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Safety in the Microbiology Lab

Microbiology labs are only as safe as those who work in them - which is a comment that can be made about just about any work environment!  But awareness and education can insure the safest possible lab.  This section will explore how to achieve lab safety by minimizing risk.  Accidents happen in the micro lab, and so efforts to minimize risk and knowledge of how to deal with problems that arise are key to safety in the lab.

The key to safety in a micro lab is in teaching students to respect microbes, know where the potential problems lie, and to work carefully following an instructor's guidance.  Most microbes used in teaching labs are relatively harmless and pose little threat to students who practice safe behavior.  But a degree of danger exists when working with pure microbial cultures, where literally tens of billions of bacteria are encountered.  An immune system capable of dealing with occasional intruders would have a much tougher time dealing with such numbers of invaders.  The numbers of microbes encountered in pure cultures are not natural in the environment, and so represent a greater hazard than one faced under normal circumstances.  For that reason, special care must be exercised in the lab.

The main dangers in a micro lab are 

  • the use of fire,
  • the proximity of water and electricity,
  • glass and sharp objects,
  • stains and other harsh chemicals,
  • and the presence of pure cultures of concentrated microbes.

So safe practice in a micro lab revolves around fire safety, keeping water and electricity separated, avoiding injury, and using proper precautions and methods when working with microbes.  

You will see as you work through the safety tutorial below that precautions include removing clutter, dressing appropriately, and being aware of the biohazard posed by the presence of concentrated microbes are essential to lab safety. 

Here is a resource that provides an overview of lab safety:

1. Visit the online VUMIEtm 2012Help files at:  http://www.vumicro.com/vumie/help/index.htm

2. Open the Lab Safety folder from the left margin menu and review the basics of lab safety for a microbiology teaching lab.

3. This link is to one YouTube micro lab safety video that is done very well.  If you do a YouTube search you will find many others sharing common warnings and advice, some more "polished" than others!  The take-home message is that lab safety is very important.

NOTE:  One other thing that should be mentioned is that when microbes are observed using a microscope, the slide preparations should be considered lab waste requiring autoclaving before disposal with other glass and sharp objects.  This is not common garbage!

When you are done, you may be asked to take a quiz over Safety in the Microbiology Lab.