Safety awareness in the laboratory does not happen by accident. Initial training and on-going education should be a part of your overall lab safety program. One way to do that is to review a different safety topic each month with your staff. There are certainly more than twelve topics in the field of lab safety, but here is a sample schedule:
January: Specimen Transport
February: Biological Safety Cabinets, Chemical Fume Hoods, Environmental Issues
March: Personal Protective Equipment
May: Bloodborne Pathogens
June: General Safety
July: Compressed Gases
August: Safe Work Practices
September: Chemical Hygiene and Hazard Communication
October: Fire Safety
November: Electrical Safety
December: Waste Management
If some of these topics do not apply to your area, there are others to consider. Emergency Management, Respiratory Protection, or spill clean-up are a few example subjects. If there is an area where your lab is having difficulty, use that as a topic. If you don’t wish to repeat the same pattern year after year, change it, but plan ahead and don’t let the training and awareness program come to an end. It should never stop.
If lab accidents and injuries are on the rise, even in the presence of an on-going safety education program, you may want to look more closely at how the education is given. Is the setting appropriate? Is staff able to pay attention? Is the material available to all staff? Is the material clear and comprehensive? How could the information best be delivered?
Staff meetings are becoming a thing of the past. Many labs utilize quick daily or weekly huddles. If that is the case, safety topics can be presented in that forum as well. New topics could be presented every day, especially if there is only a minute or two to discuss them.
Other ways to promote safety include the use of games, creating a safety display board, or having a lab safety fair in the department lounge or break area. These on-going efforts are an important part of making improvements in the lab safety culture, a topic I for which I receive requests for help often. The change will not occur overnight, but with persistence, you will see a positive difference. Don’t let your lab staff learn the hard way- by accident!