In my youth, going to see a movie was a big deal. There were snapshot advertisements in the newspapers, and you might catch a trailer for the movie on the television, but it was rare since we only had three or four channels. Often there was not much information about the movie ahead of time. There were no spoilers. Seeing the movie for the first time was like turning the pages of a book you’ve never read. That’s how I like it today. I love superhero movies, but I’m often annoyed by the amount of advertisements on television and social media about the movie well before it is released. I turn them off or scroll quickly by them. I don’t want to know too much before going in, I do not like spoilers. The opposite is true for my work in laboratory safety.
In the laboratory today, staff shortages are common. It is difficult to train students, and rushing new staff to the working bench is far more common that it should be. That may be dangerous in some cases, especially if lab safety orientation and training is skipped. As a lab safety professional, you should be aware of the importance of this training, and you should also know that when and how the safety training is given is regulated. There should be spoilers.
Laboratory safety training for the student or new employee should include several topics. Bloodborne pathogens, chemical hygiene, personal protective equipment, waste management, and fire and electrical safety are just some of those necessary categories. There should be a structured and comprehensive safety training program that is ready to be administered upon the arrival of new personnel. In some cases the training can be given by the department manager, but it is acceptable to designate other lab staff for that function as well. In fact, if there are more people in the lab who are comfortable presenting the education, you will likely have more people understanding and following safety guidelines. That also provides a set of good role models for new employees, and that can go a long way toward strengthening your lab safety culture.
Spend time with lab safety orientation. Depending on the size and complexity of the lab, the one-on-one time spent with the trainee should include a discussion of the main points of each safety category. The time of orientation for new staff can be overwhelming, there is a great deal of information given in a short period of time. Give staff references or an information packet they can take away so they can come back to it later.
The last part of the initial lab safety training should include a walking tour of the department. Show the new staff all of the safety features of the area. Discuss the location of PPE, fire extinguishers and exits, emergency eyewash stations and safety showers. Point out the location of spill kits. This is also a good time to walk staff to their designated evacuation meeting location. While CAP no longer requires this, it is still highly recommended so that employees will remember where their muster point is and how to get there quickly.
For the many laboratory-related safety programs it oversees, OSHA requires specific training, and the regulations are very specific about what is to be covered. OSHA is also clear about when the safety training should be given as well. In most regulations, there is instruction to provide safety training “at the time of an employee’s initial assignment to a work area,” or “within 10 working days of initial assignment.” That means safety training should come first. That makes the most sense, and hopefully that is what is happening in your laboratory with new employees.
Some people like spoilers, and some people like surprises. In the world of lab safety, the spoilers are important. There should be no safety surprises that create an avoidable injury or exposure. Some such incidents can be career-ending or life-altering, and that is something that should never happen, neither to a new laboratorian nor a seasoned one. Use complete lab safety training to tell the whole safety story, even if it gives away the plot. That’s one way to ensure a happy ending in the laboratory.