Basics of lab safety
If you are a scientist that works extensively in the lab, a few practical tips is likely to help you and your colleagues maintain a safe work environment. Here is a 14 point-plan to ensure that you are in a safe work environment.
- First of all, please ingrain the idea that safety is not a secondary issue. Your life is precious, and hence your safety (and that of your colleagues) is of paramount importance.
- As a rule, if you are in doubt about the safety of a lab procedure, "ask". You can be safer just by gathering valuable wisdom from your advisor and colleagues. Not knowing is not a crime, but being irresponsible is!
- Declutter your lab space. The more organized your lab is, the safer it is likely to be.
- Proper "Standard Operating Procedures" must be kept beside every equipment. No material sample must be kept in lab space without appropriate labels.
- Before handling any new material/chemical, please read the Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). Maintain a digital or physical folder containing MSDS sheets of every chemical in your lab. Ensure that the folder is easily accesible to every one.
- Please use the MSDS sheets, and develop a First Aid kit that will help you deal with accidental chemical exposure. In case you are using lasers, or high temperature equipment, you must have essential first aid to deal with laser burns, and other burn related injuries.
- Know where the nearest fire extinguishers are, and please learn to operate the equipment.
- Electrical connections must be easy to trace, and "tidy".
- If you are dealing with hazardous fumes, always use the fume hood. Test the fume hood once every 3 months, to ensure that it is functioning well.
- Kindly follow safe chemical waste disposal practices. If you do not know the correct waste disposal protocols for the waste you are generating, speak to your advisor, or other experienced colleagues.
- Please stay calm if you witness an accident, or are involved in one.
- Ensure first aid for to the injured person. In case you yourself are injured, seek assistance immediately. If the victim was involved in a chemical accident, follow first aid procedures outlined in the MSDS sheet.
- If your life is in danger in the accident zone, vacate immediately and notify the relevant authorities. As a rule, prioritize people over property!
- Keep a list of emergency numbers (ambulance, nearest hospitals, police, humanitarian helplines) handy.
Stay safe, and enjoy your experiments!!
NOTE: The European Chemical Agency (EChA) has set up a webpage that contains webinars on chemical safety and occupational hazards. (ref: http://echa.europa.eu/) You may also use their 'Information on Chemicals' link to get safety instructions about a chemical whose Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) number you know.