Safety is taken very seriously at Purdue. It is the reason why the university established the department of Radiological and Environmental Management, which reviews lab procedures, trains employees, and investigates incidents. However, much of the burden of conducting research in a safe environment relies on you, the researcher. Adhering to the set rules and conduct is important to ensure safety and optimal utilization of the laboratory. When accidents occur, penalties and fines could be incurred at both the university and regional levels. This section discusses your responsibilities for being safe.
An important note: Most of this information applies to students who will be conducting research in a working lab, such as with machinery or chemicals. Even if you will be working primarily at a computer creating simulations or writing code, it is still important that you familiarize yourself with this safety information. There may be a time when you will need to do some work in (or visit) a laboratory, and knowing the potential hazards and how to avoid them are crucial.
Sometime during the first week in a lab, you should receive the required safety training. Most training programs are offered through University departments, and often at the beginning of a semester. It is up to your faculty advisor to ensure that you receive this training, so be sure to discuss the training requirements with them.
It is possible that graduate students or others may show you the lab, and teach you how to use tools and operate machines. When using equipment for the first time, it is likely that you will encounter problems, so if you are in doubt, ask your mentor to explain things again until you are comfortable.
General Safety Practices
Besides specific training required for a particular lab, some very basic procedures should be followed while working in any lab at Purdue. These are some best practices to always follow, regardless of your research environment:
- Always follow lab protocols:
These rules have been put in place after years of experience. They exist to keep you and your fellow researchers safe. Never ignore them or take shortcuts.
- Wear proper protection
As part of your training, it will be made clear what Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) (e.g. eye protection, ear protection, lab coats, etc), is required and how to use it properly. Do not work in the lab without properly protecting yourself. Always be sure to check that your PPE is in proper working order.
- Never attempt to repair lab equipment yourself
Any equipment installed prior to your project should only be repaired by trained professionals. Consult with your faculty or graduate mentor if you have any questions regarding your responsibilities with electrical or mechanical equipment. If your project does involve working with electrical devices, be familiar with lockout-tagout and other safety procedures.
- Never eat in the lab
Unless told otherwise, you should assume that you cannot eat in the lab. This is needed both to protect your food from what may be in the labs and to protect any experiment from your lunch!
- Avoid situations where safety may be compromised
This seems like an obvious rule to follow, but there may be times when you feel that you are under so much pressure to complete a task that you begin taking shortcuts. This must be avoided. No results are so important that they are worth causing harm to yourself or others.
- Never work alone in the lab
If you work in a laboratory where you are exposed to physical risks (chemical, electrical, mechanical, etc.), you should try to do your work during the day when other University personnel are present. If you must work after normal business hours or during the weekend, another researcher or laboratory personnel should be present while you are working. It is often more convenient and safer to work in a laboratory if you have another person present for the following reasons:
- Some laboratory tasks require multiple researchers.
- It is often easier for an outside observer to see a potential safety hazard when it arises than it is for the working researcher to see one.
- If an accident does occur, a second person can provide immediate medical care (or call emergency services) or help stabilize a hazardous situation.
- Speak with your supervisor before making any changes or additions to an existing setup or system
The experiment may be in its current setup for a reason. They may have already tried the experiment with your changes, in which case if you make the changes on your own, you will end up wasting time. Also, brainstorming about your idea could lead to additional improvements you may not have thought about.
- Use common sense
If it seems wrong, it probably is!
- Report unsafe conditions to your mentors
Even if you feel that the unsafe condition in question is something that you can fix yourself, do not attempt to do so without first talking to your mentor. There could be underlying problems that you are unaware of which need their attention.