September 21, 2020

Meet James Bishop, MS, RBP (ABSA), Biological Safety Officer and Director of Occupational Health and Safety

James BishopHow long have you been in your current position? What does your work involve?
In 2016, I joined UAMS as the Biological Safety Officer, but I have been the Director of Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) since May 2020. I manage and coordinate activities related to occupational safety, environmental affairs, and fire, radiological, and biological safety. Along with other departments in Campus Operations, our office offers support services across 4 million ft2 of building space and ~100 acres.

In 2019, UAMS had over 400 registered BSL2 laboratories on campus. Each of these are audited annually. Additionally, there is 1 ABSL3 laboratory with multiple users that has to meet all BSL2 requirements, plus all of the federal laws for BSL3 laboratories. Because COVID-19’s global impact (i.e., based on current risk assessments provided by CDC, WHO, and ABSA) there is a need for even more BSL3 space.

We are actively exploring options for adding BSL3 laboratory space that could be used to expand SARS-CoV-2 work, as well as Mycobacterium tuberculosis and other hazards that require a high level of safety and security.

What is your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part of the job is the diversity each day holds. UAMS has clinical and research work at BSL1, BSL2, and BSL3 safety levels. This job collaborates with the IBC, IACUC and IRB to review research protocols. The OH&S office collaborates with DLAM and the Compliance Office. We work with Engineering & Operations (E&O), Student and Employee Health, Infection Control and Prevention, Hospital and Campus Administration, UAMS Police Dept. and everyone (patients and visitors included) with a safety concern on campus. This diversity keeps the days moving very quickly. There’s never a dull moment.

Are there any challenges?
I think the job challenges might be my favorite and I’m pretty sure they are the best part. There isn’t just one challenge for this job.

Every single day is an entire set of new challenges. Right now we are in the COVID-19 pandemic and that regularly creates new challenges on top of the challenges we already had. Now we have to work with our healthcare co-workers to fit test them on respirators, so they can be protected while providing high quality care. The pandemic caused a respirator shortage, so we now we repeat the process with new respirators regularly.

Testing patient samples with limited space, supplies, and personnel quickly presented another challenge. The UAMS research community stepped up to support additional clinical testing during the pandemic. They offered the time, space, and laboratory personnel needed. Along with the E&O team, who installed everything from new locks to new exhaust blowers and relocated multiple Biological Safety Cabinets, we helped set up new testing  spaces and bring it all together. We’ve added new BSL3 protocols and are actively working to add more BSL3 personnel and space. Basically, there are more challenges than you can count, but they gives us a chance to grow, learn, and become even stronger.

How does your work interact with other departments on campus?
We work with everyone on campus. The OH&S office makes rounds through all clinical areas, laboratory spaces, and even does building audits. When an injury/incident occurs, our office investigates and follows up to see how a change might avoid a future injury/incident. I attend IBC/IACUC meetings and interact with Integrated Clinical Enterprises employees, research investigators, lab personnel, E&O, Campus Security, Student and Employee Health, as well as all the people involved in Worker’s Compensation investigations.

How do you/your group handle problematic issues?
We try to make sure everyone, who needs to be involved in solving an issue, is included. UAMS is a large and complex campus. Our research, clinical, and academic areas overlap, which can complicate an issue very quickly. If OH&S suddenly decides to limit campus respirator options to simplify fit testing, we might create a huge issue for hundreds of direct patient care personnel, supply chain personnel, and our Infection Control and Prevention personnel. Bringing everyone to the table at the start of an issue helps us avoid creating larger problems than the one we’re trying to solve. Collaboration is the key to our office’s success.

Can you describe that more fully?
Every day we use collaboration/coordination to handle important issues. When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit UAMS, we were already ramping up preparation efforts. We had to keep everyone working in the new conditions safe and coordinated with outside vendors to certify safety equipment for engineering hazard controls in new spaces. This process repeated more than once during a short period of time and couldn’t have been accomplished without the huge effort by all groups. Collaboration solves big problems quickly.

How about after hours? What do you do for fun?
After hours? What’s that? We work 24/7 in OH&S. I’m kidding of course. I enjoy taking out the kayaks, any excuse to run my 4-wheeler or tractor, and spending time with friends and family.

 Beekeeper Bishop

What personal skill or hobby don’t most people know about you?
The hobby most people don’t know about is beekeeping. Relatively new to the hobby, there is no honey to share yet!  “Maybe next year” is what we tell everyone. Only time will tell if “next year” ever happens.

Any last thoughts on your position as Director of Occupational Health and Safety?
I’m optimistic I’ll be part of Team UAMS for a long time to come and look forward to the future. I’m sure UAMS will look completely different as new buildings, new expansions, and new projects continue to happen. I really appreciate all of the support I’ve received while here. It’s humbling and I’m very grateful.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to our office any time you have questions or concerns.
And off course, Be Safe.