Important Tips to Stay Safe While Working in Laboratories
Laboratories can be very dangerous places to work in because of the use of potentially hazardous substances and exposure to physical harm. Additionally, many of those who work in labs are doing so alone on off hours, heightening their risk. The importance of this issue is underlined by the fact that there are many regulations governing safety in laboratories. This blog post provides an overview of the different dangers that laboratory workers might have to face and also the main steps and tips that you can take to control these hazards and encourage worker safety.
The first step towards workplace safety in the laboratory is to identify the different dangers that workers can face. These include the following.
Laboratories make use of many hazardous chemicals. There are around 400 chemicals that people working in laboratories can come across. The following are some of the chemicals that pose particular risks:
- Carcinogens can cause cancer.
- Toxins can cause short term or long term damage to the nervous system as well as the liver and kidneys.
- Irritants can cause inflammation of the eyes, skin, mucous membranes or respiratory tract. This inflammation is typically reversible, but these effects should not be ignored and should be tended to right away if experienced.
- Corrosives damages the skin upon contact. In many cases, the damage can be quite severe.
- Sensitizers cause allergic reactions.
Chemical hazard tips
- Those working with chemicals must wear all their safety gear, including gloves and goggles, at all times and follow all the instructions properly.
- In order to maintain lab safety, employees must actively look for all labels, signs, etc. and read them. They should always abide by any warnings even if they seem more cautionary than necessary.
Lab workers who work with culture specimens, biological tissue, body fluids including blood or animals regularly face biological hazards. They might even face contamination from other workers. Many of these biological hazards can result in a public health hazard if not managed properly. Dangerous biological agents include the following:
- Anthrax is a highly infectious disease spread by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis due to constant contact with infected animals or contaminated products. Anthrax can result in blood disease, pneumonia and, in worst case, death.
- Avian Flu is a highly contagious disease passed from wild to domestic birds and then to humans.
- Botulism is a potentially lethal neurotoxin found in preserved foods.
- Hantavirus spreads to humans via saliva, urine, and droppings of rats and mice. This can be a problem in animal laboratories as well as in buildings with rat infestations.
- Plague or pneumonic plague, primarily found in animals, caused by Yersinia pestis is highly communicable and dangerous.
Biological hazard tips
- Again, masks and gloves are pertinent to lab safety and just as workers need them when working with chemicals, they are required for working with biological agents as well.
- While working with biological agents, lab workers should keep their hands away from their mouth, nose and eyes.
- Always use tissues, gauze pads or paper towels to absorb any spills and disinfect the spill site properly.
- Materials should always be disposed of using the appropriate biohazard containers.
The nature and of laboratory work the lab’s surroundings can also cause physical workplace hazards. Some different causes of injuries and accidents are mentioned below:
- Ergonomic or musculoskeletal stresses can cause injuries by doing the same action repeatedly. For example, bending over microscopes or keyboards, frequent pipetting, and standing for extended periods can inflame or tear muscles and cause nerves to be pinched.
- Noise pollution is common in laboratories given that they can contain large equipment that operate at high speeds. This can result in temporary irritability and reduced concentration, but it can also cause more damaging and longer lasting issues, such as depression and hearing loss.
- High risk equipment and materials such as autoclaves and sterilizers, centrifuges, compressed gases, cryogens and dry ice present many physical safety hazards.
- Typical accidents, such as, fire and/or electricity accidents,, trips, slips and falls are always potentially present in laboratories.
Physical hazard tips
- Again, along with safety equipment included earlier, protective gear for ears should be worn by lab workers.
- Those working in labs should pay attention to their posture and adjust it as necessary.
- Workers should take routine breaks while conducting lab work.
Laboratories make use of a wide range of radioactive substances, which can cause great harm to workers. Radiation can be divided into two major categories- ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.
- Ionizing radiation is generally caused by the use of radioactive isotopes and it can result in burns at with severe or prolonged exposure leading to cancer. Certain machines, such as x-ray machines, also produce ionizing radiation.
- Non-ionizing radiation consists of ultraviolet, infrared, microwave, radio frequency, and extremely low frequency radiations. They can cause tissue damage brought about by uncontrolled and prolonged exposure.
Radioactive hazard tips
- Along with the safety gear mentioned above, lab coats should always be worn by lab workers who work with radioactive substances.
- Employees should never eat, drink, smoke or apply makeup in a radioactive lab.
- Workers must wash their hands and forearms properly after using any dangerous material.
For a more extensive list of laboratory hazards and how to appropriately and safety negate them, see OSHA’s Laboratory Safety Guide. Of course, as with any employees who work alone, if a lab worker is going to be working within a lab alone, it is important to establish a method for which they will communicate with their employers in the event of an emergency and to determine how they can get the help that they need. To learn more about how SoloProtect can provide workplace safety for those working in labs, visit www.soloprotect.com/us.