Available Laser Training and Self-Study Resources

Lasers are a valuable tool for conducting good science in the lab environment. However, safe science is good science, so it is incredibly important that all researchers using lasers understand their safe operation to avoid any incidents.  

Laser safety is a broad and comprehensive topic that requires proper training and materials to address. For information on laser safety training see here. This link will guide you through finding and taking the correct laser safety training depending on your role and exposure risk.   

Additionally, for more information or self-study materials, check out the Safe Laser Use page on the JHU Lab Safety websiteThis is your place to go for lab safety resources on the Homewood campus. We cover a variety of specific topics that you as a student or researcher must know.   

Finally, further information on general laser usage and safety, including relevant laws and regulation can be found on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Laser Hazards page and the Laser Institute of America. These two sources provide a large range of additional training and reference materials for anyone interested in maximizing laser safety within their work and research environment.   

Contact Mr. Niel Leon, Laser Safety Advocate, at 913-302-8500 or nleon1@jhu.edu for more information about laser training and self-study resources. 

Lessons Learned Database

Understanding previous incidents, close calls, or potential shortcomings is crucial to not only establishing, but maintaining a safe lab environment. The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) OPEXShare Lessons Learned database is a fantastic resource to find the most up-to-date news regarding safety errors and investigations from labs across the country. 

To access the database, first go to opexshare.doe.govHere you will not only find the Lessons Learned database, but also a collection of recent news stories and other content regarding lab safety. Once on the homepage, click the “Lessons Learned” banner which will redirect you to the database. From here, you can sort through lessons with categories such as type, topic, and site/group.  

Some of the more than 2800 lessons in the database include pressure vessel failure events and improper labeling. There is likely to be a situation or topic relevant to your lab.  

Why Not to Trust Personal Protective Equipment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) like safety goggles and lab coats should not be trusted to protect you from harm. This is because they depend on the wearer to maintain and wear them properly in order for them to function effectively. No person can be relied upon to always, 100% of the time wear his or her PPE properly—or even at all!

Additionally, PPE itself is not 100% effective. A large fraction of eye injuries happen to people who were not wearing the proper eye protection (or were wearing it incorrectly). If you think about this, it also means that some eye injuries occur even when the victim is wearing appropriate eye protection! Imagine a chemical splash that dislodges the goggles from your face as an example.

Do not depend on PPE as your only defense against an incident unless you cannot avoid it. If you have a close call in which your PPE is tested—perhaps a flying part intercepted by your safety glasses—you should re-examine the various hazard controls protecting you, because you came very close to an injury. PPE is your last safety barrier; if it fails, you will have an incident.

If you have questions about PPE and your different layers of hazard control, contact Dr. Daniel Kuespert, Homewood Laboratory Safety Advocate, at dkuespert@jhu.edu. See Dr. Kuespert’s website, https://labsafety.jhu.edu, for more safety information. As always, emergency response is available from Security at 410-516-7777.

Tidy Labs Are Cool

Now that COVID-19 is a part of our daily life in the lab, we’ve become accustomed to disinfecting after each work shift. Keeping a tidy lab, free of clutter and unnecessary equipment, makes the lab easier to disinfect—there is less that needs to be moved out of the way, less that needs to be wiped. Your disinfecting routine will also be more effective, since you are less likely to miss spots.

Tidy labs are also safer, because there are no bottles of chemicals waiting to be knocked off the bench, sharp tools hiding under piles of paper, or round objects such as screw or rods waiting to cause slips and falls.

Lastly, a clean lab is more efficient. Although it takes time to put things away when they are not needed, this is generally more than offset by not having to search for items, not having to clear away space on the bench or in the hood to work, etc. Be safer, be more efficient, and avoid COVID-19 simply by keeping a tidy lab.

If you have questions about lab safety and efficiency improvements, contact Dr. Daniel Kuespert, Homewood Laboratory Safety Advocate, at dkuespert@jhu.edu. See Dr. Kuespert’s website, https://labsafety.jhu.edu, for more safety information. As always, emergency response is available from Security at 410-516-7777.

Working Alone

With the advent of COVID-19 and the personnel density requirements imposed by the university, more researchers are working alone in the lab. For some work, this is perfectly fine, but for work with a higher level of risk, someone should know you are working in the lab and monitor you in case of trouble.

Depending on the risk level, this may be as simple as sending messages over Microsoft Teams to your labmates when you enter and leave the lab. Other times, it may be necessary for someone to monitor you from the door of the lab as you conduct riskier work. Consult with your principal investigator to determine the risk level of your work and any need for monitoring. As a last resort, Security (410-516-7777) can occasionally check on you if you inform them of the need; don’t forget to tell them when you leave!

Never conduct risky lab work alone; tragic incidents can result. In 2011, at Yale University, physics undergraduate Michele Dufault, a few weeks away from graduation, was working alone in a campus machine shop late at night, when her hair became caught in a lathe (a rotating machine tool). Her body was discovered in the morning, triggering a great deal of soul-searching at Yale (and here) about appropriate precautions for lone work.

If you have questions about working alone in the lab, shops, or makerspaces, contact Dr. Daniel Kuespert, Homewood Laboratory Safety Advocate, at dkuespert@jhu.edu. See Dr. Kuespert’s website, https://labsafety.jhu.edu, for more safety information. As always, emergency response is available from Security at 410-516-7777.

Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL) 6th Edition

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have just released the 6th edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL). This updated book is the primary reference on biosafety and compliance with its practices and guidelines is required for those on NIH grants.

A PDF download version is available here.

Any concerns, comments, or suggested edits can be sent to BMBLComments@mail.nih.gov

Hard copy books can be ordered through CDC INFO On-Demand – Publications by entering the publication ID (300859) into the search bar at the far right and following the instructions. Once the publication reaches the maximum amount of orders allowed per day, a ‘temporarily unavailable’ message will appear. If this occurs, simply try to reorder the next day.

Old Chemicals

Since we’ve been away from the labs for some time, some chemical products—laboratory reagents, solvents, paints, adhesives, etc.—have had time to age. Sometimes this is harmless (e.g., a sealed bottle of alcohol); other times it can degrade the utility of the product (e.g., dried out paint); and in some cases it can be downright dangerous (e.g., picric acid, a chemical used in metallurgy, becomes a shock-sensitive explosive if it dries out).

Regardless of the effect on the chemicals, this is an excellent time to clean out chemicals that are expired or unwanted. Take the time to look through your chemical cabinets to identify what you don’t need. In addition to expired or degraded chemicals, consider disposing anything you haven’t used in 3 years unless you’ve got a grant or a grant application for which you’ll use that chemical.

The Department of Health, Safety, and Environment will pick up excess chemicals in buildings that are not connected to Macaulay Hall (where their excess chemical storage room is located). Use the form at https://orchid.hosts.jhmi.edu/hse/webtools/wasteform/ to request a pickup; note someone must be present in the lab for the chemicals to be picked up. If you are in a building connected to Macaulay through the steam tunnels, transport your excess chemicals to the Macaulay Hall storage room Thursday 9am-12pm. Totes are available from the storage room for safe transport of chemicals.

If you have questions about how to adapt your work and current safety procedures to work well with the COVID-19 precautions, contact Dr. Daniel Kuespert, Homewood Laboratory Safety Advocate, at dkuespert@jhu.edu. See Dr. Kuespert’s website, https://labsafety.jhu.edu, for more safety information. As always, emergency response is available from Security at 410-516-7777.

Close calls

For every serious safety incident, there are typically several situations where a safety barrier such as a chemical fume hood, a machine guard, or someone’s eye protection is tested, but holds, preventing the incident. These situations are called close calls, and they are extremely valuable to our safety program.

If you experience a close call—a splash intercepted by your chemical splash goggles, a part flying off a machine and missing you, or a chemical fume hood failing during an experiment—please report it to Dr. Daniel Kuespert at closecalls@jhu.edu. Dr. Kuespert or someone he has trained will respond to you promptly and help you investigate the close call. We do this in a blame-free environment; we’re only interested in your safety and that of others.

We sometimes find that apparently-simple close calls show up systemic flaws that could have caused larger numbers of incidents. Whatever the true causes of the close call, we cannot help you correct them if we do not know about it! The closecalls@jhu.edu address goes only to Dr. Kuespert, and you can remain anonymous—just note that in your report.

If you have questions about close-call studies, contact Dr. Daniel Kuespert, Homewood Laboratory Safety Advocate, at dkuespert@jhu.edu. See Dr. Kuespert’s website, https://labsafety.jhu.edu, for more safety information. As always, emergency response is available from Security at 410-516-7777.