Thursday, July 21, 2016

Noble’s 11 Rules: How to NOT DIE working in your laboratory (PART 2)

Noble’s 11 Rules: How to NOT DIE working in your laboratory (PART 2)

In my previous entry I offered you Noble’s first 5 safety rules.  The following is the next six.  

6.         Safety is more important than lunch.
        Previous study has pointed out the single most significant causative factor for laboratory accidents and injuries is rushing, especially just before lunch and breaks.  I can believe that.   Apparently rushing is not gender or age biased; anyone can find themselves rushing, and usually getting away with it.  But when the bad thing happens, there you are;  what a risk and what a cost. 
        In my institution, rushing to a cafeteria lunch would not be digestively defensible.  

7.         Think lean.  Work clean.
        There is a lot of Lean thinking that does not translate well from industry and the factory floor to the laboratory, but 5S most certainly does.  Working without a lot of extra stuff around  (sort) and having an expectation of finding you equipment in the right place AND returning them back there after you use them (straighten) and regularly tidying up and getting rid of all the clutter (shine) will make your work less stressful and will likely reduce all sorts of accidents from needle sticks, and twisted ankles and chemical burns.

8.         Pick your information sources.
        In the olden days (pre-internet) the sources of safety information were limited to textbooks, journals, standards, and regulations.  They were pretty good in the day, even if they were a bit biased and dated.  Today we are awash with information from a wide variety of sources (yes, including blogs!).  Much of the information is rapid access-rapid disposal, and some of it is untested, opinionated nonsense that may sound great but don't work out and can even conflict with existing established requirements.  Be selective before implementing a lot of this stuff (including this stuff!) until you determine that if is appropriate for your laboratory.  Confused messages increase confusion, and confusion leads to error.

9.         Surround and Protect yourself with safety.
        This is something like Rule 5 (If you are not prepared, you may pay severely) but is different.     
        If you don’t have immediate access to personal protective equipment or it is not convenient, then you probably won’t use it.  Deciding for the sake of time and convenience to pull boxes out of a -80oC freezer without freezer gloves, puts you at risk for freezer burns.  Choosing to work with tissue damaging and volatile reagents without chemical resistant gloves and respirator mask because they weren’t immediately accessible can lead to all sorts of immediate and long term problems.    Not bothering with a calibration and maintenance program for your equipment can result in aerosols and all sorts of other problems.  I could keep going, but I think you get the idea.
        And there is another thing that fits in here.  (This gets personal).  Every laboratory usually has people who rush, who work distracted, and who don’t bother with detail.  (If you look around and don’t see one in your laboratory, maybe its you!)  There may also be some people who have a couple drinks or a toke at lunch time.   These are people we call accident-prone hazards.  There are some who think that practical jokes in the laboratory break the tension (We call these people jerks.) 
        If you have one of these disaster-waiting-to-happen folks in your laboratory, it would be better if you could figure out how to keep these folks at distance.  When their bad thing happens, it is really a plan to NOT get caught up in their disasters.  

10.     There must be no doubt about when to get OUT.
        Sooner or later someone will drop a tube of blood, or a bottle of reagent, or a beaker of E. coli or something much worse.  For most small spills you can tidy this up with your spill kit (do you know where it is and how to use it?)  But if the spill is substantial and generates aerosols or contains bad bugs or toxins, or volatiles or potential explosives, you are not being a hero trying to fix it.  Get everyone out and call the HAZMAT guys. 
        Just as you probably have fire drills, consider some spill drills.

11.     OPP:  Organization-Personal-Partnership
        Safety is a team sport.  Your organization has an obligation to provide you with a safe environment and the tools to keep it clean and safe.  You have an obligation to work within the rules, to work responsibly and not create hazards for the sake of expediency.  Working together increases your odds of having a long and interesting and safe and healthy career as a laboratorian.  Not doing your part increases your risk. 
        And you always have options if your organization is made aware of safety hazards and chooses to do nothing about them.

If these 11 Rules make sense to you and your laboratory, then enjoy and let me know. 
If they are, in your opinion, the meaningless meanderings of a lost soul, then that’s OK too.  We can always agree to disagree.


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