Research laboratories are the petri dishes of groundbreaking science, but researchers need to stay on the safe side of technology’s cutting edge. Do not let the variety of chemicals, materials, equipment, and processes used in research, along with unpredictable reactions and results catch you unaware.
Safety data sheets (SDS) provide you valuable information on the properties and hazards of the chemicals that you use in the laboratory. Know the hazards, compatibilities, and storage requirements for all of your lab materials. Follow lab protocols and safe work practices. Do not use materials with unknown properties or with which you are unfamiliar. Planned, targeted experiments with predicted results are less hazardous than uncontrolled and unpredictable gambles. Plan and clear your laboratory procedures and experiments with your facility oversight groups.
Some lab materials may require special handling due to unstable properties, volatility, or acute toxicity. Use of these materials without training or proper procedures could lead to accidental exposure. Use special handling with materials that are known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, or pathogenic. Some materials, such as those used in nanotechnology, are so new, the hazards and long term exposure data may be unknown. Radioactive materials have well known hazards and established precautions, so know them. Use personal monitoring or lab monitors for toxic or hazardous materials when possible.
Know how to handle, store, and dispose of the wastes generated in your lab. Characterize and segregate your wastes in compatible groups in appropriate, stable storage containers. All wastes must be labeled and stored securely. Hazardous, biological, sharps, and medical wastes all have storage time limits and requirements, so label and monitor them. Radioactive wastes need to be analyzed and stored by isotope and activity level. Consider double containment when you move and store waste to prevent spills. Handle all broken glassware waste as sharps waste.
To reduce exposures in the lab, wear the required personal protective equipment (PPE). Consider the chemicals and materials you are using when choosing the correct glove to wear. Depending on the material and the splash potential, choose eye protection such as safety glasses, goggles, or a face shield. Work in a well-ventilated lab and wear a respirator when necessary. Wear non-slip shoes, long sleeves, and long pants. A coverall lab coat adds extra protection.
Periodically test and maintain your lab equipment for proper function. Autoclaves, centrifuges, fume hoods, radiation detectors, etc. should be kept in good working order and placed out of service when they need repair. Practice good lab hygiene by cleaning and decontaminating all surfaces and equipment between uses. Never use laboratory refrigerators or burners for food storage or cooking.
Restrict lab access to authorized and trained workers and visitors. Know the emergency procedures for your facility including evacuation routes and exits. Be familiar with spill procedures and the location of spill cleanup kits. Periodically, drill for your response to spills, exposure alarms, fire, and other emergencies. Know CPR and first aid.