October is National Biosafety Month, a time to focus on your lab’s biosafety policies and procedures. This year, EH&S would like labs to focus on the importance of wearing lab coats. Lab coats are an important barrier between your skin or clothes and any hazards that you work with in the lab. Not only do lab coats protect you from exposure, they also help prevent you from transporting laboratory contamination home to your family, friends and pets.
Wear lab coats when handling biohazards, chemicals and radiological hazards. You may need to wear a different type of lab coat or gown when working with animals or at a biosafety level higher than BSL-2.
Remember to wear a lab coat in addition to appropriate laboratory clothing – long pants or skirts that cover the legs and closed-toe shoes that cover the feet. The newest version of the UW Biosafety Manual will be released soon and will include a requirement to wear lab coats at all biosafety levels, including biosafety level 1 (BSL-1). The manual updates are based on the latest edition of the CDC’s (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL).
If you are unsure about what PPE (personal protective equipment) is required for your work, consult your lab’s specific standard operating procedures or talk to your principal investigator, lab manager or supervisor. Each lab has a PPE Assessment Tool in place that outlines PPE requirements for tasks. Below are some helpful dos and don’ts for using lab coats:
- Wear a lab coat that fits and can be fully buttoned, snapped or tied.
- Keep dedicated lab coats designated laboratories.
- Store lab coats in a designated lab area, not at your desk or on your chair. Clearly identify the lab coat user to avoid mixing them up.
- Send your lab coat for professional cleaning regularly. Keep contaminated lab coats separate from clean coats while awaiting laundry.
- Don’t wear any PPE (including lab coats) in public areas such as hallways, restrooms, elevators, lunch spaces, etc.
- Don’t push or roll up lab coat sleeves. Wear sleeves so that they fully cover skin for optimal protection.
- Don’t take your lab coat home to launder.
- Don’t share lab coats – everyone in the lab should have their own coat.
- Don’t let dirty lab coats pile up as they can cause cross contamination.
- Don’t leave items in your lab coat pockets as you may forget about them when you send the coat out for cleaning.
The EH&S Biosafety team is here to support your success in safety. If you have questions or would like to consult with an EH&S biosafety officer, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206.221.7770.