Research Safety Blog

BioRAFT will be at the 2016 NEBSA Symposium on 11/3

2016 NEBSA Symposium/p>

Albert Sherman Center

55 N Lake Ave, University of Massachusetts Medical School

Worcester, MA

November 3, 2016


BioRAFT will be attending the 2016 NEBSA Symposium at the Albert Sherman Center in Worcester, MA.

Come by and say hi, meet some of our team, and learn how BioRAFT’s enterprise solution can help your EHS team and your organization improve laboratory safety and management.

Not familiar with BioRAFT? Take a look at our explainer video below:

The Power of the 5 Principles: Solving Lab Safety Problems with the HRO Framework

This is part 5 in our continuing series looking at the model of the High Reliability Organization (HRO) as a resource for lab safety management. Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 can be found here:

Part 1) What is an HRO?

Part 2) Establishing Mindfulness

Part 3) Anticipating the Unexpected

Part 4) Containing the Unexpected


With the support of mindfulness, the 5 Principles work together to support High Reliability.


Though the 5 Principles of High Reliability Organizations serve as useful tools when viewed one at a time, when they are employed together with each principle supporting and reinforcing the others, their real power truly shines.

To recap before moving on, High Reliability Organizations (HROs) are a class of organizations capable of maintaining reliable functioning despite the possibility (and occasional reality) of failure. The 5 Principles of HROs are five guidelines that inform the behavior of these organizations, especially in times of pressure. To list them briefly, they are:

  1. Preoccupation with Failure
  2. Resistance to Simplification
  3. Sensitivity to Operations
  4. Deference to Expertise
  5. Commitment to Resilience

Of these 5 Principles, the first three relate to Anticipation, which helps you anticipate, recognize, and avoid failures before they happen, while the last two relate to Containment, which help you react to and recover from failures as they are happening, and afterwards. Together, these ideas enable organizations to prevent an incident from spiraling out of control. Many concepts from HROs are applicable to lab safety, as they encourage open communication, collaboration, and organization-wide commitment to developing a resilient safety culture.

The idea of mindfulness is the common thread that ties these 5 Principles together. Without a foundation of mindful thought, it's challenging to effectively practice any of the 5 Principles, let alone all of them. When you're constantly exposed to the same dangers and hazards, they tend feel more commonplace, and it's easy to overlook the little warning signs that show up before a major accident occurs. If you haven't read it yet, take a moment to read our previous article all about mindfulness.

Now that we're familiar both with mindfulness in the context of an HRO and with the 5 Principles, let's explore further into the ways that the 5 Principles of HROs can benefit lab safety.


Previously, we've used lab safety examples to illustrate individual Principles. In reality, the 5 Principles of HROs rarely work in isolation from one another. Far more often they act in concert, with elements of several Principles coming together to provide the tools and capabilities needed to handle a problem. Like your department, the 5 Principles work as a team; when one Principle struggles to change a behavior, effects from the others will often lend a boost.

As you read through, keep in mind that HROs are successful because they build on what is already present in an organization's safety culture. If some of the things below look familiar, that means you've got a solid foundation to build upon.


When accidents happen, they tend to be unexpected but preventable and foreseeable. Let's see how the 5 Principles could help you address a Cryostat microtome cut (for those unfamiliar with the instrument, a cryostat microtome uses an extremely sharp blade kept around -20ºC to make micrometer-thick slices of tissue):

  • Preoccupation with Failure
  • Frequently, accidents have several leading indicators. If a researcher notices that the microtome pedestal is slippery due to melted ice, a Preoccupation with Failure should kick in, making that person more conscious of the danger of her finger slipping into the blade of the cryostat.
  • Resistance to Simplification
  • Resist quick and neat answers such as "better training on safe handling is required," because easy answers might cause you to miss important details. Applying a Resistance to Simplification in these situations could help you dig out the root cause of injuries. Perhaps the real issue is that researchers don't have convenient tools to clean the cryostat, so instead they go through the process unsafely and increase their chances of injury.
  • Sensitivity to Operations
  • Every time an injury or a near miss on the cryostat takes place, ensure that word gets around with as much detail about the situation as possible. If a cryostat user is aware of potential accidents and of the situations that precede them, it will be easier for that person to remember the danger when she's in the moment.
  • Deference to Expertise
  • When looking for an answer, talk to the most frequent users of the cryostat; those who have been injured and those who have never been injured. Their situation-specific advice and expertise may be more useful than manufacturer recommendations when developing a protocol that researchers will use.
  • Commitment to Resilience
  • Though potentially dangerous, cryostats are also important pieces of equipment for research. If you know where nearby cryostats are, you can direct researchers to use those while you fix the one involved in the accident (make sure the researchers are briefed on any possible differences in protocol use for the other cryostats!). Use caution when employing new rules for using the cryostat, as they may be counterproductive if they make using the instrument noticeably more challenging.

High-risk behaviors are often tough to correct. Habitual overfilling of biohazard bins is a common one, so here's one way you may apply the 5 Principles to improve the problem:

  • Preoccupation with Failure
  • Many researchers are already halfway there when it comes to a Preoccupation with Failure for overfilled biohazard bins. Ask any experienced researcher, and she'd tell you that when bins are overfilled, the possibility of a contaminated puncture wound or aerosol exposure is increased. The challenge, then, is not in educating people about potential dangers, but rather in getting them to care enough to act. Since the 5 Principles work together to improve outcomes, keep an eye out for strategies that could help this hazard awareness resonate.
  • Resistance to Simplification
  • Understanding the root causes of this behavior is key. Perhaps people underweigh potential danger ("I didn't think anything would actually go wrong") or there's a perceived lack of time ("It may be dangerous, but I can't risk my experiments to go and grab a new one and close this one"). Thinking past the first few explanations may yield valuable insights.
  • Sensitivity to Operations
  • Do you have a way of finding out when there are overfull bins in labs? If so, do you have a way to help labs deal with bins as they become full? Catching and addressing these incidents early can prevent an occasional behavior from becoming a habit.
  • Deference to Expertise
  • Are there labs in your organization that don't have problems with overfilling bins, or labs that have a particularly hard time it? Consider seeking help from labs where bins are being handled well, and ask for advice on how to improve the situation in labs that are having a harder time. Researchers that have previously overcome a similar problem could have insights that would otherwise be hard to gain.
  • Commitment to Resilience
  • Changing behavior and habits is a challenging task in any situation. Persistence in searching for and applying solutions to behavioral problems can help your organization develop resilience. Making small, strategic changes (sometimes called microexperiments) can show you what works, what doesn't work, and why. These adjustments will not only help you understand what was going wrong in the first place, they'll also enable your organization to perform better in the future.


The 5 Principles offer a flexible framework for solving a variety of safety challenges, from specific injuries to relationship building. Now that you've seen a few examples of the 5 Principles working together, you may see some other ways to begin applying the Principles to your own needs.

True organization-wide safety is always a work in progress, and never simply a static goal. New tools enable new perspectives that can help you break through tough problems, or give you a hand on challenging projects. With the 5 Principles of HROs, you can create a more robust framework for defending against, responding to, and recovering from laboratory accidents.


I hope you've enjoyed reading the conclusion in our series about High Reliability Organizations! Want to learn even more about how HROs can integrate into your safety efforts? Stay tuned for our upcoming whitepaper by filling out the form below:

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Matt Segal is a Marketing Specialist for BioRAFT. Before joining BioRAFT, he conducted molecular biology research at the Immune Disease Institute at Harvard Medical School, the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, and Boston Children’s Hospital. Matt will be continuing to blog and manage BioRAFT’s social media accounts.

BioRAFT will be at the 2016 CSHEMA UT Regional Conference from 10/26-10/27

2016 CSHEMA UT Regional Conference

A. Ray Olphin University Union

200 South Central Campus Drive

Salt Lake City, UT

October 26-27, 2016


BioRAFT will be attending the CSHEMA UT Regional Conference at the A. Ray Olphin University Union in Salt Lake City, UT


Come by and say hi, meet some of our team, and learn how BioRAFT’s enterprise solution can help your EHS team and your organization improve laboratory safety and management.

Not familiar with BioRAFT? Take a look at our explainer video below:

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