By Raymond Puerini, Program Coordinator, Laboratory Response Network, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)/Graduate Student, Emory University
This week safety has been hoisted up into the spotlight thanks to National Public Health Week (NPHW). While safety is something we can often take for granted as part of our daily routines, this year’s NPHW theme of Safety is NO Accident: Living Injury Free appropriately serves as a reminder to re-examine a topic that plays a large role in sustaining everyone’s health.
Safe habits are essential in all spheres of daily life to prevent injuries, but it is particularly important to make safety a priority in the workplace. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), on average 15 US workers die each day from traumatic injuries and 9,000 more are hurt seriously enough to be treated in hospital emergency departments. Many of these injuries and deaths are preventable through safer work practices. This is true at any workplace, including laboratories. Given the host of harmful chemicals and pathogens that may be present, laboratorians must consistently maintain vigilance when working in the lab to prevent harm to themselves and others.
There are some basic and easy safety measures that can be taken to protect against the hazards that may be present in a laboratory, including but not limited to:
- Completing lab safety training when starting employment and regularly thereafter;
- Always wearing appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when working with or around hazardous materials;
- Adopting proper sanitary techniques including bench sterilization and mandatory hand washing before leaving lab spaces;
- Consistently practicing proper labeling, storage and disposal of lab substances;
- Familiarizing oneself with local emergency contact information and procedures;
- And performing regular safety audits of lab spaces and personnel practices.
Safety at work is truly every person’s responsibility. Additionally, having an injury/illness-free workforce is not just beneficial to the individual but also to the communities that laboratories serve. Although National Public Health Week highlights safety, safety should be a priority every time that someone enters a laboratory. I would like to issue a challenge to those laboratorians reading today to put safety first by evaluating and improving upon the practices in your lab.