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