Whether you're the safety manager for a large research and development firm or a local high school, some lab safety rules are universal. With 52 pages of OSHA regulations alone to adhere to, along with state and local laboratory safety rules and regulations, you have a lot to balance. Here are practices you can use to avoid common injuries in the lab.
Fire: What Are the Lab Safety Rules?
Flame is an indispensable part of many lab tests, so any lab safety inspection checklist should include verifying the proper operation of Bunsen burners and the hoses that connect them to their fuel source. Storage is also a key concern. Lab workers should consistently store flammable chemicals far from the source of fires in the lab, always below face height. Likewise, they should avoid using the space near the ceiling as a storage area for anything that's combustible, such as project paperwork or cardboard boxes. Make sure everyone in the lab knows what to do in case a fire does break out, and stock appropriate fire extinguishers based on the chemicals and fuels your lab contains. If you need a refresher, check out this video.
Burns: Two Types, Many Precautions
When working in the lab, scientists face the potential for two main types of burns: chemical and heat related. For chemical burns, the right equipment is the best way to prevent harm in the first place. Workers must wear protective gloves and eyewear, and they need to use official, safe containers for moving chemicals around the lab. They should also store toxic and corrosive chemicals above face height and mark their waste materials clearly so others know what's inside and can avoid hurting themselves.
As for heat-related burns, common sense is a big deterrent. Not touching hot surfaces seems logical, but make sure your lab signage and procedures encourage behaviors such as wearing protective hand coverings and using water baths and tongs appropriately.
Contamination: Microscopic Leftovers Can Spell Big Issues
If your lab work involves live cultures, hand washing is doubly important. Institute laboratory safety guidelines that spell out when and how often workers need to wash their hands to rid themselves of possible contaminants, and encourage them to clean up, both before and after touching anything of uncertain origin. Similarly, lab coats, glasses, and other protective equipment stops workers from getting substances directly onto their clothing so they are less likely to carry bugs or tissue outside the lab when they leave.
Cuts and Scrapes: A Different Concern
In factory settings, cuts and lacerations account for thousands of hours of lost work time each year. In the lab, however, even the tiniest nick or cut can spell disaster depending on what chemicals and bacteria are in the air. As part of your laboratory safety rules, establish easy-to-follow guidelines for cleaning and dressing cuts and scrapes to minimize exposure. Stock ample first-aid supplies, and train everyone in the lab about how to properly assist in case of an emergency. Also, provide proper disposal options for sharps, broken glass, and other such dangers. Teach workers to gather any broken glass or used knife blades into cloths or other wrapping before carrying them to the disposal area.
The actual job of cutting is rife with risk as well. Reduce that risk with the right safety knives for the job. From box cutters that open packages to precise instruments for in-lab work, your employees' tools need to be effective while minimizing exposure to the cutting surface. Train your staff to pay close attention whenever they're cutting anything, and encourage them to slice away from their bodies even in cases of minute cuts.
Breaks and Spills: No Crying Over Spilled Beakers
While you expect your lab workers to exercise caution, spills are inevitable. When they happen, employees need to know the right way to neutralize the chemicals, when to add water, when to wait, and all sorts of other questions. Firstly, teach your lab workers to stay calm during a spill or break, such as dropping a beaker on the floor. Regardless of what's inside, the beaker itself is capable of leaving behind shards that—if someone tries to clean up too quickly or haphazardly—are likely to cause major cuts. Secondly, they need to know what steps to take. Post a waterproof list of instructions to guide a probably-panicked worker through the cleanup and disposal process.
With the correct procedures in place, you can help defend your company's laboratory against everyday accidents. Provide complete training for anyone, employee or not, who could be part of a safety development in the lab. Emphasize lab safety rules and prepare them for a lifetime of enjoying science safely.