Microbiology laboratory safety practices were first published in 1913 in a textbook by Eyre.2 It included admonitions such as the necessity to (1) wear gloves, (2) wash hands after working with infectious materials, (3) disinfect all instruments immediately after use, (4) use water to moisten specimen labels rather than the tongue, (5) disinfect all contaminated waste before discarding, and (6) report to appropriate personnel all accidents or exposures to infectious agents.
These guidelines are still incorporated into safety programs in the twenty-first century laboratory. In addition, safety programs have been expanded to include not only the proper handling of biologic hazards encountered in processing patient specimens or handling infectious microorganisms but also fire safety; electrical safety; the safe handling, storage, and disposal of chemicals and radioactive substances; and techniques for the safe lifting or moving of heavy objects. In areas of the country prone to natural disasters (e.g., earthquakes, hurricanes, snowstorms), safety programs also involve disaster preparedness plans that outline steps to take in an emergency. Although all microbiologists are responsible for their own health and safety, their institution and immediate supervisors are required to provide safety training to help familiarize microbiologists with known hazards and to avoid accidental exposure. Laboratory safety is considered such an integral part of overall laboratory services that federal law in the United States mandates preemploy-ment safety training followed by at least quarterly safety in-services. Microbiologists should find very little reason to be afraid while performing duties if the safety regulations are internalized and followed without deviation. Investigation of the causes of accidents usually shows that accidents happen when individuals become sloppy in performing their duties or when they do not believe that they will be affected by departures from safety standards.
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