From snake bites to acid burns, accidents in the lab are a fairly common occurrence, according to the results of the first international survey of scientists’ attitudes and practices regarding safety in the workplace.
The survey of around 2,400 scientists was commissioned by the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) Center for Laboratory Safety, in collaboration with Nature Publishing Group and BioRAFT – a company providing software for safety compliance, which receives funding from Digital Science, a sister company to Nature Publishing Group. The survey was in part commissioned in response to the death of research assistant Sheharbano Sangji following a lab fire at UCLA in 2009, and a first analysis of the results was published in the news section of Nature this week.
Despite the fact that almost half (46%) of respondents said they had experienced at least one injury since they had started working in a lab, 86% said they thought their lab to be a safe place to work. This disparity might be explained by the finding that for a large proportion of the scientists surveyed, minor injuries are perceived as ‘just another part of the job.’ As one scientist, who was scratched by a monkey, put it: “It’s bound to happen in that line of work, no matter how careful you are.” Opinion was fairly evenly split about whether injuries cold be reduced if lab safety procedures were always followed.
Scientists are likely to keep-stum about breaches of safety protocol they witness in the lab. Almost half of junior scientists surveyed said they had seen a colleague break the lab safety rules but did not report this to their supervisor, whereas half as many people said they did report such incidents.
The survey also revealed a big differences between the attitudes and behaviours of people at different stages of their careers. 35% of respondents said that every day, people conduct experiments in their lab whilst working alone. This is seen to be more prominent among junior staff: 42% of those who were PhDs, postdocs or masters students said lone working happened every day, whereas just 26% of PIs, heads of departments, or professors did – suggesting those in charge are not aware of the working conditions of their lab members.
When it comes to safety measures, 94% of senior scientists felt that appropriate safety measures had been taken to protect employees from injury, whereas just 67% of juniors said this was the case.
A third of respondents also thought that safety was a more important concern to them than it was to their colleagues. As for the barriers to improving safety in the lab? The most cited reasons were ‘time and hassle’ and ‘apathy’.
Does this sound familiar? What are the attitudes towards safety in your own lab? Do you feel you received adequate training? Do you feel safe at work? And how common are accidents? Let us know in the comments section below, send us an email, or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.