lab safety tipsThere is never a better time than now (excuse the cliche) to evaluate your laboratory safety procedures. For larger facilities, this can be a daunting task but necessary nonetheless. Regardless of lab size, the team at M2 Scientifics has put together this list of 10 quick laboratory safety tips. After you’ve reviewed each of them, you can begin implementation by completing a simple audit. Create a checklist of all 10 and check compliance. Are you in compliance for all of them? Great job! But if not, no worries. Put into practice these quick tips and you’ll be a safety pro in no time!

No Food or Drink in the Lab

This is one of the most common bad habits found among personnel and easily one of that hardest to kick. Everyone enjoys a good coffee or ice water while at work. But removing food and drink from the laboratory has multiple benefits. First, it reduces distraction. When performing critical tasks, any distraction is bad. Remove any and all distractions to help prevent injury or loss. Second, food waste can be messy. Messes reduce efficiency and promote risk of contamination. And last but definitely not least, it is a safety best-practice. A worse case example is one coming out of Tacoma, Washington. A young woman died four days after accidentally ingesting a saline solution containing sodium azide during an AP class.

Work With a Lab Partner

It isn’t always possible to perform experiments or duties with a partner. But if and when it is possible, it should be encouraged to work in teams. Two sets of eyes and hands double the chances of successfully catching a mistake or slip up. Human error is expected. Everyone makes mistakes. Working in teams helps keep each other in check. It also allows quick response if someone is injured.

Use Warning Signs

Anything that poses a particular threat should be labeled and HIGHLY visible! I can’t stress this enough. Bright colors, bold lettering and placement in prominent locations is a must. Consider using warning signs outside of the standard places. Chemicals and solutions are required to be marked by OSHA guidelines. But what about high-decibel noise areas? Trip hazards? And don’t forget circuit breakers. Electricity is used in abundance in any laboratory where equipment and instruments are being used. Make sure breakers are clearly marked. Appropriate warning labels and markings are essential to laboratory safety success.

Budget For Lab Safety Equipment

Maintaining a strict budget is key to any laboratory safety plan. When drafting a new budget or revising current spend, make sure funds are set aside to buy safety equipment. These items include eye wash stations and solution, protective gloves, goggles and safety glasses, ear plugs, splash guards, lab coats, fire extinguishers, and plenty more. It can get costly to purchase and maintain adequate measures. But nothing is more valuable than the well-being and safety of personnel. Budgeting for it will remove future funding concerns and the situation of having to decide what is more important in a pinch.

Costs associated with training should also be considered. There may be some production downtime to facilitate training courses. Props, paper handouts, and hourly wages all ring up a bill. Remembering to add these costs to your safety fund will prevent surprises.

Store Flammable Chemicals in Fireproof Cabinets

Fire is dangerous. Duh, right?! Make sure all flammable chemicals, solvents and aerosols are secured in fireproof cabinets. Leaving them out in the open is asking for disaster. Remember those warning signs? Post reminders throughout the lab wherever flammable items are being used. Something as simple as “Don’t Forget – Put Back in Fireproof Cabinet” (I’m sure you could word that much better but you get the point) can go a long way. You may consider making this an item on your daily inventory management inspection. 

Create a Laboratory Safety Manual

When bringing on new staff members, most organizations will provide an employee handbook or some sort of policy guideline. Why not also provide a laboratory safety manual? Drafting a clear and concise policy regarding all requirements and best-practices not only acts as a handy reference, but also reduces liability in the event termination must occur. After the team members read the manual, ask that they sign it and make it clear that their signature signifies they understand and will abide by the rules. If you notice foul play or feel that an employee is consistently disregarding safety rules, you may decide it necessary to terminate them. Their signature will provide proof that they read and understood the lab safety manual in the event of legal proceedings.

Conduct Unannounced Inspections

What good is a bunch of policies and procedures if they are going unchecked? Put together a safety audit checklist and perform random, yet routine inspections. Making them random and unannounced will alleviate the possibility of personnel “tidying up” for the inspection. Nobody likes a pop-quiz. But when safety is a priority, they must be done. Over time, well developed laboratory safety training and inspections will create good habits. These habits are invaluable.

Practice Routine Safety Drills

Remember the good ol’ days back in elementary school when safety drills were an exciting surprise? As kids, we didn’t understand just how valuable those drills were. They prepared us for worst-case scenarios and emergency disasters. If the time ever came where these practices were necessary, we were armed with the training and knowledge we had. Guess what? Nothing has changed as we get older. As previously mentioned, good habits are essential to ongoing safety practices. Conducting routine drills will prepare students and staff members for emergencies. Identify emergency exits, meeting areas, and individuals that can assist as guides in the event evacuation is necessary. Make sure everyone is completely aware of the plans. Providing handouts or literature with maps is a bonus. Lab managers dread ever having to experience an emergency. But being well prepared is more than half the battle.

Delegate Tasks

You’ve got a lot to do as a lab manager or supervisor. Another great way to make sure everything is running efficiently is to delegate tasks. Assign various team members duties that will help keep lab safety protocols in place. For example, one member could make sure all warning signs are present while another keeps inventory of chemicals. Spread out the responsibility to allow yourself the time necessary to focus on the bigger picture. Training, delegation and inspection should be all that you have to do once it all comes together like clockwork.

Encourage and Promote Personal Safety

There is nothing more effective than positive motivation and excitement. Laboratory safety isn’t exactly a party favorite. However, with a little added personality, carefully planned pep-talks and sharing of personal experiences can really make all the difference. Adding a little humility by sharing examples of mistakes you’ve made makes it all more real and relatable. And who doesn’t enjoy having some fun? I sure do. Incorporate some humor while speaking about laboratory safety policies and you’ll get more than just laughs. The things you teach will be more memorable.

- This article was originally published March 30, 2015 on the M2 Scientifics website. It is reposted here with permission.