Safety in Numbers
“Research tells us 14 out of any 10 individuals like chocolate.”1 Who can argue with that?
But seriously, while the results of our recent survey on laboratory safety may not be a box of Godiva, they are sure to please many of you because it appears from participants’ responses that a safety culture has taken hold. And that is good news for employees and employers alike. Surveys can provide interesting and useful information, especially when questions are well thought out and comprehensive. Most respondents will give truthful and accurate answers. Folks that take the time to read and respond usually do not furnish false data. Worker health and safety is not a funny business. Fortunately, many of our readers agree, based on our lab safety survey results.
Before we get too far into discussing those results, we want to express our sincere appreciation to all the readers—more than 400 of you—who took the time to complete the survey. We hope the results reinforce the importance of workplace safety and prove that there truly is safety in numbers.
It is always good to know who provided your data. Most of the respondents for our lab safety survey were from research labs and at the supervisory or management level. Respondents working in industry research labs comprised 30%, while another 21% said they currently work in university or college research labs. Laboratory supervisors, managers and directors made up 43% of respondents, followed by chemists and scientists at 11% and technicians at 9%. The remaining 37% consisted of QA/QC managers, safety managers, engineers, professors and corporate management. Twenty-five percent of respondents were involved in research and development, and 24% provided technical services and operations. Another 19% worked in quality control, quality assurance or validation. To complete the picture of our respondents: 16% worked in either the environmental and chemical fields, with another 10% each in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical arenas. The balance of respondents was spread evenly among microbiology, food/beverage and clinical research.
For those who say size matters, we included a couple of questions on the total number of employees in the organization as well as the number working in the immediate laboratory. Most respondents were employed in small businesses or organizations. Twentynine percent worked for facilities with between 100 and 500 total employees, and another 24% worked for small entities of fewer than 100 employees. Only 10% worked for organizations of 10,000 employees or more. Furthermore, most respondents worked in small laboratories, with 46% indicating 10 or fewer employees in the lab and another 25% with 25 or fewer workers.
Generating the numbers
Interestingly enough, many laboratories are conducting self-inspections, with 83% of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing that periodic inspections are performed by lab staff. In fact, 32% have employees conduct inspections annually, and another 23% have lab safety evaluated on a monthly basis. This is an excellent way to keep safety fresh in everyone’s mind and to find and correct potential hazards or problems. For the 15% that responded negatively to this question, we strongly encourage you to start a lab safety survey program as soon as possible.
Safety Survey Details I – The Top 10
We cannot hide the fact that, based on responses to the lab safety survey, our readers are doing a pretty good job of providing safe workplaces and watching out for their employees when it comes to safety. Positive responses averaged 80% or better on 44 of 56 specific safety questions. In looking at all responses closely, we assembled a list of the 10 things labs are doing best in terms of safety and these are presented in Table 4. Topping the list is the use of protective gloves to prevent skin contact with chemicals, with 98% agreeing this is done. In a close second place at 96% is keeping fire extinguishers accessible and ready to go. Third place saw a three-way tie between adequate lighting, use of PPE and proper electrical grounding (each receiving 95%). Another three-way tie followed closely for sixth place at 94%: maintaining electrical plugs, cords and receptacles; keeping fire doors unobstructed; and providing a current laboratory safety manual. Tied for the last two spots on the list were labeling chemicals and using eye protection.
Safety Survey Details II – The Bottom 10
You knew it was coming. Yes, there are areas where improvement is needed, so we had to compile the companion list of the 10 things with the lowest positive responses. The bottom 10 list is given in Table 5 and is headed by ergonomically adequate lab furniture at 74% positive responses. Having written standard operating procedures for all tasks placed second with 73%, followed closely by labeling all circuit breakers at 72%. Fourth place is held by performing hazard evaluations/exposure assessments for toxic materials used in the lab, which garnered 63% positive responses. There was a tie for fifth place at 60%: between having a designated chemical hygiene officer and keeping at least 25psi in gas cylinders to prevent backflow. Ranking seventh is having restraints on shelving to keep items from falling, earning 55% positive responses. Just 52% responded as having proper signing for areas containing compressed gas cylinders, placing this eighth on the list. Labeling refrigerators as unsuitable for flammable storage collected only 44% affirmative responses. And the bottom of the bottom 10, labeling laboratory sinks not suitable for drinking, got the survey low positive response of 36%.
In summary, we can say there is safety in our survey numbers. In general, responses were very positive for more than three-quarters of our questions. In terms of getting more employees, including management, involved and buying into the safety mindset, it is evident that readers’ laboratories are establishing a safety culture. Hopefully, everyone will take a look at the 10 lowest areas and use that list to evaluate safety in the lab. And the more people we can get to participate, the better and safer our workplaces will be.
While our survey numbers tell a story, they do not provide a complete picture. Let’s not become lackadaisical when it comes to safety. We do not want to become like Homer Simpson, whose view of statistics was revealed when he said, “Aw, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Forty percent of all people know that.”2
For complete survey results, go to www.labmanager.com/survey2k9/.
- Sandra Boynton, American humorist, songwriter, children’s author and illustrator. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandra_Boynton
- Homer Simpson quote from The Simpsons Episode: “Homer the Vigilante.”