Responsible and safe laboratory practices
When working in a laboratory, everyone shares a responsibility for safety. The principal investigator, as the leader of the laboratory, has the ultimate responsibility to ensure a culture of safety among the laboratory members.
Safe practices include, but are not limited to ensuring:
- Laboratory members are adequately trained in the specific procedures to be performed.
- Safety protocols are up to date and enforced.
- Laboratory members wear personal protective equipment (PPE) appropriate for the procedures being performed.
- Proper engineering controls are used whenever possible to mitigate risk and lab members are trained on how to operate the equipment.
- Appropriate safety approvals are in place from applicable compliance areas.
- Use of sharps is reduced, whenever possible.
- Safety drills are practiced in case of emergencies.
- All accidents or injuries are reported to appropriate departments/units.
Safe experiments require an advanced plan with safety always in mind. If research personnel will be performing experiments alone in the lab, the personnel should discuss in advance a plan for how to get help. Whenever possible, lab members should use a buddy system instead of working alone in a lab. The most important aspect of safety is communication and practice. Understanding what the risks are for each activity can help formulate a plan to mitigate the risks.
Validation of materials
A laboratory risk that is commonly overlooked is the validation of the materials being used. Are the materials that are received the same materials that were ordered? Laboratory-acquired infections are possible when laboratories receive a pathogenic strain of materials instead of inactivated materials. If researchers do not perform validation testing of the materials to verify the material is what is purported, they could waste experiments and skew results. In addition, personnel may be at risk if higher safety precautions are necessary for the pathogenic strain versus the inactivated strain. Mistakes happen, so it is imperative to validate all materials upon receipt.