Safe and practical sign usage in laboratory settings
Due to the varied and critical nature of the research conducted in labs, they can be high-risk environments for accidents. Risk factors that can become potentially fatal hazards include chemicals, sharp instruments, breakable glass and flammable materials.
In a laboratory, the safety of researchers, scientists, staff and visitors depends on adequate communication and training. They must be able to identify the potential for accidents within the lab setting and be aware of procedures and policies to minimise risks and ensure the safety of all involved.
Safety signage is an effective way to regularly remind all employees, contractors and visitors of their safety responsibilities and it can assist with everything from chemical and biological hazards to infection control alerts, personal protective equipment (PPE) education and streamlining the organisation’s processes. The correct signage helps important research to continue efficiently without interruption or accident.
During an emergency or crisis, employees without appropriate signage may lack the necessary knowledge required to handle the situation, and under pressure be unable to remember important procedures. A sign is a powerful visual reminder that often has universal iconography that is instantly recognisable to people from all around the world, allowing them to act fast in an emergency. Having these extra measures and reminders can help employees and employers feel more secure in hazardous situations.
While organisations may understand the practical value in having signage, the quality of the signage used can have a significant impact on ensuring accidents and incidents are successfully avoided.
Labs and research facilities across the country often use regular office supplies, which are not fit for industrial purposes, to create makeshift signs. Not only do the DIY signs not stay up or last, they have the potential to cause real danger. Improper signage may fall, cause someone to slip or prevent staff from access to vital information in an emergency. If genuine industrial-grade products are not used, in time the signs will crumble, fade and fall down, and have a huge potential to result in injury, miscommunication and avoidable incidents.
Employees creating their own signage quickly and independently is and should be a vital part of the safety process, allowing staff to instantly respond to risks and communicate important information such as spills, wet floors or even timetable changes. However, this need for quick signage has led facilities to use materials inappropriate for the purpose. Paper signs are held up with sticky tape or put in plastic sleeves and tacked to the wall. If labs want quality signs, the inconvenience of ordering them can be costly and they may take days or weeks to arrive. Avery Design and Print Online provides a solution that allows labs to instantly print industrial, laboratory-grade labels in the office, enabling organisations to rapidly respond to incidents. As a result, facilities can be safer for longer with customised signs on quality industrial-grade materials able to withstand extreme temperatures, rough handling and chemical spills.
Chemicals are not the only risk apparent in labs — with the space consisting of many pieces of equipment and implements, improper management can lead to injury or death. All electrical equipment should be tested regularly, with maintenance signs used as soon as repairs are needed and power is cut off. If a safety sign is made out of paper and sticky-taped to a machine, it’s likely to blow off or tear — if this happens it could have potentially fatal consequences for someone using a faulty machine without knowledge or an electrician conducting tests while power is restored.
Labs are notoriously controlled environments in relation to their experiments and research; however, there are often many different departments who are stakeholders in this process, and this can lead to different strategies and expectations, as well as many interruptions. It can mean a huge difference in the way each division handles its safety procedures, including the creation of safety labels and signs. Inconsistencies in an organisation not only look messy, they also leave room for error as there is not a cohesive expectation set for each employee. This is where safety standards slacken and home-made signs and memos appear and become hard to oversee. One master policy across an organisation allows management to strategically review and identify quickly where improvements need to be made and uniformity will follow.
In many cases lab workers may be choosing time and convenience over quality and are not aware of the effect this may have on safety in the workplace. Prioritising industry-specific products will lead to safer, professional environments where staff understand their responsibilities. It is possible for labels and signs to be created once and withstand the rigorous conditions of a laboratory, so investing in quality products will help to ensure lasting safety benefits for both employers and employees.
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