The Role of the Role Model
The Role of the Role Model

The importance of lab leadership (managers, pathologists, etc.) acting as a role model for safety cannot be overstated. At that same time, it would be foolish to ignore that fact that many lab leaders do not take the time to put safety at the top of their list. Because of that, it is key for lab safety professionals (who are not necessarily in a leadership role) to understand that their plight to improve the lab safety culture is not hopeless!

In an experiment conducted a few years ago, scientists programmed an electronic cockroach to shun darkness and go into the light- a behavior pattern that is the reverse of that exhibited by the real bug. The lone electronic cockroach was placed in an environment with hundreds of live roaches, and over time this single creature altered the behavior of the other roaches- they all ran to the light.

While lab safety professionals may not wish to be compared to cockroaches, it should be noted that the behavior change seen would be exhibited in humans as well. So without the benefit of the support of lab leaders, one lone safety champion in the department can be effective in altering the safety culture. However, those alterations will not occur quickly.

One of the “secrets” of a successful lab safety professional is perseverance. Making that difference means never giving up and never going away. For example, if Joan refuses to wear gloves while running hematology samples, the safety champion needs to use a good coaching technique and remind Joan of the proper and necessary use of PPE. That duty may have to be repeated every day (we already know reporting the unsafe behavior to management will not produce results here). Joan will begin to understand that you will not stop talking about the issue until she makes a change in her behavior. Other staff will begin to notice that the safety representative means business and is not going away. That single repeated action can cause positive ripples that spread in the department. Again, this is not fast, but it is movement in the right direction.

As an active lab safety professional, all eyes will be on you. That means you must not falter in your safety behaviors as well. Practice what you preach or all credibility will be lost, and there will be damage to all the work you are striving to complete. Be a safety champion, be a role model, and never give up trying to make a difference. Do you feel alone? You are not- there is a network of others having many of the same struggles you face every day. Connect with them- use the annual Academy for Lab safety Excellence (see or view my facebook or Linked In page, or just send me an e-mail. With help and support, you will be a successful safety role model in your lab.

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