Monthly Archives: November 2015

A Holiday Gift for You: More Lab Safety Tips

lab-safety-tips-giftIf you’ve ever thought to yourself that our company is almost fanatically focused on lab safety, well, guess what: You’re right. One of the reasons for this is that lab accidents really do happen, and far too frequently. One researcher actually tracked lab accidents that have occurred over the past 100 years, documenting at least 125 major mishaps—and that doesn’t count all the smaller ones that didn’t make the news.

With this in mind, we are constantly on the lookout for reminders and tips to help make labs safer. (For previous tips and information, click here or here or here). The strategies below are courtesy of the National Institutes of Health, which takes a slightly different approach than the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, giving a different perspective on ways you can keep everyone safe in your lab.

Tip #1: Pay Constant Attention

After a while, we can become accustomed to the substances we work with on a daily basis. Familiarity breeds contempt, as the saying goes—but in a lab it’s much more likely to breed laxity and a dangerous inattention that can quickly lead to an accident.

Research labs feature everything from animal and biological dangers to simple physical perils like an inappropriately placed piece of lab furniture that wasn’t designed to be squeezed into a certain space and becomes a tripping hazard.

That’s why you should never let down your guard in the lab. Always pay attention to what you’re doing, who else is in the room, and what substances you’re handling. If by some unfortunate chance you do create or encounter an emergency situation, seek immediate assistance and report all accidents—no matter how small—to your supervisor.

Tip #2: Prepare

Pretend you’re back in school for this one (unless, of course, you are still in school, working in a college or university lab setting, in which case no pretending is necessary). Basically, you need to approach everything to do with the lab as if you’re studying for a test.

Attend lab safety briefings and updates. Read all the information you can find about everything in the lab—not just about dangerous substances you’ll be handling, but also the machines you’ll be working with and the dedicated lab furniture that’s designed to safely hold and handle those complex machines and dangerous substances.

Other ways to ace this “exam” are to follow instructions carefully and completely, know all the safety exits out of the building (in case one of them is blocked by a lab accident), and never, ever work alone.

Tip #3: Prevent

It might sound like a cliché, but it’s true: Prevention really is the best medicine. You won’t have to recover from a lab accident or contamination if you prevent one in the first place.

That’s why you want to dress appropriately and shouldn’t bring food and drink into the lab. You can also prevent accidental exposure by using dedicated lab furniture like fume hoods and biosafety cabinets. Also, never leave any active reaction unattended.

Tip #4: Protect

Lab coats don’t just look cool, they are designed to give you a protective layer that prevents accidental contamination. While gloves, goggles and ear plugs aren’t as fashionable, they also have a role to play in protecting you from danger.

And don’t forget to protect yourself when you remove these items. Wash your hands, especially if there’s any chance they came in contact with hazardous materials while you were removing your safety equipment.

Lab Furniture for Protection and Efficiency

Protecting yourself and your colleagues should always be foremost on your mind, but protecting the expensive machines you use is important too. This is why our line of dedicated lab furniture is so essential: Each piece helps protect both you and your equipment, all while enhancing efficiency and accuracy in the lab.

Contact us today to get answers to your questions about how specially designed lab furniture can improve lab safety and reliability for you.

Miniaturization: The Future of the Mass Spectrometer?

mass-spectrometer-miniaturizationIf you work in mass spectrometry, chances are your lab is a popular place. Anyone and everyone is sending material back to your lab for analysis—and of course, they all want the results yesterday.

This is why researchers around the world are working on ways to shrink the various mass spectrometer components, with the hope that someday investigators can actually take an MS with them into the field.

Why Miniaturization?

That portability is a key factor in the drive to make the mass spectrometer smaller. Evidence can be collected quickly, but then it must be sent back to a lab, where it sits in line with all the other samples waiting to be tested. However, if investigators can bring an MS to each site and run the analysis right there, then ideally there should be no laboratory backlogs.

Another advantage to “downsizing” the mass spectrometer is that a tiny, low-voltage gas ionizer would be able to work at much higher vacuum pressures. This minimizes the need for a vacuum pump. Meanwhile, vacuum pumps themselves could be reduced to the size of a chip, which decreases both energy consumption and the cost of production.

Lowering the cost of the various mass spec parts is another advantage of miniaturization. Batching microfabricated components can drop the cost of a mass spectrometer from thousands to hundreds of dollars, making it economically viable as a handheld tool in the arsenal of every investigator and technician.

This could also lead to the introduction of mass specs for uses that have been cost-prohibitive in the past, such as monitoring air quality in commercial buildings on a wide-scale basis.

What’s Happening to Make This Dream a Reality?

Of course, we wouldn’t be talking about this evolution in mass spectrometry if there hadn’t already been work done in this area.

Triple quadrupole tandem mass spectrometers are the workhorses of quantitative analysis. Recently, the first mini triple-quadrupole mass analyzer has been successfully developed, although more work is required before it will be available commercially. This micro analyzer was developed by a team at Microsaic Systems in England.

One big difference between this and other prototypes is that earlier versions have all used ion traps. Another is that the analyzer itself is about a quarter of the size of conventional mass specs. Researchers have proven its capabilities with both single-stage and tandem mass spectrometry. It can detect pesticides at 10 ppb, well within acceptable parameters.

Waiting on the Future of the Mass Spectrometer

Not surprisingly, creating the analyzer is just the first step in a much larger process. The rest of the system must be created around the analyzer, including components for inflow, outflow, and vacuum capacity. This means that, at least for the next few years, full-sized mass specs will still be the best option available for spectrum analysis.

It also means that those larger, noisier vacuum pumps will continue to make conversation difficult in your lab unless you use dedicated lab furniture that includes a noise-reduction enclosure. Moreover, those vacuum pumps will continue creating vibrations that could reduce the performance and useful life of the components in your mass spec, unless you invest in dedicated lab furniture that includes dampening springs.

Investing in the IonBench is one way to ensure your current mass specs will last until the micro-MS evolution is complete. Contact us today to learn more.

More Crazy Tales from the Lab

lab-safety-crazy-talesA while back we posted about some of the stranger lab accidents that have occurred over the years. It opened our eyes to the realization that strange things happen in labs quite often. Maybe more often than lab workers want to admit, but still they feel compelled to share.

So we’re going to pass along some more of the crazy (and, frankly, unconfirmed) lab stories that we’ve heard. While we hope you’ll find them amusing, we also hope they’ll serve as a reminder of the need to always keep lab safety at the forefront of your mind.

Understanding Underpads

There was a new worker in a lab who was told to order bench protector pads. Yes, the real name for what many call lab diapers, but he also clearly wasn’t paying enough attention or perhaps thought lab diapers were a real thing. He found the closest item he could in his mind to this important lab safety equipment — “sanitary napkins.” Imagine the laughter ringing through the office when, a week later, 500 maxi pads arrived at his bench!

Of course, there were various ideas about what to do with them. The best idea we heard was to give them to the primate lab down the hall and let the monkeys use them.

One thing’s for sure: He never mixed up those two products again.

The Case of the Amazing Metallic Man

A MRI lab had to scan a subject and ended up with a mystery. Although the subject was a healthy-looking guy, his scans were impossible to read. They were filled with artifacts coming from something metallic. Concerned about lab safety—the damage metal might cause, and of course, the unreadable results,—the techs took him out, did a thorough metal check (none was found), and scanned him again. The results were the same: full of noise.

Now they interviewed him, asking all the usual questions, but came up with nothing. He didn’t have any metal implants, he hadn’t brought in any metal with him, and he hadn’t done anything else that would cause the wonky scans. Eventually they gave up on scanning the guy.

The subject left with the mystery unsolved. As the techs were cleaning up, they discovered miniscule iron filings all over the magnet. The metal appeared to be tiny shavings, but there was no place they could have come from.

It took a while to get everything cleaned up, and afterward, one tech was talking with a physicist about the issue. “Was the subject balding?” the physicist asked.

“Appeared to be,” said the tech.

“Oh, he probably sprayed hair from a can all over his scalp and was too embarrassed to tell you about it. That stuff is basically composed of thin metal filings and glue.”

Foiled again.

Forgetfulness and Lab Safety

We all know that keeping your wits about you can prevent lab accidents, but it also prevents unintentional works of art. We heard about a lab worker who had put a bottle of beer in a -78 degree freezer toward the end of a long shift, then got busy and forgot about it.

The next time someone opened the freezer, it had been transformed into something amazing, as if a photographer had captured a single moment on film. As the beer froze and expanded, the cap flew off, the beer sprayed into the air in an arc, and the entire thing froze solid before the beer could hit the shelf. It was truly beautiful.

We understand they left it like that for a few weeks, but eventually they needed the room in the freezer and the art installation had to be decommissioned.

Have You Got Crazy Lab Tales to Share?

Have you got any lab tales of your own to rival these? Maybe you’ve been told one that could only be urban legend. Either way, we’d love to hear those stories, especially if they involve lab safety or a piece of dedicated lab furniture.

Of course, if you have questions about how our dedicated lab furniture can improve the safety and reliability of your lab, you should also contact us as well.

Have fun, and hey: Let’s be careful out there.