Laboratories can be exciting places for researchers to discover breakthroughs or make a difference in the lives of patients. They can also be a thrilling environment for the youngest scientists who are learning the basics of scientific experimentation and exploration in the classroom.
For both ends of the spectrum, it’s important for anyone in a lab to remember that science activities often involve potential hazards, such as chemicals, heat and electricity. To help mitigate these risks, employers and school districts often require anyone stepping foot into a laboratory space to sign a lab safety contract before participating in any activities.
What is a lab safety contract? A lab safety contract is a written agreement that outlines the rules and expectations for conducting laboratory activities safely. The contract typically includes a list of lab safety rules, procedures for handling hazardous materials and other important information a lab technician or student should know.
A lab safety contract is one of the first steps a laboratory can take to promote a culture of safety by clearly communicating the expectations for safe behavior in order to prevent accidents and injuries.
Let’s take a closer look at when lab safety contracts are used, the role they play in a lab and what they should include.
When Lab Safety Contracts Are Used
In many laboratory settings, it is common practice for lab workers to sign a lab safety contract or agreement as part of their orientation or training process. Other times, a lab manager may customize the lab safety contract to reflect the type of experiment that workers will perform, since each experiment may require unique safety practices.
In schools, both at the high school and college levels, students are often required to sign a lab safety contact as well. Signing a safety contract can serve as a reminder to students of the seriousness of working in a laboratory setting. It underscores the importance of being responsible, following rules and protocols, and taking necessary precautions to protect themselves and others in the lab.
In any setting, signing a lab safety contract typically indicates that lab workers agree to follow the safety rules and protocols outlined in the contract, including the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), proper handling and disposal of hazardous materials, reporting accidents or incidents and other safety procedures.
While the specifics of the lab safety contract may vary depending on the type of laboratory and the hazards present, the goal is to promote a culture of safety and responsibility among all laboratory personnel. This includes not only researchers and scientists, but also technicians, students and other support staff who may work in the lab environment.
Important note: Lab safety contracts are not legally binding documents in most cases, but rather serve as a tool for promoting safety and accountability in the laboratory. However, failure to follow the safety protocols outlined in the contract can often result in disciplinary action.
What A Lab Safety Contract Should Include
A lab safety contract will vary based on what kinds of applications are performed in your laboratory, your employees and other factors. However, there are a number of key components that most lab safety contracts should include to be effective. These include:
- Safety rules: The contract should include a list of safety rules that are relevant to laboratory activities being performed. These rules may include guidelines for handling chemicals, using equipment and working with live organisms.
- Safety equipment: Lab safety equipment that is available in the laboratory should be noted in the contract. This equipment includes safety goggles, lab coats, gloves and other lab safety supplies.
- Emergency procedures: The contract should include procedures for responding to emergency situations, such as fires, chemical spills or injuries. This may include instructions for evacuating the laboratory or using lab safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers or safety showers.
- Training and education: When applicable, the lab safety contract should provide information on the training and education that lab workers will receive on lab safety or the task they are about to perform. Training may include refresher courses, ongoing education or information specific to the project’s application.
- Consequences: While this may be more appropriate for contracts directed toward students, you may also outline the consequences for breaking the safety rules. This may include warnings, loss of laboratory privileges or disciplinary action.
- Signature lines or acknowledgement of responsibilities: The contract should include signature lines to ensure that the employee or student has read and understands the safety rules.
It’s always a good idea to review the contract with other scientists in your facility or teachers in your school district to ensure that the lab safety contract meets all safety guidelines and is appropriate for your audience.
Avoid These Common Mistakes
While we highlighted above what you should include in your lab safety contract, here’s what you should avoid.
- Creating a generic contract: Avoid using a generic lab safety contract that does not include specific safety rules and procedures for your laboratory activities. Instead, create a customized contract that addresses the unique hazards and risks in your facility.
- Failing to enforce the contract: A lab safety contract is only effective if it is enforced consistently. Make sure that consequences are applied consistently and fairly when someone breaks the safety rules.
- Not updating the contract: Science classrooms and laboratory activities may change over time, so it is important to update the lab safety contract as needed. Review the contract regularly and make revisions as necessary.
- Ignoring feedback: As we mentioned above, it’s important to ask for feedback on a lab safety contract you have created. Make sure you consider any recommendations. Ignoring feedback can undermine the effectiveness of the contract and create potential safety hazards.
A Valuable Tool To Build A Culture Of Safety
Lab safety contracts are a valuable tool for building a culture of safety in your workspace or classroom. By emphasizing responsible behavior, you can help to prevent accidents and injuries while promoting safety in the lab. Particularly students and young lab workers can benefit from this preparation and gain valuable information that can be used for future academic and professional pursuits.
Creating an effective lab safety contract requires careful planning and attention to detail. By following the steps outlined above and avoiding common mistakes, you can develop a contract that is tailored to the unique hazards and risks in your facility.