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.

Keep the Safety in your “Health & Safety”

COVID-19 has brought many new challenges to work in our laboratories, and it is only natural that attention focuses on the new risks. Nevertheless, it’s important to remain vigilant about old risks—the “routine” laboratory safety hazards that occur daily in a science or engineering lab.

Because these old hazards—tools & equipment, hazardous chemicals, biological agents other than COVID-19—are still here and still pose the same risks, we need to maintain awareness of those risks. Established safety procedures (http://hpo.johnshopkins.edu/hse/) still apply. Some hazards have become enhanced because of the coronavirus—many more people are working alone in the lab, for example.

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.

Serious lab allergies from peptide coupling agents

The Journal of Organic Chemistry is reporting a case of severe allergic reactions (i.e., life-threatening anaphylaxis) developed to reagents used for peptide coupling (assembling short proteins). Any lab worker using HATU, HBTU, or HCTU, three uronium coupling agents, should read this link and speak with his or her PI regarding any necessary changes to use protocols. Also please contact Dan Kuespert, Homewood Laboratory Safety Advocate, for assistance.

(J. Org. Chem. 2019, DOI: 10.1021/acs.joc.9b03280)

FDA Points Out – Even Laser Pointers Present Dangers!

When purchasing potentially hazardous products, it is important to ensure that the device meets both your practical requirements and all necessary safety requirements. With the proliferation of lasers as tools and toys of everyday life, it is easy to forget that they present risks to users and others.

The Food and Drug Administration recently issued a consumer alert – Illuminating Facts About Laser Pointers, 13 June 2019. When using laser pointers, be sure to follow all recommended safety protocols, including (quoting the document):

  1. Never aim or shine a laser pointer at anyone.
  2. Don’t buy laser pointers for your children.
  3. Before purchasing a laser pointer, make sure it has the following information on the label:
    • a statement that it complies with Chapter 21 CFR (the Code of Federal Regulations)
    • the manufacturer or distributor’s name and the date of manufacture
    • a warning to avoid exposure to laser radiation
    • the class designation, ranging from Class I to IIIa. Class IIIb and IV products should be used only by individuals with proper training and in applications where there is a legitimate need for these high-powered products.

Your source for assistance in selecting and reviewing laser(s) is your Laser Safety Advocate, Niel Leon, Nleon1@jhu.edu.

PS: Laser pointers are often overpowered, as this 3 August 2016 blog post notes. Niel can test your laser pointer(s) or other laser-containing device(s) to ensure that it can be safely used here at JHU.