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Lab cleaning - (Mar/25/2014 )

I'm looking for a bit of advice. I'm a long time senior tech. Recently due to funding cuts I've been "shared" among a few labs. One of the "new" labs that I've been asked to manage/provide tech support for is full of grad students and post-docs (no techs other than myself).


Our problem is that none of the students/post docs feel the need to clean up, wash glassware or re-stock consumables. The office space for everyone is far removed from the lab, leading to a "out of sight out of mind" thought process.


One of the postdocs who feels she has been doing the lion's share of cleaning confronted the group in a lab meeting the other day. Of course the responses were; "wasn't me", "not me", "I cleaned up", "you're crazy", etc...Luckily since I've been annexed recently to this lab I don't work directly in the space so their work doesn't affect my projects, but I do need to "manage" this lab now. Before joining this lab I had heard this same gripe come up about every six months or so, but since I had "no dog in that fight" I didn't have to weigh in on it. Now it seems it is my problem to resolve.


We proposed a rotating "cleaning" person, but of course that went over like a lead balloon. Privately I offered to the PI to be the cleanup person, but I was told "you're far to valuable to be the cleaning lady".


What works in your labs to keep messy co-workers in check?


There are a number of methods - Rosters work for a time, but need to be strictly enforced but tend to lapse with changes in people and often you will get variable levels of cleanliness depending on the person doing the task.  Not to mention, as you found out, they are very unpopular when first instigated.


Personal responsibility is probably the most successful - but this requires that people coming into the lab are indoctrinated into the "clean up after yourself" code and shown how and where to do the cleaning properly.  Mentioning that it is good lab practice and/or law is usually enough - our cleanliness levels are enforced by legislation for anything higher than BSL1 labs, so we have routine inspections by both local and governmental bodies.  Cleanliness and tidiness are also important for good results - if your glassware is contaminated - how will that affect the results and their reproducibility??  Most students if they leave the uni environment or go to good labs will find that they will get their arses kicked for being messy so ingraining good habits is important from the start.

Another option is to employ someone on a part time basis which is very effective, but costly.


Getting the PI behind you will be key - they are the person that everyone should be respecting and the word should come from them.  You may have to become the enforcer/tattletale for a while and the PI will probably have to tell people off frequently at first.


I am guessing you are in the academical world? 


Its a problem in many (if not all) labs..

Its a disgrace how lazy many people are and how bad they are in working how they should.


rosters are a good option, but only work if the "big boss", the professor enforces them and really takes care of the rosters  (meaning that he "punishes" people if they did not do their job). 


Thanks for the replies. Yes this is in the academic world.


I had thought about hiring a part timer to wash glassware, etc...but budget concerns being what they are there is no room for that type of position.


I can get the support of the PI behind me on this one. What are good examples of "punishments"?


Overall the lab is pretty clean. Its just the same old stuff that keeps getting brought up. One big issue is washing glass pipets after use. I felt this is simple, remove the antiquated glass pipets and go to disposable sero pipets like nearly every other lab on our campus. No need for the old glass ones. This was met with cost, I refuted with saved labor costs, less bitching...Next it was met with the "green" approach, again I cited how much water our pipet cleaner uses...


The other gripe is glassware from sink to drying rack to drying oven, to cabinet. Its a vicious cycle that has lots of room for gripes. In one of my other labs, I use a dishwasher and autoclave, not a big problem there, then again I'm the lone ranger working in that lab.


I recognise the problem. Most labs here have a labtech that is also responsible for the dishes... this helps already a lot!

Of course it all depends on how big the lab is and whether there is money for such a task.


A way to make sure people really help is by, as mentioned before, working with lists. Each week 1 person would be responsible for (eg) the dishes. If the dishes are not done that way... its pretty easy to see who does not do his/her job.


On the other hand,  and this is a problem, is that lazy ones (people now not helping) will have an excuse to stay lazy: "oh I am on the dishes, so I have no time to do other stuff" ....

Even if the dishes only take 1-2 hours max a day, you will Always have people abusing this and "washing" for 5 hours for example.

So the boss has to be very strict on this and really follow it and rebuke people that abuse the system.


Punishments are the hard part - often a telling off from the boss is the only way to go, but another way to go is to do a reward system - have all the tasks on a grid next to everyone's names, then as people do them, they get you to check them off - person with the most checks for a month (week) gets to have a break from doing them in the next month (week).  Or perhaps (punishment again) person with the least has to shout everyone coffee/morning tea on one day.


Disposable pipettes certainly do make life easier from a cleaning point of view and if you are doing cell culture eliminates the problem of incorrect washing (i.e. residues that could affect your cells).  There is no easy way around the system of washing, drying and putting away, so it just has to be done.  The only thing that can make this more efficient is if all the steps are in close proximity to each other.