Monthly Archives: February 2017

Lab Organization Matters: Use Our Clutter Reduction Checklist

OrganizationHave you given any thought to the cost of disorganization in your lab? Whether it’s wasted time, duplicate orders, or lab safety accidents waiting to happen (see our previous post for a couple of examples), there are many reasons why lab organization matters. We’ve compiled a handy clutter reduction checklist to help battle the disorganization that could be costing you time, money and peace of mind.

✔ A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place

Every tool in your lab needs a home regardless of whether it’s big or small. Smaller tools like pipettes and slides need a safe place to reside when they aren’t being used. Likewise, larger equipment, like mass spectrometers, need to be safely housed on a strong piece of dedicated lab furniture to keep them safe and sound.

✔  Document and communicate proper storage areas

 All lab personnel should know where everything belongs—this means having a designated and documented (keep a binder handy!) place for all items. It would be wise to put a specific person in charge of keeping this information up to date and checking regularly to ensure that all lab personnel know how to access it.

✔  Make Definitive Decisions About Grouping Items

There should also be order to your lab organization decision-making. You wouldn’t want to store reactive items next to each other, lest you cause an accidental conflagration. You also don’t want to store objects that are used together on opposite sides of the lab, so people must constantly walk back and forth across others’ work areas.

✔  Group like with like: Think about the attributes of each item you’re seeking to store, and group like things together. This means keeping flammable items together in a heat-resistant cabinet, away from warmer areas of the lab or lab benches where open flames are used. Keeping similar solutions together will also prevent lab safety accidents.

✔  A Label for Everything

Labels are the key to successful lab organization. If you’re not sure what’s stored inside a certain group of frost-covered tubes in the back of the freezer, you’ve got a potential disaster on your hands—or at least a severe setback in the progress of your colleague’s research when you prematurely thaw the tube rack to figure out what’s inside.

✔  Use the proper types of labels: Labels also must be appropriate to the containers and the conditions. That freezer requires moisture-proof labeling, and you might consider luggage tags for each shelf; they won’t get buried under the frost. Label both the spaces and the containers; it will help reinforce the connection between the two for distracted lab techs who have happy hour on their minds as they’re finishing up.

✔  Clean Early and Often to Ensure Lab Safety

When a spill occurs, clean it up, thoroughly and immediately. Vapors travel, liquids can contaminate notebooks (think about how much your data is worth!) and destroy electronics, and powders can become airborne. It can be tempting to continue with your procedure and clean the mess up later, but lab safety common sense requires keeping your work station and lab bench crystal clean.

✔  Establish routine cleaning processes: Routinely cleaning everything at the end of each shift, or before beginning a new project will pay off for everyone. While you might be running late to for family dinner, your morning crew will not be happy to discover that contamination happened overnight because someone left a pile of Petri dishes knocked over on the floor.

✔  Let Your Lab Bench Assist with Lab Organization

One of the best tools for lab organization is your lab bench itself. We have given a lot of thought to how we have constructed our IonBenches. For example, our IonBench MS provides easy management of cables and pipes, designated space for solvent storage, and optional drawer bank and waste storage accessories. Let us help you keep the clutter in check. Request a quote today to learn more about IonBench.

Organization is the Key to a Safe (and Productive) Lab

Lab ShelvesIt’s common medical knowledge that our brains naturally forget. Studies have shown, for example, that when we listen to a presentation, we’ve already forgotten 40% of the information by the end of the lecture, and by the end of the week, we’ve forgotten 90% of it. This is one reason that we keep returning to the topic of lab safety. Forgetting to focus on lab safety can have potentially disastrous consequences.

Safety begins with organization—and that doesn’t just mean keeping all your test tubes in straight rows. Good organization requires regular record keeping, communication, proper labeling practices, routine cleaning and more. Here are two such examples that will connect the importance of organization to the safety of your lab.

Organized Means Labeled

Our first example takes place in a mechanical engineering research lab, where spontaneous combustion was the unfortunate result of improperly labeled nanomaterials. These particular internally produced aluminum nanoparticles had not been oxidized. The lab techs involved were used to working with commercially produced nanoparticles that were oxidized as part of the production process. Unfortunately, the internally produced nanoparticles were only labeled as “Aluminum Nanopowder,” giving techs no clue as to their potential flammability.

Furthermore, appropriate fire suppression materials were not on hand for addressing a metals fire. When the available “ABC” fire extinguisher had no effect on the fire, lab techs used their own coats to smother the flames—but not before one tech’s pants were burnt. Had there been an organized lab safety plan in place, sand would have been readily available and the techs would have known to use this to suppress the metals fire.

Compounding the problem—and the lab safety investigation—was the fact that the internally manufactured nanoparticles had not recently been produced, and the tech who produced them was no longer employed by the university at the time of the fire.

This is a classic example of what can go wrong when the chain of communication breaks down. Essentially, poor communication led to poor record keeping, which led to sloppy and improper labeling. There was no way for anyone to know whether the nanoparticles were oxidized prior to use. This proved even more costly when the university was forced to dispose of the entire stock of internally produced nanoparticles.

Organized Means Following Protocol

In another example, a student was splashed while washing materials in a nitric acid bath. Nitric acid entered the student’s eye because the student was not wearing eye protection. Fortunately, the victim immediately flushed the eye, twice, and no permanent damage resulted.

While there was no permanent harm, this lab safety incident cost the university time and money, with a trip to the hospital, incident procedures to follow and a lab safety investigation to undertake. If the student had simply followed an organized set of lab safety procedures, this event would not have taken place.

Organized Means Dedicated Lab Furniture

We understand the power of organization and its role in supporting lab safety. We share these lab-incident stories in the hopes that our lab safety posts will be part of the 10% of information that remains in your head by the end of the week. Complete organization is achieved through a variety of practices and habits, but we support lab safety culture in our own way—with the thoughtful construction of IonBenches, which incorporate several organizational aspects into their design.

To learn more about how our organization capacities can enhance your lab safety, contact us today.

Learning to Love Your Lab Safety Officer: Why Bother?

LSOLab safety officers – love them or hate them, you must respect the critical tasks they are charged with accomplishing. His or her most basic responsibility is for the safety of the lab, ensuring compliance with federal and state regulations dealing with technical subjects. The lab safety officer has an important role in training lab personnel to meet occupational safety and health standards. They also serve as a liaison between the lab and EH&S, to make sure the lab is in compliance, maintaining safety and regulatory information, including Material Safety Data Sheets. If there’s a question about regulatory information, the lab safety officer gets that information from EH&S. He or she has other functions, but these are some of the most significant.

Lab Safety Regulations Aren’t Just Nagging

When you see the job of the lab safety officer described in print, it’s easy to understand the importance of it. Day to day, however, the reality can be different. The lab safety officer is often an unpopular person around the facility, like a substitute teacher who stays all year. There’s a perception that the officer’s strict focus on safety regulations and paperwork get in the way of research progress. Lab safety officers can be especially disliked in industrial labs, where regulation is very strict.

In academic labs, the lab safety officer’s role is often taken less seriously because academic labs are not so strictly regulated. Unfortunately, 2016 brought plenty of evidence that lab safety should be a greater concern in academic labs. Serious accidents at the University of Hawaii-Manoa and Dickinson State University in North Dakota demonstrate the value of stricter safety standards in academic labs. It’s likely that the people involved in both these accidents believed they were safe enough, but as it turned out, they were not. The Hawaii incident, in particular, revealed systemic safety failures in the lab that had gone on for a long time.

Create a Culture of Lab Safety

Researchers are focused on results, and it’s understandable that they might view the lab safety officer’s efforts as nagging that gets in the way of achieving those results. But we’ve said it before: Lab safety should be embraced by everyone who works in your lab.

Create a culture of safety starting at the very top of the lab hierarchy that reaches down to the most junior member of the team. Getting past any adversarial relationships between the lab safety officer and members of your team is the first step. The lab safety officer really doesn’t want to interfere—he or she wants you and your people to maintain safe practices and a safe lab environment so you can achieve your research goals. Take their recommended steps, whether it’s wearing proper safety equipment every time or eliminating clutter down to the last scrap.

Another contributor to improved lab safety is IonBench dedicated laboratory furniture, which can alleviate several potential safety concerns, like noise and the heavy lifting of weighty mass spectrometers and HPLCs. Contact us to learn how our lab furniture can add an extra level of safety to your laboratory.