Pressed for Safety: Lab coat vending machines arrive on campus
SDSU College of Sciences pilots a dispensing program providing researchers with clean protective clothing as easily as getting a bag of chips.
To promote a safe and productive working environment, San Diego State University’s College of Sciences is piloting a program offering faculty, staff and student researchers clean lab coats at no cost.
For researchers working with chemicals and other hazardous materials, wearing lab coats and other forms of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and eye protection are essential to lab safety. Properly washing the coats is equally important, as it prevents the spread of contaminants.
New “vending machines” will provide College of Sciences researchers easy access to lab coats and coat laundering services, while bolstering the university’s growing research enterprise. SDSU is only the second school in California to implement such a program, and the first in the California State University system.
“We must equip our faculty and student researchers with the resources they need to continue to excel in their fields,” said Jeff Roberts, College of Sciences dean. “This project does just that, reducing the financial burden on labs to support STEM research at SDSU.”
“The new Lab Coat Program is one of the most impactful initiatives that our campus has made toward supporting our research,” said Angelica Riestra, assistant professor of biology. “The investment the university is making in this program has a direct impact on our scientific productivity in the lab and will allow for the safe performance of many different research projects, including my group’s investigation on host-pathogen interactions.”
The program also helps facilitate more sustainable lab practices. Upon leaving labs, researchers often abandon their old, soiled lab coats. The dispensing program allows more frequent cleaning and subsequent reuse by others.
“This initiative is great for the environment,” said Ty'Tianna Clark, a master’s student researcher in Riestra’s lab. “Right now we have about 10 lab coats just sitting there from researchers who are no longer in the lab. So it’s nice that now we’ll be able to clean our new coats and then sustainably use them for someone else.”
Greg Elliott, Facilities Coordinator for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, wears his old, soiled lab coat while holding up a brand new, freshly laundered coat he retrieved from the new lab coat vending machine (Rachel Crawford/SDSU)
Developed through a partnership between the College of Sciences, Cintas and SDSU Business & Financial Affairs’s Department of Environment, Health and Safety (EH&S), the lab coat program began Dec. 18 with two machines installed across campus. The first, located in the Chemical Sciences Laboratory’s third floor breezeway, contains about 400 coats, both standard white coats and flame-resistant blue coats. The second machine houses about 250 standard white coats and is located in the Hardy Tower/PSFA breezeway.
“Having EH&S oversee the logistics is a tremendous game-changer for all of our individual research programs, as this will ensure that there are no gaps in access and availability of lab coats,” said Riestra.
Researchers registered in the program can retrieve a clean coat by swiping their RedID cards on the dispensers and selecting from the range of types and sizes. Returning a dirty coat will replenish the coat credit on their RedID, enabling them to obtain a clean replacement without any wait.
“Being in the lab, our coats can get very dirty so now that we have the opportunity to clean them is a huge deal for us,” said Bryn Baxter, a master’s student researcher in Riestra’s lab. “We’re definitely going to be using this a lot.”
Tiffany Luong, doctoral researcher in the Roach Lab, retrieves a lab coat from the machine (Bryana Quintana/SDSU)
For now, lab coats are available only to researchers in the College of Sciences who work in a wet lab and/or with hazardous materials. An expansion of the program could be considered later, depending on results of the pilot program and available funding.