A Lab Safety Checklist Must Include Mental Health

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Lab Safety Checklist

A lab safety checklist is an important component of your health and safety program. Checklists help ensure that workers and management have all the detailed steps they need to maintain safety—literally at their fingertips. The intent is to keep your system simple: check all the boxes on the list, and you’ll stay safe.

That simplicity can be deceptive, though. To make your checklists effective, you need to be aware of your underlying assumptions.

How to Make Sure Your Checklists Work

There are two primary considerations to make sure your lab safety inspection checklist results in a safer lab. First, your workers must use the checklist. This sounds obvious, but it’s a major hurdle in some workplaces.

Many workers, especially senior workers or those in high-level positions, may see the checklist as too nit picky or “beneath” them. It’s this disregard that leads to accidents. All workers must understand how useful checklists are, and why everyone should use these memory aids diligently.

Get creative with your strategies to win worker buy-in for checklists. For those particularly hard-to-convince workers, give examples of situations where people in similarly high positions followed a checklist and avoided disaster. Also provide examples of when an expert didn’t follow a checklist and disaster ensued. If those examples include people within the company or individuals your staff has a connection to, all the better. Real life events are persuasive.

The second critical consideration: Is your checklist complete? If your workers follow your checklists line by line, but those checklists are missing important protocols, they aren’t going to provide ironclad safety assurance.

What Most Checklists Cover

Most checklists focus on physical safety, audit preparedness, and maintenance protocols. These are important, of course. Every lab needs detailed steps explaining how to approach risky situations. If you need to create new checklists and are at a loss for where to start, you can readily find a laboratory safety audit checklist template or a general laboratory safety checklist template online to get you started.

From there, make sure your checklist covers all government requirements and then tailor it to your workplace. These are just a few of the many ways to make your checklist effective.

Still, this isn’t the complete picture: in addition to addressing physical well-being, safety includes mental and emotional wellness.

Why Is Psychological Well-Being Important to Workplace Safety?

Mental and emotional wellness are at the foundation of safety because your brain is where the action starts. The root cause of many accidents is a poor mental state: depression, stress, and anxiety are major contributors to workplace injuries.

These conditions contribute to fatigue, lack of focus, and apathy. This doesn’t bode well for keeping workers safe. Do you want your fatigued and overly stressed coworker using a table saw? Driving a forklift in the warehouse? Or handling toxic chemicals? Me neither.

The importance of mental wellness at work is gaining awareness. This short video highlights the Canadian government’s national standard—the world’s first—for psychological health and safety in the workplace:

On the extreme end, severe emotional and psychological distress can lead to dangerous situations like workplace violence. It’s a sad reality of our time that emergency preparedness includes how to handle gun violence on the job. Addressing psychological and physical wellness helps to keep workers safe, and to stop problems from escalating.

How to Include Psychological Wellness in Checklists

There are numerous ways that you can address mental wellness with checklists. You can include mental and emotional checks along with other items on your checklist. For instance, include an item to check like “Workers involved in task are confident in their abilities to ask for help in this task if needed” or “Workers involved in this task are refreshed and alert.” Or include a To Do like “Take three deep breaths to focus on this task.”

These line items act as reminders and offer strategies to be mentally and emotionally ready for the job. They also remind workers that you recognize the importance of their mental well-being as part of their overall wellness.

You could also ask your workers to complete self-assessment checklists. Make them anonymous if needed. Areas to include are:

  • Stress levels at work
  • Stress levels at home
  • Degree of job satisfaction
  • Degree of work environment and culture satisfaction
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Relationships with coworkers
  • Major life changes
  • Relationships with management

This can help alert you to potential problems or improvements and also give you insight into ways to improve your workplace culture.

You could also make a checklist for management to assess whether you’re providing an environment that fosters psychological well-being. Is your workplace free of intimidation or harassment? Do your workers feel they have job stability? Is management respectful and fair? Is there open communication between staff and management? Are workloads reasonable? Are there ways management could reduce stress? Do you provide mental health services?

Workers Who Feel Better Are Safer

Talking about mental and emotional problems at work can be uncomfortable. But there’s no question that mental wellness contributes to a safer, and more productive, work environment.
Get creative and find ways to incorporate psychological well-being into your regular safety programming. Use your lab safety checklist to normalize a mental health focus and keep psychological safety top of mind.

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Topics: Safety Tips, Safety Culture, Laboratory Safety

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