Nobody likes to make mistakes, either in their personal or professional lives, but we’re all human, and mistakes can and do happen.
How to safeguard against employee errors
In some work environments, such as life science laboratories, mistakes might involve something as simple as breaking an easily replaceable beaker or spilling a small amount of reagents – or, it could be as serious as overlooking an error that leads to contaminated pharmaceutical products being delivered to drugstore shelves.
It is obvious that none of us are infallible and even in a carefully controlled and organized setting as a laboratory, things can go wrong. However, there are steps that can be taken to avoid employee mistakes and improve overall performance, behavior, or attitude. One such step is through the implementation of standard operating procedures.
Standard Operating Procedures
One of the key responsibilities of a laboratory manager is to ensure that staff is strictly adhering to all methods and protocols in order to minimize employee mistakes. An important component of this practice is the use of clearly written and carefully documented standard operating procedures, or SOPs. An SOP can be defined as a prescribed method that should be followed in exactly the same way each time it is carried out, no matter which employee is doing so. SOPs are a way of standardizing materials, methods, and employee actions throughout a laboratory or throughout an organization, or even nationally or internationally, in the case of national or multinational organizations.
Standard operating procedures cover a variety of performance behaviors, such as workplace metrics and manager training. Other key areas they cover may include:
- Overall Safety of Lab Environment & Its Operations
- What protective clothing should be worn, or what to do in the case of a fire breaking out.
- Validation of Employees' Performance Behaviors
- Their adherence to prescribed methods, etc.
- Validation of Analytical Methods
- Checking that all positive and negative controls are working as they should be.
- Monitoring of Lab Supplies & Reagents
- How they are stored, how long they are stored for, etc.
- Monitoring of the Lab Environment
- The ambient temperature in a laboratory, whether doors are open or closed, how often, etc.
- Maintenance of Equipment & Instruments
- Maintenance schedules for devices from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), etc.
- Calibration of Equipment & Instruments
- The temperature of incubators, refrigerators, and freezers, or the accurate calibration of analytical instruments using standard solutions.
- Employee Accountability & Experience
- Whether employees have the necessary qualifications and training for the role(s) they are performing.
- Documentation for Regulatory Bodies or QA
- Providing written reports on the outcome of quality control and quality assurance testing, or written evidence that all materials and products are stored appropriately.
Standard operating procedures therefore clearly serve a number of useful purposes. They provide readily accessible documentation for validation, regulatory, and quality control purposes. SOPs ensure a standardized benchmark for the consistency of procedures and products. Crucially, SOPs help to reduce employee mistakes and lead to improvements in performance behaviors.
In any scientific research endeavor, it is important to identify sources of error and to deal with mistakes in a timely manner. When proper SOPs are established, it becomes quicker and easier to trace back through the system to identify the source of a particular error or lapse in quality control. It is important to hold an employee accountable, but it is equally important to avoid unfair treatment, and the use of SOPs facilitates this.
Problems associated with not following SOPs
If employee mistakes do occur, perhaps a bench technician fails to follow an SOP with some deviation, this can quickly negate all of the other painstaking efforts toward quality control and quality assurance that a laboratory has undertaken. On these occasions, it is important for lab managers to identify such deviations, and to question the relevant employee(s) at the appropriate opportunity.
If and when an error occurs, it is important that the reason behind the error is identified as quickly as possible, in order to prevent it from happening again. If SOPs are routinely adhered to, it can be a straightforward task to go back through the documentation to find the source of the error. However, there are ways to simplify the process of searching for errors.
A laboratory manager strives to drive a culture of high-performance. XiltriX is a digital, automated laboratory monitoring and control system that offers a cloud-based software platform and other key features that can help achieve this goal. For example, an important source of errors in a laboratory is the use of hand-written, manually reported data logs relating to equipment or procedures. XiltriX avoids this issue through the use of automated, real-time measurements for all parameters. A sophisticated monitoring and alarm system ensures that if any deviations from set parameters occur, such as a freezer failure causing the temperature to rise, lab managers will be notified immediately via the XiltriX solution, which can be accessed from a variety of devices, including mobile phones or tablets.
The XiltriX system also actively monitors how employees interact with laboratory equipment. Active alarms will trigger when a freezer door is open too long or if it’s opened too frequently and this will influence scientists' habits, preventing sample damage from fluctuating temperatures. Identifying trends in equipment usage and laboratory environments exposes gaps in current processes and creates opportunities for discussions around improving SOPs with actionable data and insight, which are generated automatically by the XiltriX system.
In today’s increasingly strict regulatory environment, the use of SOPs is ever more crucial. The features offered by a comprehensive laboratory monitoring system, such as XiltriX, provide laboratory managers with an all-in-one solution, providing peace of mind knowing that sensitive assets and expensive equipment are secure, and the SOPs governing them are under constant oversight for adherence and improvement.
Learn more about other safeguards that can be implemented to ensure the safety of your critical samples in our white paper, Safeguarding Sample Management: