Lab Design Tips for a Functional Workspace: Part 1

We all know that a poorly designed engine will not perform efficiently. The same is true with lab design. Awkward layouts, incompatible pieces of dedicated lab furniture, and tight or wasted space can all affect the efficiency of your processes. Here are five lab design tips to create functional lab workspaces.

1.    Get Everyone on Board

No lab is going to function at its best if all stakeholders are not involved in its design. Begin with an all-hands-on-deck kickoff meeting, but don’t let it end there. Keep people at all levels of the organization involved throughout the lab design process. Encourage additional input. In fact, invite staff to think about processes as they work and talk with maintenance concerning what does and doesn’t work smoothly after lab techs have left for the day. Brainstorming new solutions to existing problems can ensure a more efficient work environment for the long haul.

2.    Start Your Lab Design with a Focus on Control Areas

One key component of a successful lab design is appropriate separation of hazardous and combustible materials. List all current chemicals used, but also brainstorm where research and trajectories are taking your lab processes, so that you can control chemical interactions in the future as well as with current projects. Include careful consideration of code and safety requirements as well. Be certain to design storage areas to meet your needs and be sure to purchase sufficient dedicated lab furniture for the safe storage of all types of hazardous chemicals.

3.    Size Your Space to Meet Present and Future Needs

If you’ve ever worked in an older lab, you know how frustrating it can be when the footprint of your equipment has grown, necessitating larger and more complex lab furniture. Often, the space becomes crowded and staff find it difficult to navigate safely through cramped work areas. When creating a new lab design, allow plenty of space for not just any lab furniture, but the latest, safest dedicated lab benches that can account for the maneuvering on heavy-duty caster wheels (such as our IonBenches) for an HPLC or other peripheral machines that are used episodically or need to be repositioned throughout the lab.

4.    Organize Your Space to Ensure Proper Ventilation

Modern HVAC systems can pull quite a bit of air through a space. This can be a boon for proper ventilation—or a nightmare if improperly installed. Make certain that lab pressurization will meet safety standards. Ensure that the location of fume hoods and live flames will not intersect with HVAC systems in such a way as to cause fumes to escape containment, and potentially spread throughout your building or the HVAC system, blowing out or suddenly expanding a live flame, which would result in a dangerous lab accident.

5.    Get a Complete and Comprehensive Equipment List

Another reason for involving all stakeholders in your lab design (see tip #1 above) is the need to get a comprehensive equipment list. Once you know all the equipment that must be place in your lab design, you can design a complete layout and work with a dedicated lab furniture vendor like us to install lab benches and ancillary furniture that will support each workstation in your new lab design.

This is why we encourage you to contact Tim Hawkins now via email or at 1-888-669-1233. He can discuss the importance of consistency provided by installing dedicated lab furniture from a single vendor that will integrate seamlessly to support lab processes.

Also, stay tuned for our next post, which will share five more tips for designing a functional lab workspace.

Keeping Dedicated Lab Furniture Sparkling Clean without Breaking the Bank

There are many ways that you can successfully extend the life of your lab benches. We have made recommendations before about how to properly care for your dedicated lab furniture and regularly clean the benches that hold your mass spectrometer and HPLC. This article focuses on an easy, cost-saving way to regularly clean without needing to purchase a handful of fancy products.

Clean Your Dedicated Lab Furniture Before Every Experiment and After Every Spill

We often hear people saying that time is of the essence — but that doesn’t mean you should skip cleaning your lab benches. Little can be more wasteful of time and money than a contaminated process or lab safety issue. This is why you should clean your dedicated lab furniture before every experiment or new process and after every spill or accident. In other words, as your mother might have taught you, clean early and often.

An Inexpensive Cleaning Solution for Your Dedicated Lab Furniture

While there are lots of specialized sanitizing solutions on the market, sometimes that’s not what’s required to keep your mass spectrometer lab bench properly clean. When it comes to sanitation, sometimes basic, familiar, relatively inexpensive products can do the job of expensive brand name cleaners. In this case, we recommend two diluted solutions: one of bleach, the other of ethanol.

To prepare the solutions, mix one-part bleach with nine-parts water in one container. In a second container, mix seven parts ethanol with three parts water. (You can safely store these solutions for later use, making cleanup a breeze.)

An Easy Process for Cleaning Your Mass Spectrometer and HPLC Benches

Once you have your solutions in place, the process for cleaning is straightforward.

First, if you have long hair, tie it back, out of the way. Also, secure or remove any dangling jewelry and ID lanyards. While these solutions might be simple, they are not necessarily kind to fine metals and plastics.

Second, put on latex gloves (or your non-allergenic alternative).

Third, remove all loose items from the mass spectrometer and HPLC benches. This includes pipettes, test tubes, beakers along with notes, pens, and anything else that has collected on your bench and shouldn’t be on the work surface anyway.

Fourth, take a paper towel, dip it in the diluted bleach solution, lightly squeeze it out, and use the paper towel to thoroughly wipe all surfaces of the bench.

Fifth, take a paper towel, dip it in the diluted ethanol solution, lightly squeeze it out, and use the paper towel to thoroughly wipe all surfaces of the bench.

Sixth, let the dedicated lab furniture dry thoroughly. While you wait, take the paper towel from the bleach solution and use it to wipe the bottoms (and, where appropriate, other surfaces) of those pipettes, test tubes, and beakers.

Seventh, finish the job correctly. Once the bench is dry, return your loose items to the clean lab bench. Close and store your bleach and ethanol solutions for use next time. Dispose of your gloves in a proper container.

Now you are ready to safely begin another process or experiment.

If you have any questions about cleaning your dedicated lab furniture, please contact lab bench expert Tim Hawkins at 1-888-669-1233 or by email.

Five HPLC Penny-Pinching Mistakes to Avoid

Every lab instrument comes with its own special set of instructions. While we recommend paying attention to the cautionary notes when first setting up mass specs and HPLCs, after a while, many labs might naturally begin to cut corners. This is especially true when budget season comes around and lab workers consider the cost of the various columns, filters and buffer bottles. These penny-pinching habits can cause much more expensive problems, however. That is why we thought it was time to remind everyone of five habits you should never develop, and should certainly break if you recognize yourself in this list.

1.    Never Use the Same HPLC Column for Multiple Methods

Let’s begin with the obvious: Don’t use the same column for different methods. Even if both methods call for the same column description, the possibility of carryover remains, even with the best of cleaning. We’ve heard that unimportant peaks from one method have ended up causing problems for a second method, even when the same product is used. Don’t risk the loss of an entire series of processes: use a different HPLC column for each method.

2.    Don’t Finalize a New Method with a Used Column

Yes, sometimes it’s useful to extend the life of a lightly used column by using it for screening columns during method development. However, once you’ve determined the right brand and model, move directly to working with new columns. Part of this is because of the chance for cross-contamination mentioned above. Another possibility is that prior methods can actually change the chemical composition of the used column. This can mean that a new column could prove incompatible with your process once the method of development has been completed.

3.    Never Mix Ion-Pairing and Non-Ion-Pairing Columns

Studies have shown that ion-pairing reagents can never successfully be completely removed from a column, even with regeneration procedures. Longer-chain sulfonates are particularly difficult to remove, even with 100% isopropanol or methanol. As with the caution above, chemical changes to the HPLC columns themselves are likely to take place.

4.    Don’t Top Off the Buffer Reservoir

Have you ever given any thought to how long it takes for microbes to start growing in acetate or phosphate? We hear that wise lab techs don’t use buffer from one bottle for more than one to two weeks. This means that, if you don’t replace the reservoir each time you add buffer, you’re inviting contamination, which is much more expensive than a new reservoir and buffer. Microbial contaminants are especially an issue with UHPLC because the columns use 0.2-μm porosity frits, which can often become clogged by bacteria.

5.    Don’t Throw Away Dollars by Pinching Pennies

Think about it this way: the time, effort, and materials expended in attempting to clean HPLC columns or buffer reservoirs for any reason will far outweigh the cost of new materials. After all, you can get 500 or more samples (some get even up to 1000) from each column before it begins to fail. In contrast, if a lab tech’s time costs the company $50 per hour (which is entirely possible, given the whole package of salary, benefits, training, and time off), the time spent cleaning filters or scrubbing columns is just not worth it—especially if cross-contamination cannot be ruled out.

Another way that too many labs pinch pennies and end up throwing away dollars is by failing to invest in dedicated lab furniture. If you don’t have dedicated lab furniture for your HPLC, this makes reservoir replacement and filling a much more dangerous process. With dedicated lab furniture such as our IonBench LC, you can raise and lower your HPLC with ease, optimizing configurations and preventing falls from stepstools or ladders.

To learn more about how IonBench LC can save you money and ensure lab safety in the long run, contact Tim Hawkins via email or at 1-888-669-1233.

Why NOT to Buy Your Dedicated Lab Furniture Where You Buy Your Mass Spectrometer

Sometimes a package deal can seem very appealing. Buying everything you think you need in one place can appear to be quick, easy, and convenient, especially when you’re purchasing large, heavy equipment like a new mass spectrometer. But there are three reasons why purchasing your dedicated lab furniture at the same place as your mass spec is not a smart move.

1.    Fit

Yes, it makes perfect sense that a mass spec manufacturer will provide dedicated lab furniture that perfectly fits its mass spectrometer product. But that’s not the only fit you need to consider. For starters, what about the configuration of your lab? Some modern mass specs are very tall. When the new MS is placed on the manufacturer’s stock dedicated lab furniture, will the combination fit your lab’s ceiling height? It would be pretty awkward to need to shave a couple of inches off that bench when it arrives.

Also, consider your workflow necessities. Are you wanting your HPLC to be on a separate cart—perhaps to easily move it between one lab and another? Then you might want your mass spectrometer on a smaller bench than the manufacturer provides.

What about your data system? Do you want it configured to the right or the left of your MS, or on a separate, connected desk entirely? Here at IonBench, we custom-craft every piece of dedicated lab furniture. We consult with you at the time of purchase, making whatever bench configuration changes are needed to accommodate safe and efficient workflow in your lab.

2.    Service

For mass spec manufacturers, lab benches are an accessory. For us, they are the primary focus of our work. Rather than making it a single line item on a three-page, six-figure quote, we put our dedicated lab furniture front and center. We will make certain that, in addition to your mass spectrometer, the design of your custom lab bench will consider placement and handling of the following: vacuum pumps, chromatographs, chillers, nitrogen generators, computers, monitors, UPS systems, printers, waste lines and power distribution.

3.    Value

Mass spec manufacturers are focused on the production and support of specialized machines that have both a high cost and high overhead to ensure technical perfection. From a practical standpoint, this can mean that their lab benches are manufactured and sold with less attention to detail and quality control, in part to support or offset the high overhead of MS production.

Our focus at IonBench is only on dedicated lab furniture. We are not concerned with the bottom-line of mass spec manufacturing. Our only goal is to create the best possible lab benches for your particular needs. This means we do not cut corners. We put all our attention into quality manufacturing because lab benches are our main concern. With lower overhead, our clients receive more “bang for the buck” with our dedicated lab furniture.

To learn more about why an investment in IonBench dedicated lab furniture is a worthwhile investment, contact Tim Hawkins via email or at 1-888-669-1233.

Lab Noise and Lab Safety: There’s an App for That

This blog frequently talks about the importance of managing lab noise. We’ve covered decibels and health risks associated with lab-safety accidents because too much lab noise can mask warnings and cause miscommunication at critical moments. But how do you know if your lab is too noisy?

What Is Your Experience with Lab Noise?

Here are some questions to ask yourself when wondering if noise is a problem in your lab:

  • When you leave the lab, do you sense humming or ringing in your ears?
  • Do you have to shout to be heard by a colleague who’s at the next closest workstation?
  • Do you experience temporary hearing loss when you leave the lab at the end of the day?

If you responded yes to any of these questions, then lab noise in your workplace may be a potential problem.

OSHA and NIOSH Workplace Noise Limits and Lab Safety

For all U.S. workers, OSHA has set standards and regulations for noise in the workplace. Exposure to noise should be kept below an equivalence level of 85 dBA for an entire eight-hour shift. For every sound level increase of 5 dBA over 90 dBA, the legal time limit is cut in half, which means you should only have to endure four hours in a 95-dBA work environment or two hours in a 100-dBA work environment.

Other organizations set stricter limits. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends less than fifteen minutes of exposure at the 85-dBA level per day and an exponential decrease in exposure time for every 3 dBA as opposed to 5 dBA.

If you are experiencing any of the lab-noise issues described above, you can take this to your supervisor and expect action. Ringing in the ears is unlikely to be taken as seriously as an objective measurement, but apps for that are now available.

Three Apps that Can Measure Lab Noise

While you might not have sophisticated instruments that measure noise in your lab, almost everyone has a smartphone these days. Here are three apps that measure lab-noise levels and provide a basic decibel reading, including statistics such as average-, low-, and peak-volume levels:

One thing to note is that standard smartphone microphones are not designed for precision measurements. If a basic reading concerns you, you may wish to invest in a sound-level meter to gather readings that will convince your supervisor of the seriousness of the situation. On the other hand, you can report your initial findings on your smartphone or tablet and suggest that your supervisor take it from there.

Dedicated Lab Furniture Reduces Lab Noise

One of the most efficient methods for reducing lab noise is installing dedicated lab furniture. Our IonBench MS sequesters MS roughing pumps and guarantees a 15-dBA reduction in noise levels. To learn more about IonBench, contact our dedicated lab-furniture expert. Tim Hawkins can be reached by email or at 1-888-669-1233.

How to Stay Sane in the Midst of Lab Noise

Sometimes, lab noise is unavoidable no matter how many steps you take to corral the racket, lower the volume, and soundproof with dedicated lab furniture. We’ve talked in the past about the many impacts of lab noise on lab techs, researchers, and other staff. But what can be done when lab noise isn’t dangerous, but still bothersome? Here are five suggestions about how workers can cope when lab noise levels impact productivity.

1.    Invest in Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Good noise-cancelling headphones were first developed to address the background hum associated with cars and airplanes. This means that modern noise-cancelling headphones are excellent choices for managing noise levels in your lab without also cancelling out intermittent sounds that could indicate a problem or an imminent lab accident.

Another way that headphones can assist with noise while not compromising lab safety is by using one earbud. This allows your brain to focus on the music or white noise coming through your headsets while still hearing voices of colleagues who may need your attention. (If you’re so tuned out to the lab around you that your colleague must tap you on the shoulder to get your attention, your resulting jump could become a safety incident in and of itself!)

2.    Take a Break and Step Out of the Lab Noise

Although OSHA has not addressed the issue of lunch and break periods (this belongs under labor-standards law), many organizations recognize that short breaks from work can improve concentration and productivity. With this in mind, if your lab’s noise is getting to you, step out, take a break, walk around the building (inside or out, depending on the weather), and reconnect with the world beyond your mass spec.

3.    Be Proactive about Lab Safety

Noise culprits are in every workplace. We all know who they are. They whistle while they work, they stop and chat at your workstation, they generally make themselves obvious—sometimes annoyingly so. If you know that you need to have less noise and more focus for a particular project that day, don’t be afraid to say something. “I’m slammed today, so I sure hope nothing breaks down and breaks my concentration,” you might say as you fill your cup at the water cooler or coffee maker. “Is your plate as full as mine?” In this way, you can clarify that you’re uninterruptible without calling attention to the culprit’s tendency to speak loudly, interrupt, and generally distract colleagues.

4.    Have the Talk when Necessary

If the indirect methods above don’t work, then don’t be afraid to have the noise safety conversation. It might be a Friday afternoon, and everyone around you is ramping up for the weekend and talking about their plans, but if all that lab noise creates a potential lab safety or concentration issue for you, don’t be afraid to speak up.

5.    Invest in Dedicated Lab Furniture

Investing in dedicated lab furniture that suppresses noise in your busy lab is the best way to keep lab noise below irritating or dangerous levels. Our IonBench MS completely isolates vacuum pumps, decreasing lab noise by 75%. When you invest in the right technology—even at the lab bench level—you invest in the focus and productivity of everyone who works in your lab. For more information about our dedicated lab furniture, contact Tim Hawkins today at tim.hawkins@farhawk.com or 1-888-669-1233.

Five More Lab Bench Maintenance Tips for Your Dedicated Lab Furniture

One of our most popular posts provided some maintenance tips to extend the life of your dedicated lab furniture. Those tips have been so useful that we decided to add five more lab bench maintenance steps you can take to prolong the life of your IonBench (or any dedicated lab furniture) and the valuable mass spec that lives atop it.

1.    Replace Overheat Alarm Batteries

Our IonBench MS comes with an overheat alarm that is designed to warn you if the vacuum pump enclosures become overheated. (This is one of many reasons why it makes good sense to invest in dedicated lab furniture rather than re-purposing standard furniture to hold your mass spec.) Two AA batteries provide power to the overheat alarm. You can check the power at any time by pressing on the black button (see photo), but we recommend that these AA batteries be replaced annually.

2.    Check Air Intake for Blockage

One reason that the vacuum pump enclosure can overheat is that the air intake becomes blocked. In a crowded lab (which many are), storage space is at a premium. Staff can realize that there’s space under your dedicated lab furniture and decide to use it for storage.

However, with the IonBench MS, the enclosure’s air intake is located underneath the machine. This can mean the intake gets blocked when the area is used for storage, causing the vacuum pump enclosure to more easily overheat. (Using that space for storage can also make the lab bench more difficult and dangerous to move if a lab tech doesn’t realize that someone else used the space for storage!)

3.    Check Enclosure Door

Because it is opened and closed on a regular basis, the vacuum pump enclosure door may eventually become misaligned due to hinges loosening or someone leaning on the door as they stand up. If the door for your dedicated lab furniture is not well aligned, it will affect the bench’s ability to block vacuum pump noise, increasing the possibility of moderate noise effects such as annoyance, mishearing communications, and the potential for lab accidents.

If your IonBench MS door is no longer aligned, contact Tim Hawkins by email or at 1-888-669-1233. He can send you an easy to follow, step-by-step guide to readjusting this important piece of your lab bench’s noise suppression system.

4.    Prevent Caster Wheels from Flattening

Our dedicated lab furniture comes with solid casters that are engineered to withstand a lot of bulk. Those casters support an IonBench that weighs over 220 kg in addition to the weight of the MS and other instruments and computers it supports.

While the casters are strong, any wheel will eventually flatten if it is not moved periodically. We recommend that, when it is safe to do so, you move your dedicated lab furniture back and forth about 30 cm to redistribute the weight on those casters and keep all parts of them strong and flexible.

5.    Check Power Cable

Over time, especially if you do move your mass spec around your lab with the help of those handy caster wheels, the power cable might become frayed (see photo). Check it regularly and order a replacement if required.

We hope you find these additional lab bench maintenance tips helpful. If you have other maintenance questions, please contact Tim Hawkins for expert assistance.

Cannabis Testing: A New Field for Mass Spectrometry

We periodically highlight new types of work in mass spec technology that our dedicated lab furniture supports. In this post, we put the spotlight on a rapidly growing, yet controversial use for mass spectrometry—cannabis analysis.

Setting the Stage for Types of Testing

The piecemeal legalization of cannabis is a challenge for the states where cannabis consumption has been approved. Each state has its own laws and regulations for the medical and/or recreational use of cannabis that include several challenges. First, crop protection agents are applied to increase yields and to standardize product appearance; testing must determine contaminant levels for consumer safety. Second, various—and sometimes nonexistent—maximum-residue limits exist. Third, sample variation is enormous because cannabis is ingested by various methods—orally, topically, or inhalation.

Four Types of Mass Spectrometry Cannabis Analysis

All of these variables have led to the need for LC-MS/MS technology, which determines chemical residues and compares them to the lowest legal—or possible—limits. High-resolution mass spectrometry has proven most effectively when analyzing compounds for the following four categories.

Pesticides

Pesticide levels are regulated in some states, such as Oregon, which has issued a guide list for acceptable types and levels of pesticides in flowers and concentrates. Other regulatory agencies now follow this standard. Targeted mass spectrometry can test for levels of stipulated residues, and some manufacturers are creating plug-and-play methodologies for efficient mass-spec analysis.

Mycotoxins

Human-generated pesticides are not the only contaminants affecting cannabis. Mycotoxins (molds and fungi) readily colonize crops and survive harvest and processing. Aflatoxins are of particular concern with cannabis; mass spectrometry can detect dangerous levels of these microbial contaminants.

Potency Levels

In addition to testing the presence of contaminants, mass spectrometry is also used to determine the levels of beneficial compounds in cannabis. Using mass spec, accurate and precise data can be collected from almost a dozen different cannabinoids. The development of streamlined sample preparation and analysis protocols can accurately compare samples.

Terpene Content

In addition to assessing cannabinoids, mass spec can test levels of various terpenes—essential oils that may enhance the cannabis experience and may promote certain health benefits. While mass spectrometry cannot assess the claims of those health benefits, determining the levels of various terpenes is certainly helpful for the comparison of cannabis crops and for marketing purposes.

Supporting Your Mass Spectrometry with Dedicated Lab Furniture

As with many inventions, it’s likely the early pioneers of mass spectrometry probably had no idea how useful those mass spec machines would become. And while new uses will contribute to the development of tomorrow’s machines, you can rest assured that IonBench will be there, literally, supporting those mass spectrometers both now and in the future. Whether you’re undertaking controversial cannabis analysis or engaged in more commonplace testing, all mass specs deserve the right foundation. To learn more about our IonBench MS, contact Tim Hawkins at tim.hawkins@farhawk.com or 1-888-669-1233.

Noise Safety and Evolutionary Change: The Impact of Noise on Animals of All Kinds

We care about noise in the lab environment as well as the broader environment, so we periodically post information we’ve gleaned about noise impacting the human animal. But in this post, our focus is the rest of the animal population. While few of them may end up in your lab, the impact of noise on wild life is illuminating, to say the least, and understanding how noise impacts all animals certainly can increase noise-safety awareness in your lab.

Noise Is Everywhere

Most of us would like to live and work in quiet places. Many of us also seek quiet places for rest and relaxation. Unfortunately, recent research on US National Parks proves that avoiding invasive, disturbing noise is increasingly impossible. While background noise in these national parks is relatively low when compared with US cities, it is disturbingly and “remarkably” high by wilderness criteria.

Furthermore, a large percentage of the noise pollution in national parks enters from outside it, which means that the National Park Service and the animals have no control over increasing noise.

The Impact of Noise on Animals

Researchers are conducting multiple studies on how noise impacts animals across the globe. Some impacts are severe and straightforward, such as powerful arrays of air guns tied to underwater military sonar and used to map the seafloor that unintentionally strand whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Other impacts are less obvious, such as robins changing the timing of their songs to catch a quieter time of day, or urban great tits changing the frequency of their calls to avoid being drowned out by lower-toned, human-generated noise.

Some animals have actually found ways to use all the noise to their advantage. Hummingbirds and house finches now select nesting sites in noisy areas near active gas wells because noise-sensitive avian predators avoid these areas. On the other hand, increased road noise disturbs prairie dogs: They spend more time keeping watch, which leaves them less time foraging food; the species’ long-term health and wellness could decline.

Noise Safety for Animals and Humans in Your Lab

While wild animals may not be residing in your lab, you do have human animals working there. The findings above demonstrate how any animal that is exposed to noise can suffer effects. This includes noise in the lab environment. As we’ve discussed before, noise safety is key to an efficient, productive lab environment. Noise can cause people to tune out or mishear critical lab-safety conversations. Noise can raise the stress level, resulting in cardiovascular disease. Noise can cause annoyance and impair cognitive performance.

This is why reducing noise should be a primary consideration in any lab. It’s also a reason why our dedicated lab furniture offers noise-reduction features. The state-of-the-art IonBench MS isolates the mass-spec vacuum pumps that can contribute so much noise to the lab environment. We keep manufacturing more dedicated lab furniture because more and more labs are prioritizing noise safety and are taking steps to ensure a quiet, safe lab environment.

To learn more about how our IonBenches can improve noise safety for the human animals in your lab, contact Tim Hawkins at tim.hawkins@farhawk.com or 1-888-669-1233.

Lab Safety Learning: Avoiding the Rush to Judgment

The more we all learn about lab safety; the safer labs will be (and the more we can create better dedicated lab furniture). Sometimes the best lessons come from unexpected places.

In this post, we spotlight an idea we came across recently. One of thinking beyond the rules when it comes to evaluating lab safety accidents. It comes from a safety article by Dr. Ivan Pupulidy, who investigates fatal firefighting incidents for the US Forest Service. In it, Dr. Pupulidy purports that a rush to judgment can lead toward an increase in accidents rather than an increase in safety.

Reevaluating the Investigative Process

Context often provides vital clues to the genesis of an accident, but Dr. Pupulidy found that more often the investigative process focuses instead upon whether established rules and procedures have been followed. This leads investigators to oversimplify these complex contexts and often rush to judgment regarding the worker’s adherence to established rules and procedures. The focus quickly becomes whether the rules were followed, rather than why they were not.

As any good researcher knows, unexpected results point to anomalies and possible complexity within experimental parameters. Those results merit further investigation rather than a systemic assignment of judgment or blame.

Dr. Pupulidy and his colleagues learned that their assessment of systems often missed important elements of the situation by focusing exclusively on policies and regulations. Instead, over time, they learned to focus on the split-second decisions made by firefighters facing unexpected situations. When the established rules and procedures did not apply, what actions did firefighters take and why?

The Currency of Safety is Information

Over time, Dr. Pupulidy and his team began to change their definition of safety and the metrics of success. When judgment and blame are held in check, and a process of curiosity accompanies the process, investigators gained the trust of firefighters and learned much more about the contexts in which those accidents had taken place.

Eventually, they began using a new phrase: The currency of safety is information. To close the gap between work as imagined (governed by those rules and regulations) and work performed (in those split-second, crisis decisions in the field), investigators learned to understand the dynamic nature of firefighting systems.

What Does This Mean for Lab Safety?

First, it means not moving too quickly to assign blame in a lab accident. In its place, approach the investigation with curiosity. Don’t rush to evaluate whether all the rules and procedures were followed. Instead, if you discover that some were not, ask why. When staff must recognize a situation as new and make sense of unexpected information in order to devise an innovative solution, they are doing nothing less than what is required of the observant researcher in your lab.

Second, it means listening to employees who express concerns over rules and regulations. While those rules were created because of past lab safety accidents, this does not mean that every rule fits all situations. Just as not all mass spectrometers will function equally to do the same job, not every rule can fit every complex context.

As Dr. Pupulidy concludes, “an accident [is] not seen as a choice, after all who would choose to have an accident? Rather it is seen as a natural outgrowth of normal system and human variability.”

Naturally, you will want to limit those variables to the best of your capacity, which is why we suggest you invest in dedicated lab furniture. To improve lab safety and reduce accident rates with our IonBench dedicated lab furniture, contact Tim Hawkins today by email or at 1-888-669-1233.