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Addressing Hazardous Chemical Risks In Lab Settings

White coats. Safety goggles. Bunsen burners. For some, these items merely stir memories of high school science labs but for others they are daily essentials. In the world of laboratory research, chemists and lab technicians are surrounded by hazardous chemicals and dangerous elements daily. At times, there are lapses in safety protocols furthering the dangers they face. Here is a brief look into the common risks researchers encounter with standard methods to address them and improve safety.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Laboratory Standard defines certain chemicals as Particularly Hazardous Substances (PHS) when they are known to have immediate or long-term toxic health effects. Such dangerous chemicals — which can be acids, sulfides, flammable liquids, etc. — present physical and health threats to clinical, industrial and academic laboratory workers.

What kind of health threats? From known carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals) to neurotoxins and corrosives, PHSs pose many dangers to human health and wellness. A recent survey of lab workers with positions exposing them to chemical substances uncovered 89.4% of subjects handled chemicals classified as “lethal if in contact with systems of the human body.” The workers were assessed on their perceptions and awareness of chemical hazards and were found to have significant gaps in knowledge as well as poor observance of safety processes.

Currently, OSHA maintains numerous rules limiting exposures to approximately 400 substances workers may encounter. However, errors and accidents happen. Such accidents, or their resulting injuries, often go unreported. In fact, a recent survey of lab personnel found 25% to 38% of participants have been involved in an accident inside the lab that was not reported to a supervisor or principal investigator.

When mistakes like these are not addressed, it prevents sufficient resolution or safety improvements. This bolsters the fact that employers must take the utmost precaution by putting ample safety protocols in place. This can start with ensuring all lab personnel receive extensive occupational training alongside lab safety training. Providing thorough instruction on what to do in the event of an accident as well as employing a standard safety operating procedure (SOP) with directives for specific chemicals is crucial.

Additionally, employers should confirm equipment is positioned as it should be in terms of ventilation. All labs should also verify the proper installation and upkeep of their fume hoods and that they have adequate stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) on-hand. Lastly, it’s advised to continuously revise a detailed, real-time inventory and to put comprehensive labeling and documentation practices in place for all on-site chemicals.

To help assure personnel are safe, it’s essential to follow guidelines like these as well as to routinely inspect and test equipment. Services are available to offer expertise into the extensive inspection processes as well as provide certification once safety measures are in order.

For further proper handling methods and measures for hazardous chemical lab work, please see the accompanying resource.


Author bio:

Steve Gonzales is CEO of Technical Safety Services, which provides testing, certification and calibration of equipment and controlled environment crucial to the success of the biopharma, medical device, academic research and food production industries.

This infographic was created by Technical Safety Services, a provider of cleanroom testing and certification

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