What should be already understood, because hopefully this is common practice everywhere, but what needs to be stated anyway: the lab needs to be left in the cleanest condition possible. Try to keep the principles of the Boy Scouts in mind when leaving the lab, i.e., “Leave No Trace.” Leave the lab as you found it or leave it in better condition if you can. This isn’t just common courtesy, however, cleaning the lab also can prevent cross-contamination of experiments. Making sure that fume hoods are clean and in good working condition can prevent fires from occurring, which is a must, especially if your lab contains volatile chemicals.
The basic steps for ensuring a good lab environment include: housekeeping, chemical labeling, chemical storage, emergency preparedness, waste handling, and biosafety. Depending on the lab you are working in, all these steps may apply to you. Housekeeping is the most basic and the most general, and it usually comes down to common sense and common courtesy. Chemical labeling and storage go hand-in-hand with housekeeping. Accidents from improper storage is not an uncommon thing, so don’t think you aren’t affecting anyone else by not following proper procedures and policies. A good rule of thumb for labeling is: When you grab a container, grab a label.
Emergency preparedness is for that “worst case scenario” that may happen if someone does not follow the proper guidelines for maintaining a lab. You can minimize the effects of accidents by regularly using and wearing the proper protective equipment. Make sure any tools, such as a spill kit, as fully stocked and ready to go.
A big part of working in a lab is knowing how to properly dispose of hazardous materials. Handling chemical waste can be simple, but it can easily turn dangerous. Knowing how to deal with certain waste in a way that is safe to your person and those around you as well as the environment is important. To keep yourself and others safe, always properly label waste. To keep the environment safe, also dispose of waste properly, don’t just wash it down the sink.
The most important thing to remember about maintaining a laboratory is that you aren’t the only one using it; what you do affects others. If you don’t know how to label something, clean something, or dispose of something, do the right thing and ask.