Health and safety (H&S) inspections are a fun annual tradition in research that we all immensely look forward to in much the same way as I look forward to having my foot stepped on or falling on some sharp wood.
A H&S inspection has two aims. The first aim is to check that your research space is safe. The second aim is to check that you are following all the H&S paper work. In any given inspection around 95% of the time is devoted to the second of these two aims.
I am a long term veteran of several different H&S systems and over the years I’ve picked up some tips to help other researchers through their next H&S inspection. The below tips will help anyone pass their next inspection provided they do none of them what so ever.
1. Loose paper and cardboard boxes
All labs collect loose paper. While the rest of the world is well on its way to going paperless, research still has a very healthy pulpy addiction.
The average lab is covered in small bits of cleaning tissues that someone is ‘totally going to use’ and discarded notes with important detailed information on like “run new sample at 2”. Then there’s the vast array of cardboard boxes that everyone keeps just in case the machine that was bought 15 years ago needs to be returned.
But as good as paper is for nesting, it is frowned on by H&S as they seem to think having lots of dry kindling around electrical equipment and fire making chemicals is bad. Solving this is simple: write “inflammable” on some of the boxes and “non-flammable” on several bits of the paper. The H&S people will be so distracted by the inevitable conversation about which means what and which means that it’s not flammable they’ll quickly move on.
2. Lab coats
Lab coats are the staple of lab safety. It is one of the only science details from movies that they ever get right, well almost right. See in movies the lab coats are clean, white and often monogrammed with an evil company name. In reality they are covered in burns, chemicals and a shade of strange chemical brown.
The H&S people know this and if they inspect you and find a nice white lab coat without a giant hole or missing an arm, they’ll suspect it’s been staged. Just before the inspection make sure to put out your most damaged, burnt or ragged lab coat. If you don’t have one then burn some holes in it. The H&S people will be pleased to see that they’re being used properly.
3. Gloves and safety glasses
Unlike the lab coats here the H&S inspections want to see that first and foremost you are using the right protection equipment but also that you are doing so in style.
Make sure you’ve purchased the coolest looking gloves (black or purple is pretty in right now) and also make sure they are a couple of sizes too small so they really hug your hand. No one wants to see properly fitting gloves, it’s all about that skin tight smoothness.
Likewise with safety glasses, get some wrap around ones or ones that have a tint. You’ll get extra points for style on a H&S form.
Labelling is important in the lab. If you don’t label things properly then someone is bound to steal them.
Also sometimes it helps to know what’s in your tube. H&S inspectors always want to see labelling that’s clear and easy to understand. Writing very long descriptions on tubes is annoying for everyone so try to make them short and understandable.
For example, if you work with bacteria labelling a box “The Bacteria samples” should be sufficient or perhaps for clarity labeled it “TB samples”. This will put everyone’s mind at ease.
Now if you’ve followed these tips exactly then I’m sure your next H&S inspection will go great. You’ll be shut down in about 5 minutes flat and after you’ve completed a short 1-2 week quarantine you’ll have some extra days off.