist or radiation safety officer--please ask them for the standards for your workplace! They should be able to give you advice and put you at ease.
posted by spelunkingplato at 10:28 AM on August 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm also a radiation worker (5 years), and spelunkingplato's advice is spot-on. Additionally, your new lab might have some advice or resources for appropriate footwear; mine gets a particular shoe company to come by with a truck a few times a year, and lab members get discounts.
posted by dorque at 10:41 AM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have an MRI background and am moving into SPECT. I have received radioactive materials training. I will be working with radioactive imaging agents and animals, so there is a real risk of contamination. I will be doing some subset of diluting stock solutions, drawing up syringes for injection, injecting animals, and handling hot animals. I will wear badge and ring dosimeters. PPE is safety glasses, gloves, lab coat, shoe covers. We will do daily room surveys, and use a frisker each time we enter and exit the room.

I do intend to study best practices for avoiding spreading contamination, and will be careful. However, I'm also aware that I've historically worked with injected agents which pose low risk to humans, so though you're careful, it's a different level. The good news is we will be working mostly with Tc99m, so even if there is contamination, it will decay quickly.

Sorry if I came across sounding like a doofus. I want dedicated lab shoes because I need an extra pair anyway, and my current ones are borderline on the amount of foot-top coverage (OK for what I do now, probably not ok for higher risk stuff) so I figured I might as well get a pair that are impermeable and easy to clean, which I suppose is what I meant with my question.

If any of you hot-lab people come back, I'd also be interested in hearing about your personal best practices, btw. (Tips and tricks level stuff; like I said, I've completed safety training and will be supervised.)
posted by telepanda at 11:17 AM on August 5, 2014

No shoe recommendations here, but here's my hot lab tip: I always ran through the complete procedure in my mind before touching the hot stuff. Where will my hands go? What do I need to touch? Is everything within easy reach or do I have to lean over something to get what I need? I would look for problems that might happen and ways to deal with accidental spills or contamination. If I had never done a certain procedure before, I might even go through a "dress rehearsal" without the radioisotope, just to see where and how things might go wrong.

I tend to slow way down and work very carefully when I'm handling something dangerous, which is exactly what you don't want with radioactivity, since time of exposure is critical. The rehearsals helped speed things up by making myself feel a little more confident in my technique, and streamline the handling process by having everything in the right place before I started. Good luck! Hard gamma 4 eva!
posted by Quietgal at 8:51 PM on August 5, 2014

I work in a lab full of nasty acids, and if I had to provide my own shoes, I'd look into slip on boots. Lots of coverage on the toe and top of your foot (most likely to have stuff dropped on), but possible to take off quickly. Work boot suppliers are worth looking into (I like Oliver, but I think they're only in Australia).

Don't be embarrassed about being nervous around this stuff. It's scary.
posted by kjs4 at 9:41 PM on August 5, 2014

Great that you are thinking ahead about this. I had to walk home one day wearing a plastic bag around my foot when I dropped 32P on my boot. Because it was suede, it did not wash out and had to remain in a cabinet to decay for a few months until it was back at background, so I'd recommend against suede and maybe for something synthetic or hard leather. Don't wear shoes with leather soles. Also, if you have other people working in the same space with you, the best safety practice is to wear shoes with a real back, not just a strap. You might drop stuff on your toes, but the klutz behind you can splash it on your heels.

My tips: Double glove with the ring in between. Be sure of your equipment -- the incident above happened when I used a pipetman with a bad tip ejection device that sometimes caused a tip to set incorrectly. If you are unsure about a new protocol, ask someone first.
posted by SandiBeech at 2:33 PM on August 6, 2014

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