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.