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Researchers Share Their Top Lab Safety Tips

University of Calgary researchers reveal their academic lab safety essentials

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Researchers share their top lab safety tips: Safety always comes first, ensure adequate training, handle materials appropriately and talk about the importance of safety regularly.Photo credit: Riley Brandt, University of CalgaryA number of researchers from the University of Calgary's Veterinary Medicine, Schulich School of Engineering, and the Faculty of Science were asked their top tips for laboratory safety. Here’s what they said:

Safety always comes first

No matter the circumstance, safety is the number one priority in a lab

“I always remind the group that safety always comes first and actively work to ensure safety is top of mind,” says Josephine Hill, Canada Research Chair in Hydrogen and Catalysis and professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering.

“Our instructors (faculty and technical staff) are very attentive and work very hard in making safety priority one in teaching veterinary clinical skills and carefully monitor the professional skill development of the students in their care,” says Emma Read, associate dean, academic and professor in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.

Ensure adequate training

Training is mandatory for all students, faculty, and staff working or studying in a lab

“All users of a lab need constant training and refreshment, improvement and optimization,” says Hermann Schaetzl, professor (prion biology and immunology) in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. “Rules help lab users feel accountable and develop personal responsibility which ultimately helps to keep themselves, and others safe.”

“When in the lab, you should always be trained to use personal protective equipment (PPE) for yourself, but also be conscious of what is going on around the lab, like the experiments run by other lab mates,” says Farideh Jalilehvand, former chair of the Safety Committee in Department of Chemistry and associate professor (inorganic chemistry) in the Faculty of Science.

Handle materials appropriately 

Use caution, dispose correctly, and ensure proper cleanup

“A safe lab should be safe toward our ecosystem too,” says Jalilehvand. “We need to make sure that the chemicals we use, or the chemical waste we generate, do not end up in rivers or in soil, polluting the environment.”

“We have lab cleanups every other week to keep ahead of the clutter that can accumulate, and to identify tasks that can be done more efficiently,” says Hill.

Talk about the importance of safety regularly 

Fixed meetings on safety and advance preparation key

“We have one group meeting per term on safety, at which we work through a quiz with questions prepared by the group members, and based on relevant safety issues in the lab,” says Hill.

“Faculty and staff meet before the labs to plan out the learning sessions. They discuss safety issues in advance and determine a course of action for what they will do in case a situation occurs, what outcomes they are trying to achieve in the teaching, and how these can be taught best in the lab environment,” says Read.

Health and safety continues to evolve as the university strengthens our occupational health and safety management system integration within operations and culture. All students, faculty and staff have a role to play in ensuring our campus is a safe place to work and learn—health and safety is a priority for everyone.

"I think how lab safety is done at the university is outstanding, from my perspective,” says Schaetzl. “People are always approachable, result-oriented, and very constructive.”

For more information on lab safety, visit the Environment, Health and Safety website.