Lab Safety

Four Motivators Every Lab Safety Professional Should Know

By Dan Scungio

If you search for top motivational movie speeches, you will see things that might work in real life. The President’s speech from Independence Day (1996), for example, might influence you to never be oppressed by alien tyranny. Freedom will be your rallying cry after listening to William Wallace in Braveheart (1995), or Maximus from Gladiator (2000) can speak to your heart about teamwork. Unfortunately, such speeches do not tend to maintain motivation for great lengths of time. Also, none of them will translate to a motivational discussion about safety with your staff.

Over the years I have watched what motivates people to do the right thing or take the safe actions in the laboratory, and that motivation varies. Different groups of people are persuaded by different forces, and understanding that can help you move your lab safety culture in the direction you desire. You may not agree with or even like some of the influencers, but learning them can help you be more effective in achieving overall safety compliance.


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First, money is a motivator for people in all kinds of circumstances, and it can be true for lab safety as well. Lab staff who are concerned about finances are more open to following some lab safety practices if they understand the cost savings. Obviously, lab injuries and exposures cost the department both monetarily and with staff absences. Following proper regulations can reduce costly citations and fines that can be levied by organizations like OSHA, the EPA, or CMS. Some lab team members want funds available for new equipment or more staff. Use that to encourage them to follow proper safety procedures. Make sure staff properly segregates waste in the lab, for example, since doing things like placing paper into a sharps container costs the department extra money. Hospital and lab leadership also respond well to financial motivation. If you need something fixed or replaced because it is unsafe, always explain the financial consequences to the facility if the fix is not approved.

Knowledge is a second powerful safety stimulator for some staff. Understanding the consequences of poor safety behaviors will discourage some, and education about those consequences needs to be given regularly. Let’s look at waste disposal again—those who are concerned about the environment should know that tossing clean items into a biohazard container could increase the need for biohazard landfills in the area—something we should avoid. Talking about the follow up testing and unpleasant effects of prophylaxis following an exposure from an unknown source can be very eye-opening. It may spur staff to be more careful when potential exposure situations arise.

You might not like to hear that punishment can be a third motivator for correct behaviors, but for some staff members it is. Sometimes, explaining that a written corrective counseling or even termination will occur if safety practices are not followed will keep laboratorians working carefully and correctly. No one wants to “threaten” people to do the right things, but there will be those who are only motivated by not wanting to “get in trouble.” Knowing who those employees are can be important to guiding your leadership approach when working with them.

Lastly, some lab staff are inspired to act safely because the work environment is designed to make doing so easy. PPE is readily available—lab coats of all sizes are accessible, gloves are out and not in a drawer, and face protection is mounted conveniently. There are hooks for lab coats near exit doors and hand washing sinks so that staff can properly doff and exit. Cleaning supplies and spill kits are readily available and instructions to use them are posted and up to date. Warning signs are there for staff and for visitors not used to the dangers in the department. I know that many labs are older, and the physical layout is not always conducive to making safety easy, but there are always steps that can be taken in order to make safety easier to achieve. You may need to step back and look at your environment with fresh eyes in order to envision what can be done to make improvements.

Think about what incentives are important to you when it comes to lab safety. Is it simply self-preservation? That’s good, but for many who are complacent about safety, their motivation may be different. Finding their reasons to be safe is a worthwhile task. It helps you understand better who your staff is as a people, and it will help you gain expertise for providing the stimuli they need to continue to work safely today and every day.


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