The world is changing and so are its trends. Nowadays scientists are persistently trying to discover new methods to meet life’s needs against challenging environmental effects. New fields are promptly merging with Biotechnology as new maladies surface around the world. More and more students tend to pursue biotech careers, a situation now manifest in Pakistan as well. The Institute of Integrative Biosciences (IIB, CECOS) is a leading life sciences institution located in Peshawar, which possesses one of the most sophisticated lab in Pakistan. Providing topnotch facilities and instruction to students, IIB has pioneered in teaching fundamental lab skills, in association with Directorate of Science and Technology under the government funded project ‘SynBioKP‘. At the IIB, the students strictly follow these guidelines which remains evident in their professional careers as well.
For a student of life sciences, the main outcome is to learn the methods and techniques used in labs, and subsequently contribute to the knowledge of the subject. To be in a biotech lab is not a child’s play. It requires utmost observance of the ‘lab protocol’ in order to ensure individual safety at first, due to the presence of hazardous substances; and secondly to ensure safety of the lab. The term ‘Lab Protocol’ refers to laboratory safety and emergency procedures prior to a laboratory session. Your personal safety depends, above all, on ‘YOU’. This article address situations that may pose a danger in labs. However, the information and instructions presented may not be considered all-inclusive.
- General Lab Safety Measures:
An accident foreseen is half avoided. Nevertheless, research labs are full of possible hazards that can cause serious injuries, or damage the equipment. Working alone and unsupervised in laboratories is prohibited. With prior approval, at least two people should be present, so that one can shutdown equipment and call for help in case of an emergency. Areas containing lasers, biohazards, radioisotopes, and carcinogens should be marked accordingly. However, do not label areas unnecessarily and make sure that the labels are removed when the hazards are no longer present. Do not use excessive force in handling any equipment, especially glassware, as it can get chipped or even broken.
- Response To Crisis:
You must read safety warnings and follow the instructions during an emergency. Be familiar with the locations of fire extinguishers, eye wash, and safety showers plus how to use them. Notify your instructor immediately following any injury, fire, explosion, or spill. Know the building evacuation process. Decent common sense is required for safety in a laboratory. Each student should use good judgement. In case of ambiguity in handling a particular situation, seek out your instructor’s advice. It is highly recommended that students should not touch anything with which they are not completely familiar. It is always better to ask questions than to risk damage.
- Individual Safeguard:
Students should wear gloves, laboratory coats, and safety shield/glasses at all times. Shorts and open-toed footwear should not be worn in the lab. People who have long hair or loose clothes, should make sure that they are tied or confined properly. Keep the work area clear of all things except those needed for your work. Coats should be hung in the buffer zone or placed in a locker. Extra books, purses, etc. should be kept away from the equipment that requires ventilation to prevent overheating. Never try to fix a piece of equipment if it crashes while being used. Instead, report immediately to your superior. In case of leaving a lab unattended, turn off all power sources and lock the doors. Never pipette anything by mouth. Clean up your work area and always wash hands before leaving the lab and before eating.
- Electrical Safeguard:
While working in labs, students should always obtain permission before operating any high voltage equipment and should maintain an unhindered access to all electric boards. Avoid using extension cords if possible. If not, obtain a heavy-duty one that is electrically grounded, with its own fuse, and install it safely. Extension cords should neither go under doors, across aisles, be hung from the ceiling, nor plugged into other extension cords. Make sure all capacitors are discharged after use, as some capacitors can hold charge for many hours even after turning the equipment off.
- Chemical Safeguard:
You must treat every chemical as if it were hazardous, and make sure all chemicals are clearly labeled with the substance name, concentration, date, and name of the individual responsible. Use volatile and flammable compounds only in a fume hood — a type of local ventilation device that is designed to limit exposure to hazardous or toxic fumes, vapors or dust etc. Always use gloves so that a chemical may never come in contact with your skin. Never smell a chemical. Instead, read the label on the container to pinpoint its contents. You should dispose all waste, broken substances in suitable containers and clear spills immediately.
- Laser Safety Measures:
Never look directly into a laser beam, no matter how potent you may think it is. Always wear safety goggles as directed by your instructor. Eye injuries commonly result from scattered laser light reflected off mountings, sides of mirrors or other reflective surfaces. The best way to avoid such injuries is wearing safety goggles. The laser beam should always be at or above chest level. Neither allow a laser beam to propagate, nor walk through it; as some beams seemingly less potent can burn a hole through a shirt in a matter of seconds. In case of an eye injury, notify your instructor, as the chances to recover decrease with delay.
The most important thing that IIB imparts in life sciences graduates is to stay safe, change the world for the better, and make history!