Laboratory Safety Techniques: Protecting People and Equipment

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  • 0:03 The Importance of Lab Safety
  • 0:37 Personal Body Protection
  • 2:19 Containers and Substances
  • 3:11 Accidents and Spills
  • 4:04 Clean Up and Common Sense
  • 5:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Laboratory safety is not fun, but following the rules ensures that lab activities can be enjoyed by everyone. In this lesson, we cover some basic lab safety rules to follow that will help lab time be both safe and fun.

The Importance of Lab Safety

One of the best parts about taking a biology course is the labs. There are so many fun activities that allow you to apply your newfound knowledge in a hands-on setting. But lab activities can quickly go from 'oh-yeah!' to 'oh-no!' when proper safety precautions are not observed. Lab safety may seem like a big downer, but it's in everyone's best interest to follow the rules.

So, to ensure that you and everyone else in the lab have an enjoyable experience, let's go over some of the basic safety rules that must be followed in any laboratory setting.

Personal Body Protection

Your mom drilled this into your head, and we're making it a top priority here too - wash your hands. Dirty hands can contaminate your lab materials if you don't wash them before you start your work. Washing your hands after you're done in the lab will also ensure that you don't take away any hitchhikers along with you when you leave.

And, while it's never a good idea to touch your face, eyes, nose or mouth while in the lab, if it's absolutely necessary, you should always wash your hands before doing so in case they have chemicals or other substances on them.

While we're on the subject of your face, it's important to keep all food, drinks and gum out of the lab. Not only can you contaminate your lab materials, but your lab materials may contaminate your food. Because of this, it's also not a good idea to put anything else in your mouth while in the lab, like pens and pencils.

Lab substances can be dangerous, and you should always treat them as such. Never taste or smell chemicals or other lab materials. Additionally, it's good practice to always wear safety goggles, gloves and a lab coat to protect your eyes, skin and clothing.

Even if you don't have a lab coat, there are guidelines to follow for the clothing you should wear in the lab. In general, try to avoid wearing your nice clothes as they may become stained. Anything that is loose or baggy can catch on equipment and containers, causing spills or accidents, so these should be avoided as well. The same goes for jewelry and long hair, but you can easily tie back long hair and remove jewelry before working in the lab. Appropriate shoes will protect your feet if you drop equipment or substances. Always wear close-toed shoes instead of flip-flops or sandals.

Containers and Substances

One of the most important things about working in the lab is knowing what you're doing and what you're working with. It's good practice to read through your entire lab ahead of time to prepare yourself for the day's activities.

All of your containers and substances should be properly labeled. If something is not labeled correctly, notify your lab instructor so that they can find you the appropriate materials. Again, don't smell or taste it to find out what it is. Just assume it's hazardous and get a hold of the right stuff.

Each time you're done with a container make sure you close it tightly. You may think that it will save some time to only sit the lid on there so you can easily open it later, but there's always the chance you'll forget the lid isn't on tightly and cause a spill. It's also a good idea to pour your materials into a separate container to prevent contamination in the container, as well as to allow for more accurate measuring.

Accidents and Spills

Even if you're being careful and following all of the safety precautions, accidents still happen. The first thing to do if someone gets hurt, a substance spills or something breaks is to notify your instructor immediately, no matter how minor the accident or spill may seem. She will best know how to clean up a spill or care for an injury, so it's safer to get instructions first rather than trying to do it yourself.

On that note, it's never safe to pick up broken glass with your hands. Again, if you're unsure how to best clean up broken equipment, ask your lab instructor and she can help you.

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