Some experiments take time: hours, days, even weeks. This means that the experiment will be set up and running in the lab while you are not there. You have an ethical obligation to prevent harm to others in the lab by ensuring that they are aware of your experiment and its hazards. Make sure they know:
- What the purpose of the experiment is;
- To whom it belongs;
- What behavior indicates that something has gone wrong; and
- What to do if something does go wrong.
You could tell the members of the lab all that information, but some lab members might not be present and others will promptly forget. Depending on the lab’s occupants to “know what’s going on” is foolish—your colleagues may know the general type of research you do but they are not familiar with the details of all your experiments. Far better is to post the information so that anyone in the lab can easily see what your experiment is, how to identify abnormal situations, and what to do in that event.
A sample form is available for you to use directly or adapt to your lab’s needs. (The file is in Word format for easy modification.) The form is written to allow use in teaching as well as research labs. You should prepare two copies of the form: one to post near the experimental apparatus and one to post in a safe place (like on the door). In an emergency, no one may be willing to approach the apparatus to read the information sheet!
Equipment being relocated must move through public corridors and outside areas; equipment being repaired or disposed is being transferred to service or disposal personnel unfamiliar with your lab and its hazards. In all cases, you are responsible for protecting others from unknown contamination. Learn more in Equipment Transfer Safety Note.
There are many different types of protective eyewear available, and each one is designed to protect against a different hazard. Having the wrong type of safety eyewear can be worse than not wearing eye protection at all. Learn about the basic types in Choosing eye protection.
This Hopkins Safety Note is the start of a series on eye protection, so look for future notes covering the different types in detail.
Even if you are not doing anything that “needs” safety eyewear, you still need safety eyewear in the lab!
You do not have control over all hazards in the lab—one of your fellows may walk in with a chemical bottle and suddenly drop it on the bench in front of you, or a pressurized system (like a gas cylinder regulator) may throw off a part. You are exposed to more hazards than you personally are handling—choose eyewear according to your exposure, not your specific work. There have been incidents at Homewood where uninvolved labmates were suddenly involved in someone else’s accident.
Wearing appropriate eyewear in lab or shop is also a mark of a professional scientist or engineer. If you have to be told to put on your safety glasses or goggles when visiting an industrial or governmental facility, you will be considered unprofessional, and you may not get the job for which you are interviewing. Acquire the habit of wearing safety eyewear.
Algorithm for deciding whether you need safety eyewear:
- Is the work you’re about to do hazardous?
If YES, wear appropriate eyewear. Obviously, you personally need it.
- Is anyone else in the lab doing hazardous work?
If YES, wear appropriate eyewear. You are exposed to their hazards.
- Are chemicals or compressed gases stored or used in the lab at any time?
If YES, wear appropriate eyewear. You do not have control over falling chemical bottles, poorly secured pressurized parts, etc.
- Is it possible anyone else will bring hazardous work into the lab while you are there?
If YES, wear appropriate eyewear. Somebody can walk in and drop a chemical bottle at any time, so you need to be ready.
- Is it possible that you will “forget” to put on your eyewear if you decide to do hazardous work—or simply not do it because “you’re just doing one little thing?”
If YES, wear appropriate eyewear.
- Are you sure you won’t do anything hazardous in lab today, no one will walk in with hazardous materials or equipment, nothing hazardous is stored in the lab, and you want to exhibit bad professional habits?
If YES, you DON’T need to wear safety eyewear.
The World Health Organization publishes a guide to biosafety in the lab, although it is not as well-known (or as encyclopedic) as the CDC’s version.
The US Federal Select Agent Program oversees the possession, use, and transfer of biological select agents and toxins. A list of Select Agents and toxins can be found here.
Although most of the Select Agents are serious human pathogens such as Ebola hemorrhagic fever virus and bubonic plague organism, the list includes some toxins used legitimately in biological research, such as ricin.
National Select Agent Registry–CDC
The NIH guidelines for research involving recombinant or synthetic DNA molecules are the basis for JHU’s DNA project registration and review procedures. Molecular biology researchers should be intimately familiar with this document.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publish “the BMBL,” the primary reference on biosafety. Compliance with practices in this guide is required for those on NIH grants.
Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories