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Lab Protocols

Why Do I Need Protocols?

Lack of proper training is a leading cause of lab accidents. When lab processes require some form of hazard mitigation (engineering controls, administrative controls or personal protective equipment), it is important that lab workers be trained on how to use these tools so tasks are performed safely.

Safety training content may be delivered in many forms. Examples include applications such as Microsoft Word or Powerpoint, video, hard copy, and hands-on training. All but the last example provide a student with content that is fixed and verifiable. Hands-on training, while critically important in many cases, should be considered a complement to, but not a substitute to, a method that provides defined-content training. For the purposes of this discussion, any defined-content safety training for a lab activity or task  will be called a protocol.

While lab safety manuals provide high-level guidance in the safe operation of the lab, written protocols go deeper by providing step by step instruction in the safe execution of a process or experiment. When paired with hands-on instruction, they make  powerful complements in learning.

Lastly, when protocols have been incorporated into the lab training process, it is possible to establish that training with defined content has taken place. This is important not just in delivering consistent training but paramount in establishing training diligence by lab management in the event of an accident.

What Is Needed For A Protocol?

That depends. For example, if your lab has only a few general activities that require safety glasses for example, a posted sign in the work area and documented instruction that the glasses need to be used is sufficient. However, most lab tasks are more involved than that.

If a task involves a chemical, the protocol must describe the hazards and hazard mitigation tools needed for its safe use. In addition, the protocol must include steps needed to store and dispose of the chemical.

Including photos are a great way to communicate additional information not easily conveyed through text.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)

A standard operating procedure (SOP) is a formal, written protocol that describes the hazards and hazard mitigation tools needed for a procedure or process.  This includes chemicals, namely the use, storage, and disposal of chemicals. The SOP is written before the process or procedure takes place, and helps a laboratory worker consider all hazards before carrying out the procedure.

Click here to download a blank SOP that can be used to write protocols for your lab, shop or club activity. After downloading, consider the activity you are documenting, the particular steps involved and the hazards and hazard mitigation (engineering controls, PPE, etc) needed to make that step safe. if you have any questions about how to complete an SOP contact the safety liaison using the link below.

For examples of SOPs please see “standard operating procedures” on the EHSS webpage.

Please contact the COEN Safety Liaison if you have any questions or comments relating to safety in the college or content on this website.