- Identify hazardous substances in your laboratory and the need to minimize exposure.
- Explain the purpose of the Laboratory and Hazard Communication standards and their primary directives.
- Recognize your employer’s responsibility to provide you with information and training at the time of your initial assignment to a work area or a new exposure situation.
- Identify the information that must be included in a Chemical Hygiene Plan and your employer’s responsibility to communicate the location and availability of the plan.
- State the various controls that protect laboratory personnel, including engineering, administrative, work practices, and personal protective equipment.
- Recognize your employer's responsibilities and your rights relative to exposure monitoring, medical consultation and examinations, and records.
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According the Occupational Health & Safety Administration, “More than 500,000 workers are employed in laboratories in the U.S. 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.”
Chemicals in non-production laboratories present distinct, physical health hazards to workers, which is why chemicals are the number one concern for laboratory personnel. In labs, personnel are likely to be exposed to mixtures of certain volatile chemicals. Individually, chemicals may prove quite dangerous or unstable, and when stored beside other unpredictable chemicals or thrown together with dangerous compounds, the potential for risk increases greatly.
There are a variety of chemical properties that can lead to physical health hazards. Chemicals that are flammable and reactive are most closely associated with physical hazards, along with compounds displaying corrosive and toxic properties. Some chemicals may be both flammable and corrosive, or reactive and toxic—each chemical should be treated as a unique hazard presenting unique risks to be controlled for. Two OSHA standards—the occupational exposure to hazardous chemicals in laboratories standard and the Hazard Communication standards—are the primary regulations in place to help you safeguard your workforce against hazardous chemicals incidents.
When dealing with chemicals, it is useful also to refer to the hierarchy of controls, which prioritizes hazard mitigation strategies on the premise that the best way to control a hazard is to systematically eliminate it or substitute a less hazardous technique, process, or material. If elimination and substitution aren’t feasible, laboratories are to implement the necessary engineering and administrative controls and determine the appropriate level of personal protective equipment (PPE) you need to provide as much protection as necessary.
For lab safety, the following administrative controls can be integrated into general policy or standard operating procedures:
- Laboratory Safety Manual
- Chemical hygiene plans (CHP)
- Policies and standard operating procedures
- Guidelines and reference materials
- Prior approval
- Required training
- Hazard signs and symbols
Basic procedures that reduce the duration, frequency, or intensity of chemical exposure include:
- General precautions for handling all laboratory chemicals.
- Avoiding skin contact with chemicals, as a cardinal rule.
- No eating, smoking, gum chewing, and cosmetic application where chemicals are present and washing hands before conducting these activities.
- Avoiding the dual use of containers or utensils for food handling, consumption or storage.
- Clean-up of chemical spills using appropriate protective apparel and equipment.
- Properly disposing of all hazardous waste material.
- Reporting all accidents and potential chemical exposures immediately.
Engineering controls are the first line of defense, built into equipment operation or instruments and require no activation from the employee. Building design, ventilation systems, fume hoods, and self-capping syringe needles are examples. Engineering controls eliminate or reduce exposure to chemical or physical hazards by different methods. Before designing the high-risk industrial or manufacturing environment, safety professionals should be included to evaluate the necessity for engineering controls, consult on healthy workflow practices, and improve safety outcomes through design. For example, one of the most important safety devices in a laboratory is a properly functioning fume hood. It controls airborne hazards that are released within the ventilation device. Knowing where a vent hood should be placed, safety professionals can ensure that hazards are mitigated before they ever manifest.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) provides a barrier between personnel and the chemicals they are asked to work with. In the hierarchy of controls, personal protective equipment is implemented last, after administrative and engineering controls. While it is the least preferred method, it is just as important as the last line of defense against hazards. The specific type of PPE workers will wear is determined and provided by employers based on the type and degree of hazard in both specific operations and throughout the laboratory setting.
The most common types of personal protective equipment in laboratories are eye protection, lab coats, and protective gloves. You may require your team to wear additional PPE, such as face, hearing, head, foot protections and respirators, when appropriate. In addition to wearing personal protective equipment, workers must understand how to properly use and maintain it. Employers should provide training on the use and maintenance of general and specific PPE.
Your workers must have a clear responsibility to use engineering controls, follow administrative controls, and wear personal protective equipment correctly.
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