Proper Lab Etiquette and Best Safety Practices

Knowing the rules and safety when working around the lab is incredibly important. However, the rules don't stop there. In fact, lab etiquette is equally important as safety rules. These etiquettes ensure safety and facilitate effective collaboration with other people in the laboratory.

Prioritising Safety in the Laboratory: The Most Important Lab Etiquette

A well-equipped laboratory not only keeps everyone away from harm. It also gives everyone in the lab peace of mind when working. However, the most advanced equipment is meaningless without a fundamental respect for safety protocols. 

Knowing the most important laboratory etiquette plays a crucial role in creating a safe and productive research environment. Let’s go over some common guidelines:

Your First Line of Defence

The cornerstone of laboratory safety lies in wearing the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This includes:

  • Safety glasses or goggles should always be worn in the lab, regardless of the perceived risk. They protect your eyes from splashes, flying debris, and harmful radiation.
  • Wearing a lab coat provides a barrier between your clothing and potentially dangerous materials. Opt for a long-sleeved, button-down coat made from a flame-resistant material.
  • Always wear gloves. The specific type of glove will depend on the chemicals being handled. Nitrile gloves offer good general-purpose protection, while heavier-duty gloves may be required for strong acids, alkalis, or solvents.
  • Closed-toe shoes: Protect your feet from spills and falling objects. Sandals or open-toed shoes are strictly forbidden.

Remember, PPE is only effective if worn correctly.  Avoid wearing soiled or damaged PPE, and replace it when necessary.

Fostering a Culture of Safety through Clear Communication

Effective communication is paramount in a safe laboratory.  Before starting any experiment, make sure you are:

  • Familiar with the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for all chemicals you will be using. The SDS provides vital information on the hazards associated with a chemical. They also contain much-needed information about proper handling and disposal procedures.
  • Inform your colleagues of your planned experiment. This allows others to be aware of potential hazards and take appropriate precautions.
  • Never work alone in the laboratory, especially when handling hazardous materials. Having a colleague present can provide assistance in case of an accident.

Openly communicating potential risks and maintaining awareness of others' activities is a non-negotiable lab etiquette. Plus, it’s a more enjoyable experience if every researcher in the lab is communicating with each other. 

Maintaining a Safe and Tidy Workspace

Improper waste disposal or just having a cluttered lab in general, can create safety hazards. Here's how to keep your workspace safe:

  • Clean up spills immediately and thoroughly. Depending on the material spilled, this may involve using a spill kit or contacting the designated personnel for hazardous waste disposal.
  • Dispose of waste chemicals appropriately. Never pour chemicals down the drain or dispose of them in general waste bins. Follow designated protocols for chemical waste disposal.
  • Keep your workspace organised. Put away equipment after use and avoid leaving unnecessary items on benches or walkways.

Maintaining a clean and organized laboratory is crucial to minimize the risk of accidents. When everyone takes responsibility for their own work area, it allows for a more efficient workflow. No one needs to worry about cleaning up another person's belongings, and everyone can focus on their tasks at hand.

proper lab etiquette

Consideration For Others

Respecting Shared Equipment

Scientific equipment is often expensive and it's expected that everyone knows how to handle them. To ensure its availability and longevity, consider these tips:

  • Familiarise yourself with operating procedures. As obvious as this may sound, it’s important to ask a classmate or colleague if you’re unsure how lab equipment works. That’s because several instruments require specific protocols before using. Checking user manuals and attending training sessions beforehand demonstrates care. This also reflects on one’s sense of responsibility and prevents accidents.
  • Calibrate equipment regularly. Improperly calibrated equipment can produce inaccurate data, wasting time and resources. Follow established protocols for calibration and report any malfunctions immediately.
  • Clean equipment thoroughly after use. Leaving behind residue or contaminants can affect the performance of the equipment for the next user. Follow designated cleaning procedures specific to each instrument.

Treating the shared equipment with respect, also reflects one’s character. Always take note of cleaning and proper maintenance after using a lab apparatus.

Proper Disposal and Cleaning Up Spills

Laboratory spills happen all the time, and that’s okay. However, researchers can minimise the risk of accidents and environmental safety if they know proper procedures and lab etiquette. Let’s go over how to clean up spills and chemical disposal. 

Assess the Situation and Act Quickly

The first step in handling a spill is to assess the situation calmly and take immediate action:

  • Identify the spilled material. Knowing the substance allows you to determine the appropriate course of action. Safety Data Sheets (SDS) will provide crucial information on the hazards and appropriate response protocols.
  • Alert others in the vicinity. Inform your colleagues of the spill and potential hazards. Evacuate the area if necessary, especially for larger or particularly hazardous spills.
  • Contain the spill. For liquid spills, use spill kits containing absorbent materials like pads or socks to prevent the spill from spreading.
  • Remember, prioritising everyone’s safety is paramount.  If unsure how to proceed,  seek assistance from qualified lab personnel.

Neutralise and Clean Up the Spill

Once the spill is contained, proceed with clean-up, following these steps:

  • Neutralise the spill if necessary. For acid or alkali spills, use designated neutralising agents to minimise the risks associated with the material. Refer to the SDS for specific instructions.
  • Absorb the spill carefully. Use spill pads or socks to absorb the neutralised liquid. For solid spills, use a dustpan and brush or a scoop specifically designated for hazardous materials\\

Proper Disposal of Contaminated Materials

Safe disposal of contaminated materials is crucial to prevent future hazards. Here's what to do:

  • Never dispose of chemicals down the drain. Most chemicals require specific disposal protocols. Some chemicals may damage the drainage pipes. Most importantly, it can cause an environmental hazard and pose a health risk in the process. 
  • Place contaminated materials in designated waste containers. These containers will be labelled according to the type of waste they are intended for (e.g., biohazard waste, chemical waste). Clearly label the waste container with the contents and date of disposal.
  • Follow designated procedures for the disposal of sharps or broken glassware contaminated with hazardous materials.

Remember, proper disposal protects sanitation workers and the environment. If unsure about the disposal protocol for a specific material, consult your laboratory safety officer or waste disposal company.

Decontaminate the Spill Area

Once the spill has been absorbed and disposed of, thoroughly decontaminate the affected area:

  • Clean the spill site with a disinfectant solution appropriate for the spilled material. Refer to the SDS for recommended cleaning agents.
  • Dispose of wipes or towels used for cleaning as hazardous waste if they were contaminated during the clean-up process.

To maintain a safe working environment and minimize risks associated with laboratory spills, researchers should follow proper disposal and clean-up steps. Following these steps effectively ensures everyone's safety in the laboratory.

How To Properly Label Bottles and Lab Containers

Another lab etiquette that everyone should keep in mind is accurate and clear labelling. Mislabeled containers can lead to confusion, wasted time, and even pose safety hazards. Here's a guide to ensure your laboratory bottles and containers are properly labelled:

Write Essential Information

Every laboratory bottle and container should display the following essential information:

  • Avoid abbreviations or nicknames. Ensure clarity for anyone using the container by writing the full chemical name.
  • For solutions, list the concentration if applicable (e.g., molarity, percentage). This is crucial for accurate and reproducible experiments.
  • Indicate any potential hazards associated with the contents using clear and concise language. Consider using Globally Harmonised System (GHS) pictograms for easy visual identification of hazards.
  • Write dates in MM/DD/YYYY Format. Date Received (purchased chemicals) or Date Prepared (prepared solutions) aids in inventory control and helps determine the shelf life of the material.

Additional Considerations for Increased Clarity

While the essential information is the foundation, consider including these additional details for even greater clarity:

  • Mentioning the manufacturer or supplier can be helpful, especially for research involving comparisons between different sources of the same chemical.
  • Including the lot number allows for easier recall or tracing if necessary.
  • Some chemicals degrade over time, so indicating an expiration date helps ensure the use of effective materials.

Choosing the Right Labelling Method for Durability

The chosen labelling method should ensure the information remains clear and legible throughout the life of the container. Here are some options:

  • Use pre-printed labels. Many chemical suppliers provide pre-printed labels with essential information. These are a convenient option, but ensure they are accurate and complete.
  • Use dedicated laboratory labelling paper and permanent markers to create custom labels. These labels should be resistant to moisture, chemicals, and fading.
  • Be familiar with electronic labelling systems. Some laboratories utilise systems like this with barcodes or QR codes. And they have a link to a database containing detailed information about the contents.

Check The Label’s Condition

Even the most durable labels can deteriorate over time. Here's how to ensure your labels remain reliable:

  • Inspect labels regularly for fading, smudging, or damage. Replace illegible or damaged labels immediately.
  • Do not deface or write over existing labels. Apply new labels if additional information is needed.
  • Remove labels completely from empty containers before disposal.

By following these lab etiquettes for proper labelling, researchers can ensure clear communication in the laboratory, promote safety, and streamline research workflows.

Related aticles