Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as your lab coat and gloves are an essential piece of kit when working in a laboratory; however, it is important to know when it is inappropriate to use PPE.
1) Don’t wear your lab coat, gloves or other PPE in offices or dining areas. They may have become contaminated with a nasty chemical or bug and will potentially contaminate other areas and possibly your colleagues’ lunch!
2) Don’t touch any common surfaces such as doors, telephones etc. while wearing lab gloves. If transporting a hazardous material from one part of the lab to the other, carry the hazardous item with a gloved hand leaving an un-gloved hand to open doors. It is also helpful to carry the item in a Tupperware® like container to minimise contamination.
3) Rules for using computer keyboards vary from lab to lab. I have worked in labs where we did not touch the UV transluminator and attached computer without gloves to protect ourselves from ethidium bromide contamination. This was standard practice within the lab and the computer and equipment were clearly labelled regarding this. If it is lab policy not to use computer peripherals with gloves, one option is to place your gel into the equipment with a gloved hand and operate the keyboard and mouse with an un-gloved hand. The most important things is that everyone in the lab does it the same way.
4) When leaving the lab. When you have finished your lab work it is important to remove your PPE before leaving the lab and wash your hands. It is good practice to have a different lab coat for different work areas within the lab; i.e. one for tissue culture, one for molecular biology etc.
5) DO wear a clean coat and gloves when working in tissue culture. Spray your gloves with ethanol before putting them inside the hood and change on a regular basis. The gloves will both protect you from spills and will stop your hands drying out.
Use a full face visor when working with liquid nitrogen; safety goggles alone are not sufficient.
It is also important to know when your PPE needs to be supplemented; for example, a lab coat may not be sufficient when dealing with certain chemicals and a rubber apron should be used over your coat. The type of protective gloves used should be appropriate to the hazard involved; for example nitrile gloves should be used when working with corrosive chemicals whereas latex gloves are sufficient for more general lab use.
A recent study by psychology researchers demonstrated that people wearing lab coats made half the amount of mistakes than those not wearing a lab coat1. The researchers in question argue that simply wearing a lab coat makes you feel smarter. One can argue against this but it is certainly much smarter for a researcher to plan their work in the lab in advance and ascertain what PPE is required.
- Hajo Adam and Adam D. Galinsky, 2012. Enclothed cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology; Volume 48 (Issue 4): Pages 918-925.