I am a pretty simple person, and the extravagant things of life do not generally entice me. I recently had the unusual opportunity to fly while sitting in the first-class section of the airplane, and it sort of made me feel like a fish out of water. It was nice not to have to pay extra for luggage, and the room in the seat was amazing. They offered “free” alcoholic beverages, and asked if I wanted dinner. What? A meal on a plane? I already ate! Then they came with warm towels and a dish of heated mixed nuts. I was not certain what I should take and sometimes when I took what was offered, I did not know what to do with it. The experience made me think of new lab employees and their view of safety practices in the department.
A new workplace can seem daunting at the start of a new job. Employers provide information by firehose, much content in a short time, and they expect new staff to absorb it all. That can be dangerous. While safety training should be done upon hire for new staff, there should be ongoing education and reminders. The training should never be just a review of policies. There should be an orientation walking tour and a time for questions and answers.
The initial tour should include a look at several lab safety features. Note the location of all emergency eyewash stations and safety showers. Point out the location of fire extinguishers, alarm pull stations, and fire blankets if provided. Walk the employee to the designated evacuation location using both primary and secondary routes. Be sure to review how all waste is handled- biohazard waste, sharps waste, and chemical waste. Find the various spill response kits and discuss how to properly use them. Look in storage rooms and flammable storage cabinets to see how hazardous chemicals are handled. From a safety standpoint, the new employee should feel safe and “at home” in this work area that is new to them.
Even after hire safety training needs to be ongoing. Once a lab employee becomes accustomed to their workplace, they may become too comfortable and maybe complacent about safety. Often, people who have worked in the same department for a long time forget about the hazards around which they work. Like a fish, they become blind to the waters in which they swim, and there are places in that water where dangers lurk. Ongoing education sessions, discussing safety issues in staff huddles, and using posters or safety boards can raise safety awareness and combat complacency in the lab.
There are more than enough lab safety topics that can be used such that a new one can be highlighted every month during the year. Here is an example of a training calendar with suggested topics:
January – Specimen Transport/Preanalytical Safety
February – Hoods and Environmental Issues
March- Personal Protective Equipment
April – Ergonomics
May – Bloodborne Pathogens
June – General Safety
July – Physical Environment
August – Safe Work Practices
September – Chemical Hygiene
October – Fire Safety
November – Emergency Management
December – Waste Management
These topics can easily be repeated (and many should be), but others can also be added. Discussing these topics and their associated lab policies is a strong method for raising safety awareness and improving the overall safety culture.
Safety education should be a part of a laboratorian’s career from the first day through their last. They should not feel like a fish out of water when they come into the department, and they should have their safety knowledge bolstered so they can continue to see the hazards in the water in which they swim every day. A laboratory that can make that happen would always be considered first class.