Keeping Labs Safe

Laboratory is a place handing various types of chemicals daily by researchers, chemists and others working there. A few major accidents have been reported in laboratories due to fire and explosions, especially in research laboratories. A number of minor accidents occur in laboratories mainly owing to chemical contacts, inhalation or cuts due to broken glass apparatus, injuries from running machines, radiations, etc. Since due safety considerations are not given to research and other quality control laboratories in industries, accidental injuries happen repeatedly happen in laboratories. Here is an endeavour to identify the hazards and risks in laboratories and steps to improve their safety.IMAG0011

The laboratory environment can be a hazardous place to work. Laboratory workers are exposed to numerous potential hazards including chemical, biological, physical and radioactive hazards, as well as musculoskeletal stresses. Places of research and laboratories are full of potential hazards that can cause serious injury and or damage to equipment. In India, there is no separate regulation for laboratory safety. In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has promulgated rules and published guidance to make laboratories increasingly safe for personnel.

  • Industrial employers must ensure that all employees follow safety norms while working in laboratory though personal laboratory safety depends mostly on those working in it. Conduct yourself in a responsible manner at all times in the laboratory. Read all procedures thoroughly before entering the laboratory. Follow all written and verbal instructions carefully, both written and oral.
  • Do not do horseplay. Make sure to wear lab coats. Ensure that emergency shower is always working.
  • Never fool around in the laboratory. Horseplay, practical jokes, and pranks are dangerous and prohibited. If you do not understand a direction or a part of a procedure, ask the supervisor or the departmental head. Perform only those experiments authorised by the system.  Unauthorised experiments are not allowed.
  • Do not eat food, drink beverages, or chew gum in the laboratory. Do not use laboratory glassware as containers for food or beverages. Do not use lab refrigerator for keeping food or cooling water. Keep drinking water away with label. Observe good housekeeping practices.  Work areas should be kept clean and tidy at all times.
  • Keep hands away from face, eyes, mouth, and body while using chemicals or lab equipment. Wash your hands with soap and water after performing all experiments.

Following are some of the safety precautions to follow:

General lab safety precautions

Laboratory must be designed as per approved standards. This includes location of the lab, construction, separate store for chemical and solvent storage, proper storage of chemicals based on their reactivity with proper labeling, standard fume cupboards, offices for managers and rest area for employees, drinking water facilities, proper ventilation, hazardous and non-hazardous waste disposal systems and procedures, liquid effluent treatment and discharges through effluent pit, required PPE selected based on the hazards, properly fitted and properly worn, regularly maintained, replaced as required, properly removed and disposed. Firefighting procedures, emergency procedures, hazard warning labels/signposting, emergency showers and eyewash, and first-aid box are certain requirements to be considered while designing laboratories.

While working in lab, all must take care to avoid injuries from trips, slips and fall. Be careful when lifting heavy objects. All chemicals in the laboratory are to be considered dangerous. Avoid handling chemicals with fingers. Always use tweezers. When making an observation, keep at least 1 foot away from the specimen. Do not taste, or smell any chemicals.

(Read the full part of this article in the February issue of Safety Messenger Magazine 2016)

Author: SubEditor

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