Most laboratory equipment is designed to ensure safe operation. However, the lab environment can pose several potential hazards. Workers have to be wary of chemical, biological, physical and radioactive hazards as well as musculoskeletal pressures. Laboratories need to assess hazards and minimize the risk of injury or illness to their personnel. The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) sets down mandatory safety and health standards. Here are some of the hazards posed by the lab environment and how to deal with them:
Lab equipment: Laboratory workers should be properly educated on how to use the various types of lab equipment. For instance, lack of proper awareness about the operation of centrifuges can result in physical injury to the user. These devices spin at high speed and loss of balance can cause serious accidents. Also, if the sample containers happen to break, they can release aerosols that are dangerous when inhaled. Likewise, personnel should know about the risks of exposure to burns and cuts when removing sterilized instruments from autoclaves and sterilizers.
Cryogens: Laboratories commonly use cryogens or refrigerants, substances used to produce very low temperatures, as well as solid carbon dioxide. Procedures which involve the use of cryogenic liquids can pose potential hazards in the laboratory. Safety hazards associated with cryogens include cold contact burns, asphyxiation, and explosions. Lab managers have the responsibility to minimize cryogenic safety hazards with safety analysis and review special safety and operational training for operating personnel, appropriate maintenance of cryogenic systems as prescribed, and maintenance of inspection schedules and records.
Compressed gases: Compressed gases can be toxic, flammable, oxidizing, corrosive, or inert. Compressed gases are usually supplied to the lab either through fixed piped gas systems or individual cylinders of gases. Leakage can pose several hazards such as an oxygen-deficient atmosphere, a polluted environment, or an explosion. To avoid such issues, it is important to store, handle, and use compressed gases in compliance with OSHA’s standard. All cylinders should always be stored upright, never be dropped, and transported and handled with care.
Electrical and fire hazards: Lab workers may be exposed to electrical hazards such as electric shock, electrocutions, fires and explosions. To avoid such incidents, electrical cords should be checked for damage, faulty electrical equipment/instrumentation, wiring and damaged receptacles and connectors should be replaced. Workers should be fully aware of unsafe work practices that can lead to electrical hazards. As fire is a common serious threat in labs, personnel should be able to handle a fire emergency. All containers of infectious materials should be placed into autoclaves, incubators, refrigerators, or freezers for containment in the event of la laboratory fire.
Other issues that lab workers face are slips/trips/falls and other possible injuries due to exposure to wet floors or spills and clutter.
Use of quality laboratory equipment that meets specified safety standards can help reduce lab accidents. However, as many accidents are the result of user error, it is essential to train lab workers to adhere to good work practices.