Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Whether you are an undergraduate college student fulfilling a course requirement for graduation or a scientist with years of experience, it is always a good idea to have a comprehensive working knowledge of general laboratory safety. The best source of this safety information is your professor, supervisor, or the risk management department for your institution. Below is a list of safety tips that any scientist should be aware of before entering a biological laboratory, regardless of their level of expertise.
Tip 1: No food or drinks should enter the research space, nor should cosmetics be used. This rule protects researchers from potential harm and minimizes the chances of an experiment being contaminated. Walk into any well-run research department in the life sciences and you will find rooms set aside for food and drink, refrigerators for storing edible perishables, and even kitchens for food preparation.
Tip 2: Upon entering a laboratory for the first time familiarize yourself with the location of the safety equipment. Pay particular attention to fire extinguishers and what types of fires they can be used on. Other important safety equipment includes eye-wash stands, showers, and chemical fume hoods.
Tip 3: Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be readily available for use whenever the need arises. The primary PPEs in a biological laboratory are safety gloves, lab coats, safety glasses and goggles, and face shields. In a modern biological laboratory PPEs help researchers protect themselves and their personal clothing from hazards, while protecting experiments from contamination.
Tip 4: The clothing worn under PPEs should also have safety in mind. Researchers should minimize the amount of exposed skin, thereby minimizing the risk of burns due to chemical spills and splashes. For this reason, sandals and open-toed shoes are a no-no and pants are a better choice than shorts.
Tip 5: A working knowledge of chemical safety is another essential skill for researchers. For example, using glass containers for acids and plastic containers for bases can prevent burns and chemical fires.
Tip 6: Every laboratory will have established protocols for handling biohazardous materials safely. These protocols will cover the use and disposal of human blood and tissue products and microbial organisms.
Tip 7: Another major safety concern in biological laboratories is sharp objects, including razor blades, needles, and broken glass. All laboratories will have guidelines covering the proper handling and disposal procedures for these sharp objects.
Tip 8: Most biological laboratories will have multiple sources of heat that could be the cause of serious injury. Some of the most common heat sources are Bunsen burners, hot plates, PCR machines, and water baths. This equipment should always be used in a manner that minimizes injury to self and others.
Tip 9: Never taste, smell, or mouth pipet a chemical or substance without express permission to do so.
Tip 10: Keeping the laboratory and the personal research space clean and well-organized is an excellent habit, because it minimizes the chances for unintended chemical reactions, fires, and contaminations that can ruin an experiment. Contamination is a safety concern because it forces the researcher to repeat the experiment, thereby doubling the researcher’s exposure to possible injury or harm.
Observing these and other safety tips will minimize the researcher’s risk of injury and increase the chances of producing good data. A good grade in a laboratory course or a successful career as a biologist therefore depends on a thorough understanding of laboratory safety.
Orville Soto has worked as a college Biology professor for the past 10 years. He recommends using highly specialized companies in the case of a lab move to protect equipment and personel. One company he recommends for lab relocations is PBMMI.com.