A matter of laboratory safety

The August 2010 issue of Nature Methods includes my Technology Feature on laboratory safety. Dry, you say? Hardly. While it is true that lab safety incidents are increasingly rare across the US (declining from 2.1 incidents per 100 full-time employees in 2003 to 1.2 in 2008, according to US Bureau of Labor Statistics figures), the potential for catastrophic events is ever-present. In 2009 a 23-year-old lab worker at UCLA died of injuries sustained when the highly reactive chemical she was using, t-butyl lithium, ignited. That said, today’s laboratories are safer than ever, a reflection of evolving technologies (eg, next-gen sequencing vs. classical radioactive Sanger sequencing), miniaturization (employing smaller volumes), and automation. That’s not to say lab safety officers can just retire. With new technologies come new concerns, and today’s lab safety officer has to worry about issues like repetitive stress injuries caused by micropipettors and keyboards, novel pathogens in stem cell cultures and flow cytometry labs, and the toxicity of newly minted nanomaterials. Says Jim Turk, assistant director of environment, health and safety at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, “[when] you get a lot of people handling stuff, accidents are going to happen. We tend to err on the side of caution.”

~ by jeffreyperkel on August 26, 2010.

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