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University of Houston: Teamwork makes the dream work when it comes to lab safety

Lab collaboration can help maintain lab safety, these researchers found. Graphic byMiguel Tovar/University of Houston

Getting along with colleagues and forming connections actually helps create a culture of lab safety.

For the most part, we all know how important it is to adhere to universal lab safety rules such as wearing closed-toe shoes or properly labeling all chemicals. Oftentimes, we forget about the human relations side of the safety equation. Cultivating positive working relationships with colleagues is as important (maybe even more so) as learning the “technical” safety rules of a lab. In this edition of the Big Bang, I will discuss the role of interpersonal relationship within the culture of safety.

During my exploration of this topic, I did not specifically find literature that directly links positive interpersonal relationships and lab safety. However, I spoke with a few UH scientists about this topic and I read articles about how to create a positive work environment in the lab in which a common theme arose – communication.

Moreover, the safest labs are operated by people who communicate well and have strong interpersonal relationships. Dr. Colin N. Haile, director of operations at the University of Houston Animal Behavior Core Facility agrees. He runs a complex lab where proper lab safety is vital to the care of the researchers and animals.

“Teamwork and healthy working relationships are extremely important to ensure our work is performed safely and of the best quality,” Dr. Haile said. “When colleagues respect and establish open communication, they are more compelled to help one another adhere to safety protocols.”

Getting along with others is easy, right?

Getting along with others is not easy. We all have diverse backgrounds, life experiences, points of view and expertise. Consequently, the occasional clash with a colleague is not always avoidable.

Frequent showdowns cause disruptions in team morale, productivity and could be a catalyst for an unsafe science lab. In addition to cultivating open communication, there are a few other ways to maintain positive relationships in the lab that contribute to a culture of safety.

Tips for developing and maintaining positive working relationships in your science lab

  • Communication is king & clarity and concision is queen – Communicate exactly what you want and need in a clear, concise manner, especially if there’s a safety issue to address. Also, try to give your email a break – talk to you colleagues face-to-face. This may avoid miscommunication and builds a personal rapport and camaraderie with your teammate.
  • Be nice and respect others – This one is obvious, but important to mention. Stronger bonds and trust is created when you are friendly to colleagues…Hey, you can even take things a step further and show an interest in a co-worker’s family or hobbies outside of the lab. Again, building personal rapport instills trust amongst the group which contributes to safer work environments
  • Keep an open mind and consider diverse points of view – As mentioned earlier, our world is colorful and diverse. That’s what makes humans unique and interesting. Everyone comes from different walks of life and bring unique points of view to their place of business. Preserving superior interpersonal relationships requires colleagues to listen, understand and exhibit compassion towards each other’s points of view. When people are heard, they feel appreciated and possess the motivation to help keep their work space functional and safe.

Strong team = Safer labs and maybe a few cool, new science discoveries

Of course, I’m not suggesting 24-hour Kumbaya in the lab, but the concept of getting along is certainly one that encourages lab safety. Strong teams discover the greatest breakthroughs and are safer in the lab because trust, open communication and respect are established. Well, that’s it for this edition of the Big Bang. Until next time…Be well and stay safe!

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Ciandra Jackson, the author of this piece, is the communications manager for the UH Division of Research.

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Houston-based Melax Tech has developed multiple Natural language processing tools that are used by more than 650 health care and life science organizations. Photo via MelaxTech.com

Melax Tech Partners, a leader in natural language technology processing, announced a new partnership with the University of California at Irvine that will help researchers derive insights from the UCI Health Data Science Platform’s electronic health records system and improve patient care.

Melax will implement its signature text annotation tool LANN to pull information from clinical notes, and its CLAMP product to develop natural language processing customizations through the use of AI, according to a statement from the company.

“There has been a strong desire among UCI researchers to have the capability to analyze free-text clinical narrative data using cutting-edge NLP technologies," Kai Zheng, chief research information officer at UCI Health Affairs, says in a statement. "We are delighted to have this opportunity to work with Melax Tech to deploy their AI-driven annotation and analytics tools to help our researchers advance their research agenda by leveraging the vast amount of free-text data that our health system has accumulated in the past two decades.”

Natural language processing, or NLP, allows organizations and healthcare groups to sift through and analyze massive amounts of data at a rapid rate through the use of machine learning and AI. Houston-based Melax Tech, founded in 2017, has developed multiple NLP tools that are used by more than 650 health care and life science organizations, according to its website.

In addition to the recent partnership with UC Irvine, Melax has also recently partnered with Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the University of Western Pennsylvania on similar clinical projects.

Melax has also used its platforms to pull vital information from datasets relating to COVID-19, in both medical and social settings.

In March 2022, it was awarded a Phase 1 NIH Award, valued at $300,000, to develop informatics tools based on COVID-19 datasets with the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UC San Diego. The tool aims to help researchers better understand vast amounts of virus-related data and connect findings with other similar results.

In August, Melax also received another $300,000 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop NLP-based algorithms that will "model, extract and synthesize vaccine misinformation from multiple popular social media sources," according to a statement. Melax will also develop a visualization that presents its findings on the misinformation into a compressible format.

"This is a very real topic affecting culture at present," Andre Pontin, CEO at Melax Tech, says in a statement. "And shows that we as a collective business and group of experts continue to be on the cutting-edge of science in the NLP and AI domain."

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