There are many reasons to conduct internal lab safety audits, including preparing for regulatory inspections, promoting safety, and discovering what program elements could use some attention. Has your safety committee considered implementing internal lab safety audits?
Many people hear the term ‘lab audit’ or ‘lab inspection’ and assume this process would foster an atmosphere where safety is viewed as the heavy handed enforcers. However, when implemented appropriately, lab audits create an atmosphere where safety and lab staff work together in a productive and proactive manner. While conducting lab audits, safety personnel are often asked questions that may not come up otherwise. Walking through the labs and interacting with lab staff in a helpful fashion creates an environment where safety personnel can proactively work with researchers on the specific hazards present in their labs. When the appropriate soft skills are used to request information, the relationship between safety personnel and lab staff is strengthened. Once the lab staff is familiar with the proactive and helpful nature of the safety program, they are more prone to seek guidance when new hazards are being introduced into the lab.
The use of a checklist or lab audit form is helpful to guide the personnel conducting the audits, especially during the initial implementation. As the individuals conducting the audits become more familiar with what to evaluate, they will be able to rely less on the checklist and focus more on being curious about items that may not be on the list. It is important to keep an open mind when conducting lab audits and not be so focused on a checklist that items not listed are missed.
Deciding how to handle the results of the audits is important. Of course, any items identified as needing improvement should be followed up on. At a minimum, the safety committee should be briefed on the results and progress of action items. The results can also be shared with individual labs during meetings or they can be shared at company meetings. Offering to conduct the audits with lab staff is also a tool to promote safety!