Clinical Laboratory Safety Tips From the Experts

March 1, 2023

Maintaining safety standards in the lab is crucial, not only for staff safety but for public safety too.

Ensuring things like keeping contamination to a minimum and creating a controlled environment is important for accurate results, but it’s also vital to keep in mind staff comfort and safety. Training staff on safety tips will help ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Understand The Details Of Types Of Equipment

Ensuring that lab users have full knowledge of the equipment they are working with is crucial for safety. And not just knowing, but understanding the complexities of each tiny piece of equipment used can play a major role in maintaining safety standards. For example, when using Breathable Sealing Films it’s important to understand the temperature that the seal can withstand. Misuse of equipment such as this can mean that contaminants can enter, and potentially dangerous substances can escape, which can cause harm to other employees and even the general public. 

Familiarise Yourself With Your Surroundings

A clinical laboratory can be a stressful place to be, particularly due to things like time constraints, so encouraging a calm environment is important. When people feel rushed, mistakes and accidents can happen. Allowing staff to familiarise themselves with their surroundings means that they can avoid bumping into things and potentially knocking hazardous chemicals or objects over. A calmer atmosphere can also improve employee well-being, which can allow them to be more focused and aware of their surroundings.

Use Personal Protective Equipment Correctly

We all know the drill: wear protective glasses or goggles to protect the eyes from chemicals, wear gloves to prevent cross-contamination and masks to prevent the inhalation of toxic gases and wear a lab coat to stop spillages onto our day-to-day clothes and skin. But PPE is only effective when used properly so you need to understand how to use PPE. You need to understand how to take on and take off the gloves, what order to put PPE on, and what to do if your eye is exposed to a chemical.


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Do Not Take Food or Drink Into The Lab

Consuming anything in the lab should be prohibited. A laboratory is a sterile place and external foods and drinks can contaminate the space and affect the validity of results. This can occur the other way as well, more importantly, because things in the lab can contaminate the food that you are eating. Nobody wants to eat food that has been kept in the same fridge as a petri dish that’s growing mould on it. Furthermore, if you’re snacking in the lab, you’re not concentrating on your work, which can cause more safety issues.

Label Everything

There can be a lot of different substances and tests lying around the lab (well, they shouldn’t be lying around, but there are many things around a lab that can’t be identified at a glance) so labelling test tubes, dishes, and whatever else it may be, is crucial. Knowing exactly what something is from looking at a label is much safer than not having a clue what something is. If there is no label on a substance, never ever smell it, taste it or mix it with something else because the results could be fatal. 

Manage Waste Correctly

There’s going to be a lot of different kinds of waste in the lab, including ‘normal’ waste like paper, but you’ve also got:

  • Chemical waste – waste containing a chemical agent (such as solvents and used oil)
  • Biohazardous waste – waste produced from treating humans and animals (such as blood and anatomical waste)

Labelling waste is also important, to prevent unwanted chemical reactions and cross-contamination. Always check what you are meant to do with specific substances – some may be able to go down the drain but most will need to be handled by a waste disposal company that is an expert in dealing with the substances you handle.

You should also try to limit your lab’s environmental impact. You can avoid bulk-buying chemicals and stay up to date with your record-keeping to reduce the amount of waste produced. Recycling materials is great too, so be sure to recycle as many agents as possible and work with a reputable waste management company that will dispose of your waste in a sustainable manner.

Don’t Forget About The Patient

Reminding yourselves that there is a patient related to a particular sample you may be looking at can improve your empathy and therefore analysis of results. If you understand and acknowledge the patient, you may be able to make a better holistic judgement about the results and how best to move forward and advise them. This can help focus you on your work which can create a safer, well-rounded environment, and means you take the real-life consequences of your work into account. This is incredibly important for safety because of the increased accuracy of the results. 

Communication Is Key

Keeping staff members in the loop with your work and any concerns you have is crucial in maintaining and improving safety standards. Communicating with the whole department, and between departments too, can ensure everyone is on the same page when it comes to safety standards, or even about a particular patient and how they can best be helped. Liaising with colleagues can also help you better interpret results to advise and treat patients more effectively – as the saying goes, “two heads are better than one”!

Know Accident Procedures

No matter how many precautions are taken, accidents can still happen. Taking the time to come up with a plan of action for every different kind of accident that could occur is vital to limit damages and harm. This includes knowing where things such as eye-drop stations are (and how to use them) and familiarising yourself with fire-extinguisher locations. Always let a supervisor know if anything has happened, no matter how small, so they can develop some hazard management strategies. 

All in all, safety should be at the forefront of your mind in everything you do in the lab – whether that’s when you’re using equipment, how you’re moving around the lab or your mindset – anything can affect how safe the environment is. Knowing where safety equipment is and how to deal with an accident is also paramount when it comes to safety.

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