How to keep your team safe when handling blood in the lab
How to establish a culture of safety
Laboratories that process samples are, by definition, a risk to lab workers. Since the pandemic, this risk has increased, but that doesn’t have to mean an increased vulnerability for the lab team. While a lab director cannot influence the global availability of the right equipment, they can ensure the welfare of their personnel, and in turn, maintain the delivery of accurate, reliable results critical to the care and safety of patients.
Record keeping, training, competencies and knowledge resources are pillars upon which to foster a culture that maintains a vigilant awareness of the risks involved in handling and analysing blood samples. With these in place, the laboratory and lab staff are protected and supported in their activity.
Conduct a risk assessment
There has been a large focus on protecting staff from COVID-19. Staff must also be protected from other blood-borne pathogens, such as HIV and Hepatitis B Virus, and other infectious material.
Performing a biosafety risk assessment prepares staff ahead of time for the arrival of potentially hazardous samples and materials.
Employ a safety coordinator
Having a specific role for safety provides a resource that can be consulted on all issues relating to the protection of staff in the lab. The safety coordinator will ensure that records are kept up-to-date, that new legislation is implemented and that timely and regular training is observed.
Provide ongoing training for all staff
With high staff turnover, providing regular and ongoing training for staff maintains an active awareness of safety, reassuring the team and helping colleagues look out for each other. Creating a culture of safety requires an understanding and commitment from everyone involved in a working lab environment.
Establish competencies for working with hazardous materials
Competencies should be measurable, and initiating the teaching of standard competencies for new and entry level staff relating to hazards, risks, storage and disposal in the lab, at the first opportunity, contributes to a culture and awareness of safety.
Being prepared for interruptions to the supply chain
The lack of availability of equipment in the lab is sadly an ongoing reality for lab workers. Unfamiliar equipment interrupts established routines, and surges in demand are a constant occurrence. To be able to forecast these eventualities and communicate, ahead of time, for these eventualities allows the lab team to prepare and take the necessary precautions.
Safety in the lab
With a culture of safety in place, staff have the confidence to enter the lab with a high awareness of the risks involved and the competency with which to manage them. The physical environment - their place of work and the equipment they use, should also support and protect their activity.
Personal protective equipment (PPE)
PPE protects against ocular and inoculation transmissions of infection. Lab workers must always wear appropriate PPE. When working with blood samples, disposable gloves are worn and disposed of after each procedure. Lab coats, safety glasses or goggles, and a surgical mask must also be worn. A lab worker must be trained in how to wear, adjust, disrobe and dispose of PPE, and it should never leave the lab.
Respiratory transmission from aerosols
Many lab procedures related to the phlebotomy have the potential for generating aerosols that place a lab worker at risk of infection from inhalation. All of these procedures should be performed inside a biosafety cabinet with appropriate PPE.
Creating a working space that allows for easier access to amenities, such as toilets, offices and kitchens, without being directly connected to the lab, supports lab worker safety and ensures no short cuts are taken with regards to food and drink in the lab. Anything that supports a more efficient routine in the lab should be implemented. This could mean more electrical outlets, clear and visible signage and PPE within easy reach.
 Cossarizza, A., Gibellini, L., Biasi, S. D., et al. (2020). Handling and Processing of Blood Specimens from Patients with COVID-19 for Safe Studies on Cell Phenotype and Cytokine Storm. Cytometry Part A. doi:10.1002/cyto.a.24009
Safety and value, it’s in our blood
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