By:Mendy Foster and Tuan Nguyen
Mendy Foster has a B.S. in Biochemistry from Indiana University and has over 15 years experience as a protein biochemist.
Mendy currently serves as a Laboratory Safety Specialist for the Office of Environmental Health and Safety.
E-mail Mendy at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuan has a B.S. degree in Chemistry from Indiana University, a L.L.B from University of Leicester in United Kingdom, and a L.L.M from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.
Tuan has 6 years of experience in science labs and currently serves as a Laboratory Safety Specialist for the Office of Environmental Health and Safety.
E-mail Tuan at: email@example.com
Want to avoid frequent safety mistakes, but don’t have the time? Try adjusting your approach and even imagining a few safety hacks. Simple changes in everyday habits can go a long way towards keeping your lab in compliance. Not every solution is one size fits all, but consider some of the frequently seen scenarios below. They illustrate how some common issues can be mitigated by changing your approach.
- Does your lab have a stockpile of balance tubes? Rather than labeling each vial individually, use group labeling. Labeling the storage rack “water” will keep you in compliance as long as the tubes are returned to the rack at the end of the run.
Group labeling can also be used to identify the chemical contents when storing boxes/racks containing multiple vials of stock solutions, sample fractions, or mini-prep tubes. Just remember that if you remove a tube and choose to store it separately, an individual label will be needed.
Do you have chemicals that are stored upside-down or on their side? You’re immediate reaction may be “no,” but think again. Sideways and upside down storage is frequently seen when items are stored in drawers, smaller bottles are lost inside chemical cabinets and when conical tubes are inverted so they can stand on their own.
Without support, these items easily topple over or must be placed upside-down. A quick way to reduce the chance of chemicals leaking/spilling because they were not stored upright is to place these items in racks. Don’t have enough racks or find that standard racks don’t fit in your space? Try reusing the foam bases that come with conical tubes. It may be the low profile storage solution you need to keep chemicals upright in drawers. The foam can also be easily broken into smaller sections to fit your needs when shelving or bench space is limited.
Is chemical segregation a recurring battle? Label cabinets or secondary containers by chemical type (i.e. Organic acids). Then it just takes a moment for all workers to place items in the correct location.
Are chemicals going to waste because of age, or are forgotten chemicals creating safety risks?
If expired chemicals are a problem, imagine what better inventory management would look like. Long term, it could save time, reduce costs, improve safety and free up lab space.
Even small changes could help.
- Date bottles and follow a first in first out policy for identical items.
- Determine if changes in lab activities will alter chemical usage. Be proactive in adjusting inventory when lab activities or procedures are expected to change. Likewise be retrospective when activities have evolved. This is an easy time for sensitive chemicals to be forgotten.
- Record the expiration dates of time sensitive chemicals (i.e. peroxide formers) in your inventory list. Do a quick date check when ordering new supplies.
Are open waste containers frequently left on your benchtop long after the experiment is done? If you don’t have bench top containers with lids, make it a habit to empty these into larger covered waste containers at the end of the day. Also you may find that using waste containers that are sized to the experiment reinforces this habit.
While every lab has its own challenges, we hope this list has encouraged you to create an employ your own safety hacks.