If there is one thing that all laboratories have in common, it should be cleanliness and safety. A well-kept, neatly organised, and spotless laboratory is a safe one.
Good housekeeping practices are not only essential for the safety of laboratory personnel but to ensure work and samples are kept free from contamination.
In this blog, we look at some of the main principles for maintaining a clean and safe laboratory.
There are many different types of laboratory and each will have its way of doing certain things but if you walk through any type of laboratory, the first thing you should notice is the hygienic environment, which should be well organised, free from clutter and safe.
From clinical to environmental, most types of the laboratory will in some capacity be handling specimens or samples and conducting research. To ensure the validity of results, hygiene is vital, and no part of the sample handling process should be compromised by bad housekeeping practices.
However, the main reason for good housekeeping practices is to ensure the safety of everyone working in a laboratory.
Laboratories can be full of hazardous materials or dangerous equipment but in most cases, good housekeeping practices can help reduce the risk or prevent the risk of harm. Risk assessments will confirm this.
Finally, good housekeeping has a major role in laboratory efficiency. Many laboratories have tight deadlines and ever-increasing workloads, so processes need to be fast and efficient. Good housekeeping practices ensure a laboratory runs smoothly and productivity is high.
Find a place for everything
Every piece of laboratory equipment, consumables, or tool should have its place. Giving everything in a laboratory its place not only makes for a more efficient workspace, where everyone can easily find what they’re looking for, but it makes it a safer one too. Benches and walkways free from additional items are less likely to cause accidents or mistakes.
Additionally, try to avoid a build-up of unused items. For example, only keep a necessary number of consumables such as disposable pipettes or plates in the laboratory. Spares and backstock should be stored away in a cupboard or storeroom.
Clean Lab Surfaces & Floors Routinely
Throughout the day, laboratory surfaces, benches and floors will become exposed to contaminants, spills, or splashes – this is normal but the key to maintaining a clean and safe laboratory is to routinely clean surfaces. Surfaces can be cleaned using a standard disinfectant and paper towels for spillages, or by using a UV wand on dry surfaces ready for decontamination.
As soon a surface becomes splashes or if something is accidentally spilt, clear it up immediately rather than leave it to the end of the day. the same goes with spillages on the floor which could create a slip hazard. In addition to spot cleaning of surfaces and floors throughout the day, a more thorough clean should be performed at the end of the day. This ensures the laboratory is clean to start afresh the next day and staff are not exposed to any substances they can’t necessarily see and aren’t aware of.
Ensure Emergency Equipment Is Accessible
Emergency equipment such as eyewash kits or sinks, safety showers, fire extinguishers, spill kits, and first aid kits can go unused for a long time. This sometimes results in items being pushed to the back of cupboards or covered over. As these items could save someone’s life in an emergency, they must always remain accessible – no matter how rarely they are used. So, that means no storing spare equipment in a safety shower or forgetting where the first aid kit lives! All staff members should also be aware of where each of these items can be found.
The same goes for emergency exits – they should always be accessible. This sounds like common sense but even temporarily putting something in front of a fire exit, such as delivery waiting for storage, or a chair could cost lives in an emergency.
No Eating Or Drinking In The Laboratory
This may be another point that sounds like common sense – food and drink shouldn’t be consumed in a laboratory environment. It happens though…perhaps when someone is busy and wants to eat their sandwich in the lab whilst keeping their eye on something, or in hot weather when lots of water is drunk. This should be always prevented as it can increase the chances of accidental ingestion of materials used in the laboratory or samples could be contaminated. Even in relatively low-risk laboratories it still isn’t good practice.
Food and drink should be consumed in dedicated breaks rooms and any cutlery, plates or cups should be cleaned and stored there too. So staff have easy access to water, a water cooler can be situated outside of the laboratory after the sink area (wash hands before drinking!)
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Checks
PPE plays a big role in the protection of staff working in laboratories so it should always be accessible, clean, and well maintained, as well as being appropriate to the level of risk in the laboratory.
Reusable items such as safety glasses, gloves, and lab coats can become worn over time. Holes in gloves or tears in laboratory coats presents a safety risk so all reusable items should be routinely checked for defaults or signs of wear. It is also important to ensure lab coats are cleaned routinely – this can either be done in-house, if you have the facilities or by using a contractor to take them away for laundering – employees should not take them home for cleaning in a domestic washing machine.