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Lab Health and Safety

A word cloud image showing the most popular terms and concepts from the Lab Manager Safety Summit poll.
A word cloud image showing the most popular terms and concepts from the Lab Manager Safety Summit poll.
Lab Manager

Top Lab Safety Tips from Lab Managers

Building a culture of lab safety involves a persistent, multi-layered approach

Lauren Everett

Do you struggle to get everyone in your lab to consistently adhere to safety protocols and procedures? Developing a culture of safety in the lab is a common challenge for lab managers, but there are solutions to improve lab safety through increased engagement and motivation among staff.

Often, the best solutions and advice come from your peers. Lab Manager asked attendees of the 2021 Lab Manager Safety Digital Summit to share their most effective strategies to maintaining a safe work environment in the lab. Attendees were encouraged to explain how they keep staff informed and motivated about lab safety, and the best ways to encourage adherence to safety procedures in the lab. After reviewing hundreds of responses, the Lab Manager editorial team observed a few key trends in how attendees approach lab safety within their organizations. 

1.    Active participation in regular safety meetings

One of the most common approaches from respondents was to schedule regular safety meetings that ensure all staff get involved. One way to get more active participation in meetings is to ask staff members to report on a specific safety topic or update in the lab at each meeting. As one poll respondent explained, asking lab staff to present on a specific lab safety topic gives them a sense of ownership of the topic they are presenting to the group. This sense of ownership will lead to heightened interest and engagement. 

Another important factor in successful safety meetings is to ask your staff questions and promote open dialogue. As one respondent explained, “We do safety meetings with examples and safety walkthroughs with open-ended questions regularly so that everyone is forced to think about safety frequently.”

Being prepared with discussion prompts or questions can help initiate the conversation at the start of lab safety meetings. As another respondent said, “Every month during our lab section meeting, I offer specific topics to get everyone's minds thinking. I ask questions about how each person would react in a simulated incident including a specific lab safety topic. Sometimes [I use] word searches or other interactive games to get the mind thinking in terms of safety.”

2.    Dedication and diligence

As the lab manager, you are responsible for setting an example of what lab safety leadership looks like. How you respond to a near-miss or actual lab accident will show your staff how dedicated they should be to working safely. One response to the Lab Manager safety poll emphasized the importance of being persistent. Lab managers should be very aware of the working habits of their staff, and acknowledge any unsafe behaviors as they observe them. If staff raise a concern or issue regarding safety in the lab, it is crucial that the lab manager stay on top of the issue and keep it a priority until it is resolved. If a safety concern, incident, or unsafe behavior is overlooked by management, lab staff will be less motivated to do things the right way.

3.    Communication is key

Whether in team meetings or private discussions, proper communication is essential in building a strong safety culture. Listening and acting on conversations with staff are key elements of good communication. “We have open-door policies for everyone to just walk in and talk,” said one respondent. “We ask everyone [that] if they see something to say something. Doesn't matter how little or large it is. We ask users to provide input to the policies and guidance which they work with; communication is provided in many ways—website, emails, newsletters, hands on training. it depends on what is going to work for the group needing the training and updates.”

The importance of communication and follow-through was one of the most common themes among all poll respondents. “Make sure to respond to all questions and concerns in a timely manner. [I] assure all concerns are taken seriously and addressed to the best of my ability. If I don't have an answer, knowing who I can go to for answers,” said another respondent. 

A simple but important tip read, “Keep conversations open without fear of retaliation.” 

As the Lab Safety Summit poll demonstrates, there’s no one solution to improving safety compliance in the lab; rather, it requires a multi-layered approach. Additional tips from respondents included sharing a safety tip of the week; sending “what-if” emails; prize wheels or other rewards for submitting safety suggestions and identifying near-misses; online training; and much more. 

If you’re looking for more tips and advice on laboratory safety, Lab Manager recently hosted its annual Lab Safety Summit (Nov. 9 – 10, 2021), which attracted nearly 1,500 total registrants. The two-day lineup of expert speakers discussed topics such as:

  • Safety leadership
  • Laboratory ergonomics
  • The components of a fully functional laboratory safety program
  • How to effectively communicate to staff about safety
  • Reducing chemical exposure risk
  • Air quality risk assessments

Presentations from the 2021 Lab Manager Safety Summit are available for on-demand viewing through this link. Stay tuned for updates about Lab Manager’s 2022 Lab Safety Summit!


*Lab Manager would like to thank everyone who attended the 2021 Lab Safety Digital Summit and submitted responses to the lab safety tips poll. Your responses help to educate our audience and guide our editorial content.*