Lab safety is a critical concern across every industry that deals with hazardous substances, lab tests, R&D, and other core components of the product development and manufacturing process. In fields such as manufacturing, biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals — where chemicals, lab equipment, and testing machinery are an integral part of day-to-day work — a steady focus on safety is critical for numerous reasons:
- The health and well-being of lab personnel and facility employees, including yourself
- Protection and integrity for tests, procedures and equipment
- The reputation and credibility of the facility
In the next sections, we will explore the importance of lab safety in each of these areas in further detail.
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Why Is Lab Safety Important?
Lab safety should be an integral component of every process and function throughout the facility — for more than just a task to fulfill or a box to check. A safety mindset among all employees is one of the most effective ways to instill this approach to safety, conducting training and retraining, leading by example, and ensuring that employees are aware of not just the “how” of lab safety, but also the “why.”
Below, we will look at several examples of that “why” for you to understand and share with your facility.
Lab Safety for Workers
It should come as no surprise that a paramount reason to practice thorough, comprehensive lab safety is to protect the health and safety of employees — those who work hands-on in the lab or in a process, as well as those throughout the facility. Laboratory testing and research frequently involve hazardous chemicals and materials. The protection of workers must remain a primary concern.
The most direct reason for lab safety for workers is to protect employees from injury or harm — long- and short-term.
There are myriad secondary reasons as well, including:
- Employee morale: If a facility continually experiences worker safety issues, employees can quickly — and rightly — become dissatisfied with their work environment, resulting in retention issues, turnover, lack of interest in efficient work and more.
- Uninterrupted processes: Worker safety incidents require extensive downtime for investigation, cleaning, retraining and other necessary steps, impacting deadlines and productivity.
- Regulatory considerations: If a facility experiences an undue number of worker safety incidents, they risk falling out of compliance with OSHA and other regulatory groups and standards, which can threaten the ongoing existence of the organization.
Lab Safety for Tests and Procedures
Lab safety plays an important part in the effectiveness and integrity of tests and procedures. When proper safety procedures are not followed, test results may be lost, damaged, or tainted.
Risks and negative effects include:
- Lost work and rework: If contamination or tainting is discovered in the lab facility as a result of improper safety procedures, test results and research will be invalidated and must be conducted again to achieve consistency, repeatability, compliance and accuracy. The compound effects of lost time and time spent on retesting and other rework can add up to a major impact on the bottom line.
- Equipment damage: Improper safety procedures and material handling, such as chemical handling, can lead to damage to testing equipment, personal protective equipment, and the lab facility itself — all of which are costly to remedy, repair or replace.
- Inaccurate or irregular results: If proper safety procedures are not followed and inaccurate lab results are used in research or production, it poses a huge safety risk to end users and, potentially, other personnel in the facility.
Lab Safety for the Credibility of the Facility
Finally, lab safety plays a key role in the credibility and reputation of the facility, which can be damaged — sometimes irreparably — if the facility becomes known for safety mishaps or shoddy standards.
Reasons to maintain lab safety for the reputation of the facility include:
- Lost business: If a facility experiences safety issues — even just one — its reputation can suffer, at the expense of business and the ordering pipeline. In a crowded and competitive manufacturing and industrial landscape, customers have numerous choices and are unlikely to work with a partner with known safety issues.
- Compliance and accreditation issues: Safety incidents may also lead to regulatory issues and loss of quality accreditations. This can mean fines; lost business when quality standards are required; and additional effort, time, resources and money to regain compliance and standards.
- Difficulty attracting talent: In a scenario where industrial companies are experiencing ongoing difficulty attracting qualified talent to fill roles, a facility with known safety issues is unlikely to be a top choice for a qualified potential employee with other available options.
As you can see, the impact of lab safety is far-reaching and significant, affecting everything from employee health to the bottom line and the ongoing existence of the facility. With these examples in mind, you are ready to instill a safety mindset throughout your facility, explaining that lab safety is much more than a requirement on a checklist — it impacts every employee and customer.
Author bio: Steve Gonzales is Vice President of Technical Safety Services, which provides testing, certification, and calibration of equipment and controlled environment crucial to the success of the biopharma, medical device, academic research, and food production industries.