Ben Ferland and Ashley Pelton wear protective gear to use the slide-staining machine in the Specialized Histopathology Core Lab.

Ben Ferland and Ashley Pelton wear protective gear to use the slide-staining machine in the Specialized Histopathology Core Lab.

Even though Teri Bowman, HT(ASCP), has been working in research labs at the Brigham for 25 years, she still reminds herself each day to follow the proper safety protocols.

“Safety is the responsibility of each and every one of us,” said Bowman, safety officer and manager of the Specialized Histopathology and Tissue Micro-Array Core labs in the Thorn Building. “If we don’t adhere to quality and safety procedures, we risk exposing ourselves and those around us to a host of dangers, such as being cut or stuck with a sharp instrument or exposed to chemical splashes or vapors.”

In her roles, Bowman ensures lab staff are informed of all precautions and potential dangers of equipment, chemicals and disposables they may come in contact with. She stressed that safety and compliance training should happen on a consistent basis, regardless of experience.

To encourage compliance and safety in BWH labs, several departments, including Environmental Affairs, Research Administration and Compliance, and Health Physics and Radiation Safety, have started a joint initiative to highlight labs demonstrating best practices.

As part of the initiative, new “Safety Unicorn” Awards will celebrate BWHers who make lab safety and compliance a top priority. The term “safety unicorn” – an informal slogan created for the BWH campaign – refers to hard to find, but easy to spot, individuals who take safety and compliance seriously and educate their colleagues about it. Meant to be fun and educational, the initiative focuses on recognizing the positive, day-to-day actions that keep our labs safe. The program uses a unicorn as its mascot.

The BWH community is invited to a kick-off lab safety fair on Monday, Jan. 23, from 9 to 11 a.m., in the Building for Transformative Medicine’s third-floor conference space. Many research support and safety departments – including Engineering, Security, Occupational Health, Research Space Management, Emergency Management, the Center for Comparative Medicine and the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee Office – will distribute resources and answer questions.

“This is an excellent opportunity to get all the answers to your safety and compliance questions in one setting,” said Patrick MacDonald, laboratory safety coordinator in Environmental Affairs. “So many departments at the Brigham handle different pieces of safety and compliance within our institution, and it will be nice for our researchers to see how we collaborate to keep work environments safe.”

Following the fair, the initiative’s organizers will continue to educate the research community about lab safety through different training sessions and courses. In addition, the group plans to film short, educational videos that highlight safety topics each month.

There are more than 200 research labs at the Brigham, and while annual lab inspections conducted by Environmental Affairs help maintain safety and compliance, it’s important to keep best practices top of mind, according to Kathryn Holthaus, director of Research Subjects Protection and Laboratory Safety Compliance.

“All of us involved in this initiative are very proactive and want to be a resource for researchers and investigators,” said Holthaus. “We hope that the fair will encourage people to ask questions and inspire them to always make safety a top priority.”

Jennifer O’Riorden, a health physicist in Health Physics and Radiation Safety, has been working with the group on the initiative.

“I believe we are much more effective when we work together as a team to extend a hand to all researchers, clinicians and other staff to show that we are all working toward the same goals,” O’Riorden said. “Research performed in a safe lab yields quality results.”