Safe Laboratory Practices and Procedures

Updated on April 11, 2020

Stress in labs creates a risk that safety protocols and best practices might slip. It’s important to demonstrate appreciation for hardworking laboratory technicians and lab scientists while also reminding them that safe laboratory practices and procedures are of paramount importance. Whether you operate your own lab or use an outside lab, staying informed and vigilant about good laboratory procedures and best practices is essential for any healthcare-related operation. Many of these common-sense reminders should be second nature, but it’s those habitual behaviors that people can take for granted, and sometimes vigilance can slip.

Before Entering the Lab

Remind staff to dress appropriately every day. This means a lab coat and long pants. Require staff to remove jewelry, including watches, and to tie back long hair. Don’t allow open-toed shoes. Provide staff with lockers for personal items like purses, phones, and keys.   

In the Lab

Make sure there are enough hand-washing stations available for the number of staff using the lab and that appropriate soap and clean towels are always available. Ensure that staff put on personal protective equipment (PPE), including eye protection and gloves, before engaging in any lab work. Never allow anyone to work in the lab alone. Remind staff to check glassware for chips or cracks, and to use lab equipment only for its intended purpose. 

Make sure that all emergency equipment is in good working order, and that ventilation hoods and other safety devices are operating as they should. Keep emergency lanes clear and ensure exits are clearly marked. Regularly review emergency procedures for spills and injuries with staff. Remind staff about proper disposal of waste, including hazardous waste.

Never allow food or drinks in the lab, and maintain strict rules about horseplay and practical jokes. Safety is no laughing matter, and the place to let off steam and joke around is somewhere outside the lab, never in it.

Provide regular training for laboratory staff to comply with international standards, confirm correct calibration of instruments, and ensure proper safety protocols, depending on the type of lab and the materials handled there. 

At the End of the Day

Make sure staff disposes of used PPE as appropriate, and that they remember to wash their hands again before leaving the lab. Don’t leave ongoing experiments or processes unattended.  Encourage staff to take responsibility for keeping their own work area clean and uncluttered, and that they store, clean, and replace equipment and materials appropriately.

Labs are often under pressure to produce results quickly, but speed should never compromise safety. For additional information and reminders about safe laboratory practices and procedures, visit the NIH or OSHA websites.

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