As we approach the new year, many of us are beginning to consider how we may make changes to the way we work in 2021. In any workplace, there are always ways that we can improve upon our working practices to ensure we are using our time and space as efficiently as possible and adhering to the best possible practice levels.
Top Tips for Creating a Safer Lab
We have put together a list of helpful tips to provide you with some ideas for improving the safety of your lab, to help get the new year off to the best start. You may find that you already have many of these things in place already, but we also hope that you will find the checklist useful.
Update your Health, Safety and Environmental affairs policy
If you do not already have one, you may wish to write a policy on your HS&E to maintain consistency throughout your organisation and have a clear list of expected standards for all employees to adhere to. This can include things such as your health & safety risk assessments with a set of guidelines for working practices for all staff, cleanliness for the lab including PPE requirements, minimising environmental impacts such as energy savings and a protocol for closing the lab down at the end of your working day to prevent potential health & safety issues before they arise.
You may also like to elect members of the team to be part of a committee that are responsible for ensuring that your policies are met within the company or organisation and to review this policy throughout the year at regular intervals. You may also like to develop an orientation guide or training session for new laboratory staff and students to ensure that they are aware of your HS&E policies when they join the team.
Encourage the team to be more responsible for Health & Safety
To help support your staff and students, it may be a good idea to regularly emphasise the importance of each person in the workspace doing their bit to maintain good levels of health & safety in the lab. This can include things such as caring for their own health and safety and the care of others, involving each member of the team in the health & safety program and giving them individual responsibilities and providing rewards for maintaining the best practice.
Ask all staff and students to commit to the safety procedures in place
Most labs will have a safety manual or manuals in place for working in the lab. As a business or institution, ask your students or staff to read your safety manual and sign an agreement to say that they have read and fully understand the safety procedures in place. You could even provide regular tests and refresher sessions to ensure that everyone is up to date on the safety practices for your institution.
Conduct regular inspections
You could choose to carry out unannounced inspections periodically to check whether laboratory teams are following the guides and procedures that they have signed or helped to put together in your policy document. By preparing a checklist and letting your team know that there will be regular inspections, it will encourage the team to maintain a high level of consideration for how they work in the lab and adhere to the safety rules in place. This will allow you to monitor performance and talk to your staff or students about any areas where they may improve.
Document hazards and assess risks thoroughly to prevent health & safety issues
For every new experiment, a full risk assessment to consider the potential hazards should be written to identify any health & safety issues prior to the issues arising. This is a chance to put procedures in place for when things may go wrong, so that they can be resolved quickly and in the safest possible way. Questions to ask include:
- What are the hazards?
- What are the worst possible things that could go wrong?
- How will I deal with them?
- What are the prudent practices, protective facilities and equipment necessary to minimise the risk of exposure to the hazards?
As part of these risk assessments, you should also document any incidents in the lab to record what happened and how it was resolved in as much detail as possible, so this can be reviewed at your regular committee meetings to help shape your future practice and minimise hazards and risks for everyone working in the lab. You should also have a fire drill in place and plans for how you will deal with dangerous situations such as explosion, poisoning, chemical spill or vapor release, electric shock, bleeding, and personal contamination. It is good practice to apply signage and all emergency telephone numbers in obvious places in the lab to help staff in case of emergency.
Make it a rule that all experiments are discussed with the wider team prior to commencement
This can ensure that any new experiments have been thoroughly considered and that a proper risk assessment is in place, utilising the knowledge and experience of the wider team. This can include things such as forbidding lab technicians to work alone in the lab, forbidding experiments to be left unattended unless considered safe to do so and implementing rules for continuing the risk assessment or safety program outside of the lab such as preventing staff from accidentally transferring dangerous substances to their car or home which could put themselves and others at risk.
Maintain proper and safe storage for substances in the laboratory
Depending on the types of work carried out in your laboratory, there may be different health and safety requirements for storing the substances that you work with. If any substance is considered to be dangerous, you should include this in your risk assessments and pre-experiment discussions with your peers. You should consider the storage and use of flammable or combustible materials, allowing the minimum amount of these substances to be available in each lab.
Do not allow eating or drinking or any food storage in the lab, to prevent anyone from getting ill as a result. Smoking should also be banned from the lab, which in the UK is illegal as standard. You should maintain an inventory of everything you have in storage to ensure that all chemicals can be accounted for and efficiently replenished when required, without over-ordering unnecessary chemicals. Store acids and bases separately, and store fuels and oxidizers separately.
Contact the Biopharma UK Team
If you are in need of new equipment to help maintain the best health and safety practices for 2021, get in touch with our knowledgeable and friendly team who can advise on the best equipment for your needs and budget. Call us today on 01962 841092 or contact us online.