Leaving a Petri dish exposed for a night is not as dangerous as leaving a bottle of Chlorine triflouride, (a substance capable of setting sand on fire), hovering dangerously close to a Bunsen burner, but it is important to be aware of the difference and to understand the risks associated with poor lab safety.

Adherence to the rules and regulations is crucial in any lab environment, despite the fact that a lack of lab safety may have contributed to the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming...

This guide will help employees and students alike to become familiar with lab safety and it can be used to remind the most experienced of lab technicians that even the smallest of mistakes can potentially have dire consequences.

Dress like a Scientist

Lab coats and safety goggles are not provided just to add a little ‘je ne sais quoi’ to the iconic image of a lab technician in a hazmat suit. These items are essential for ones safety in the laboratory. Other important clothing rules include:

  •       Always wear gloves to prevent contamination or infection
  •       Always wear closed top shoes; (the less exposed skin, the better)
  •       Never wear large, exposed or low hanging jewellery
  •       Tie back long hair

Those who dress like a scientist must also behave like one. Due to the high quantity of dangerous materials present in this type of environment, no pranks should ever take place in the lab. 

Handling Dangerous Materials

It is important to remember, that all materials have the potential to be dangerous if they are not handled correctly. Although many might point to accidents involving flammable substances as being the most dangerous possible occurrence in the lab, wounds caused by broken pipettes or glassware are actually the most commonplace and can lead to serious infections.

This once again highlights the importance of protective gloves and there are several different types  available. Some are more expensive than others and are used for handling more hazardous materials.

  •       Nitrile gloves – used for handling the most dangerous of substances
  •       Rubber gloves – often used in schools, these are used for handling milder agents

It is a sensible precaution to avoid latex gloves wherever possible as many people can suffer allergic reactions to this particular material.

Prepare for the Unexpected 

Knowing the standard safety procedure in the event of an accident is key to maintaining the well being of all students and employees in the laboratory. A well-planned and executed safety process is often the most important aspect of  lab safety.

Should the unexpected occur, it is important to be familiar with the safety equipment within the lab, such as the first aid kit, or station and the fire extinguisher.

Memorise the emergency services number and if all else fails, do not hesitate to call them, as they will always know what is best to do in any given situation. Knowing the exact location of fire alarms and emergency exits is also very important.

Lack of Preparation has Consequences

Every time an individual takes an unnecessary risk or shortcut when preparing for an experiment, there is the potential for numerous unpleasant consequences.

Broken equipment can be costly to replace, physical harm can come to anybody who accesses the lab and any serious incident can cause great emotional damage to everyone involved.

The lab is no place to cut corners when it comes to your own safety and that of your colleagues. Apart from the consequences detailed above, your reputation is also at stake should anything go wrong.

If in Doubt...

Never be afraid to ask for help, and do not be afraid to step in and help others. If you are stuck in a rut, slightly unsure about what goes where, or generally in need of a little advice or assistance, always ask someone.

On the other side of the coin, if you notice that someone else is in need of help or you believe that someone is going about their work in a way that compromises safety, don’t be afraid to speak up and highlight your thoughts before something goes wrong. Excellent communication is essential and possibly the most important unspoken rule of the laboratory.