The laboratory can already be a dangerous environment without the risks that come from poor housekeeping. Employing good cleaning procedures whilst in the laboratory can ensure your safety as well as the safety of others. To raise awareness for Hygiene Week and help make sure your lab is kept safe for working in, we have provided you with a 5 x 5 guide on five reasons it is important to keep your laboratory clean and five tips to maintaining good laboratory hygiene practice.
5 Reasons for Cleaning your Laboratory
Contamination not only puts yourself and others at risk within the lab but it can also affect results and the quality of samples. We all know that lack of care when handling samples can be a risk of cross-contamination especially when it comes to transferring samples. However, one of the biggest factors in cross-contamination is hygiene. Not cleaning work surfaces correctly, working in an untidy environment or not applying the right protection equipment cause a major risk of contamination.
Regularly using products such as Trionic and Hycolin disinfectants to clean surfaces and equipment after you have used them can ensure that surfaces are cleansed and samples are at less risk of invasion of bacteria or material, avoiding any impact on the sample results. Disinfectants eliminate virtually all pathogenic organisms on inanimate objects and surfaces thereby reducing the level of microbial contamination to an acceptably safe level.
Your own personal hygiene can also play a part in contamination, therefore maintaining a high level of protection will not only protect samples but will also protect yourself. This includes washing your hands correctly with antibacterial soaps to remove bacteria and wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
By reducing the odds of introducing foreign substances or cultures to your samples you can ensure your results are accurate and will not hinder progress.
The overall operational efficiency of the laboratory can be heavily influenced by the cleanliness and tidiness of the laboratory.
Clutter and debris left about can cause untidiness and create unnecessary stress when conducting experiments, especially in a timely manner. An untidy workspace becomes harder to manage for laboratory managers, items can become misplaced and this can hinder productivity levels.
Simple housekeeping such as putting items or equipment back after use or maintaining a clean desk policy can prevent disorder and disorganisation. Organisation can also boost personnel morale, providing a happier environment to work in, allowing work to flow easily and increasing efficiency.
Keeps the Laboratory Safe for Your Use
Taking care of employees’ health and safety is pivotal within a laboratory. The lab can be full of hazardous materials or risks to workers’ safety, that require the right checks or equipment to be implemented before use.
Spills of liquid or debris on the floor can cause slips, trips or falls that can potentially cause injuries to people working in the lab. In 2020/21 441,000 people reportedly sustained an injury at work. In Histology labs, technicians are at risk of slipping on paraffin wax caused by littering from microtomes and the filling and dispensing of embedding centres. Products such as the SafeTread Mats are designed to cover floor surfaces to minimise the problems with slips and spills. It’s compounded PVC looped surface traps and contains dirt, wax shavings and debris and moisture, whilst its vinyl backing prevents movement or curling to avoid any trip hazards.
Other risks to staff’s safety are the multitude of hazardous materials that are used within the lab. Correct training of use and employing the proper methods of removal and disposal of these materials or residues from them can ensure no harm will come from them after use. A separate guide to the safe disposal of clinical waste may be useful for pathology labs.
Investing time into cleaning labs and investing money into equipment and cleaning chemicals that allow you to maintain a clean working environment, can actually save your laboratory a lot of money in the long run.
Laboratory equipment that supports and speeds up processes is expensive and without a secure service and maintenance package, any damage to the machines can be extremely costly for the lab. If the equipment is damaged, not only will the repairs cost the organisation or lab money but the downtime can create a backlog which can also cost money. Therefore, cleaning equipment after use can help prevent any unnecessary damage to it. For example, using correct cleaning products such as Paragard to protect equipment like Microtomes and Embedding Centres from Paraffin Wax can reduce time cleaning as it works as a repellent. Even the use of a degreaser such as Lotoxane Spray can also remove wax quickly.
We have already established that untidy workspaces can cause contamination or create issues with efficiency. In addition, it can also result in a productivity loss, and that has a price tag on it too. Loss of samples due to contamination not only affects the delay in time by having to repeat processes but also means using more supplies.
Thorough cleaning and sanitation methods enable your lab to comply with any health and safety laws and regulations. This is vital to the ongoing operation of your lab since infractions of these laws may lead to serious penalties and fines. In worst cases, regulators have the ability to shut down operations which can have a dramatic financial cost, not only to the company but to workers.
Therefore, by employing a strict cleaning regime within the lab that complies with health and safety regulations and providing training on the correct cleaning methods or even you supplying a checklist, you will maintain the safety of the lab and will remain operational.
5 tips for Cleaning your Lab
Schedule Cleaning Time
An easy-to-follow cleaning schedule or checklist will allow team members to know what they need to clean and when. Scheduling the time into your working day doesn’t allow for excuses to be made or cleaning to be missed. Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) enables you to manage and schedule cleaning tasks in advance allowing you to assign members of staff and asses.
It may seem like a chore, however little and often or even cleaning as you go along means you can stay on top of it and is a lot easier to manage. Cleaning regularly also means minimal risk of the lab being unsafe including equipment being washed after use, benches always cleaned and biohazard waste being disposed of.
Use the Right Tools
It is important the right cleaning equipment and solutions are used for different items in the lab. Most labware require detergent and water to clean however when working with cell cultures, bacteria, and fungi, products such as Ethanol / Industrial Methylated Spirits 99% are necessary to avoid contamination. Ethanol can disinfect against vegetative bacteria, fungi, and lipid-containing viruses but not against spores.
Investing in equipment will also enable you to clean multiple items simultaneously and quickly, saving you time. This includes sterilising by steam autoclaving at high temperatures and pressure to remove microorganisms inside an autoclave. Glassware washers are ideal for cleaning all your glassware including test tubes, petri dishes, pipettes, flasks and beakers as they prevent cross-contamination between the different cycles and clean with extremely high temperatures.
It is not just cleaning that requires the use of the right tools but it is also vital that your waste is disposed of correctly especially any hazardous or clinical waste. Products such as DispoJars allow you to contain waste securely before being autoclaved to avoid contamination and enable safe disposal. When handling Formalin within the lab, spillages can occur in which specific protocols must take place before it is safe for disposal. Using Formasafe products will neutralise the substance quickly before it can be disposed of, protecting anyone who comes in contact.
Get rid of old reagents and samples
Out with the old and in with the new! Degraded samples and spoiled reagents are just unnecessarily filling up your shelves and cabinets. Regularly de-clutter by keeping track of dates including dates of the disposal using LIMS or even a handbook.
Defrost your freezers
Just like scheduling your cleaning you should also schedule defrosting your freezers. When freezers are neglected, samples are harder to retrieve with excess amounts of ice. By maintaining a good level of ice by regularly defrosting your freezers you can store more samples, and find them easily and it will also save on energy costs.
Working in a laboratory can be very hectic and stressful and scheduling cleaning can seem somewhat of an inconvenience. However, all of your hard work will be for nothing if samples are getting contaminated or destroyed in a dirty lab. The cleanliness of your lab plays an important part in your results. It is a joint responsibility within the entire team, but as individuals, it is down to you to make efforts towards maintaining a clean work environment.
For more advice or to learn more about our range of products for cleaning and sanitising your laboratory and equipment speak to our team at +44 (0) 844 8080 900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org