Diagnostic and Research Laboratory Safety Procedure, Managment and Importance.
That’s exactly why this safety resource has been created, to encourage and promote safe and efficient working practices in any lab. Many laboratories guidelines are written based on experience – when things have gone badly wrong. Remember, you could be dealing with extremely dangerous and hazardous chemicals, so caution is required at all times.
Whilst many laboratories are governed by their own rules and regulations, much of the safety precautions come down to each individual student. Staff can’t be available at all times for supervision and for this reason; responsibility ultimately falls to the individual. Many laboratory accidents and problems are accountable to haste. In the lab however, it’s important to take your time - not only for safety reasons, but also to avoid wasting samples, money and time.
Laboratory hazards can have a serious consequence and as such, extreme care and attention is required at all times. There are three main hazards to be aware of: equipment, gases and chemicals.
The lab is full of a whole range of specialist equipment and required for varying activities. This equipment is not only expensive, but can be delicate and easy to break. As a result, before using any new equipment it’s important to get a better understanding of its proper use and best practices. Misusing lab equipment can result in injury, expense and a delay in your project.
Chemical gases can cause a number of complications and may be toxic, corrosive and flammable. To ensure safety is of highest priority, only use the correct equipment for your project and ensure you’re fully trained and prepared in handling dangerous gases. Just some of the things to be aware of include ventilation, safety valves and proper confinement.
When conducting experiments in the lab and completing certain projects, you’ll come into contact with a range of different chemicals. Chemicals such as acids can cause severe burns and damage to tissues and organs. Improper use can lead to severe health risks, whilst also presenting the possibility of a fire.
Throughout this resource you’ll read much on the importance of safety and this can’t be highlighted enough. Safety awareness in the lab starts with familiarizing yourself with all equipment and correct procedures before commencing work. Rules and regulations will vary from lab to lab, but some of the basic safety awareness measures include:
It is a legal requirement to adhere with health and safety practices at all times in the laboratory and the following measures should always be taken.
Chemicals or objects within the laboratory can easily damage your eyes and intrinsically, eye protection should be worn in the least times. Safety goggle or glasses are compulsory.
The lab coat is meant to guard your clothing and skin. This is from chemicals that could splash nearby. There is also the option of an apron, which can be worn on top to further protect from corrosive and irritating chemicals.
When handling potentially harmful chemicals it’s important to wear protective gloves, to minimize the risk of injury. Check to ensure the gloves are in a good condition and free from holes, rips and tears.
Laboratory Safety Equipment
As well as the various protective clothing you should wear in a laboratory, there is also specialist equipment available to ensure utmost safety.
Such equipment would come with, but isn't limited to:
Chemical Storage Units
Hazardous chemicals should only be kept in small quantities to scale back the danger of problems occurring. This includes flammable and corrosive substances. It’s equally important to return chemicals to their storage area as quickly as possible
Fire Safety Equipment
Before working within the laboratory you ought to familiarizeyourself with the situation of fireside alarms and extinguishers. Ensure you’re aware of an extinguisher’s correct use and only apply if the fire is manageable. If this isn’t the case, leave the area immediately and trigger an alarm.
One of the best causes of accidents occurring within the laboratory is that the poor use and handling of glassware. Incorrect use can lead to injury, so it’s important to be well briefed before commencing with your project.
These are present in every laboratory and make sure you can quickly and simply rinse chemicals from your eyes if need be. Eyewash line should even be available and is of real importance, as water could push chemicals further into the attention.
First Aid & Emergency Procedures
When operating in any laboratory it’s vital to have a basic understanding of first aid, whilst also being aware of the correct emergency procedures to follow in the event of an accident.
Treatment of Wounds
Treatment of Burns
Burns are characterized as first degree, second degree and third degree. First degree burns are less serious and third degree burns the most severe, but all must be treated adequately to prevent lasting damage.
First degree burns will cause discoloration to the skin and lead to mild swelling. If burned, rinse the area for at least 10 minutes under cold water and apply skin cream. Further medical assistance can be sought if required.
Second and third degree burns are more serious and can cause permanent scarring and blisters. To reduce skin damage, immediately rinse the area for at least 15 minutes and contact medical help. Do not apply ointment or creams.
Chemical safety and Biological Hazards
Whenever using chemicals in the laboratory there is always going to be a certain element of risk – These are dangerous and hazardous substances after all. Of course, every lab’s main goal is to protect students from injury and as such, a risk assessment should be conducted before commencing with a project.
Risk assessments analyze if there is a risk of hazard and if so, what precautions can be taken to ensure a problem doesn’t present itself.
In any laboratory, chemicals can cause physical and health threats to workers. This isn’t limited to education settings either and is the case in clinical and industrial settings too. Chemicals found in the lab may include cancer-causing agents (carcinogens), toxins that’ll affect the nervous system, irritants and even harmful products to the blood or organs. As such, you can never be ‘too safe’ when working in the lab.
When working and dealing with hazardous chemicals, there are three ways you could potentially be exposed. This is through skin, oral ingestion and inhalation.
Your skin is at particular risk when dealing with chemicals and accurate safety precautions should be taken at all times to minimize risk. The most common complaint from skin contact with chemicals is irritation, but you could easily suffer a mild to severe burn as well. Any toxic chemicals could also pass through to the bloodstream after coming into contact with skin.
Your eyes are one of the most sensitive areas and can be irritated by even the smallest of objects, let alone hazardous chemicals. Corrosive and toxic chemicals will cause extreme pain and injury, therefore it’s important to act quickly and seek medical assistance immediately
Unless deliberate, oral ingestion of chemicals will be a complete accident and as such, can easily be avoided. If you ingest chemicals, seek medical advice.
Inhalation is the most common way of chemicals entering your body and as such, precautions should be taken to ensure avoiding this. Even the smallest amount of toxin inhaled into the body can be rapidly absorbed and cause damage.
Exposure symptoms range from irritation, coughing, headaches, nausea and vomiting. Depending on the chemical absorbed into the body, it can also be fatal and cause lasting damage to organs such as the kidneys, liver and lungs.
All compressed airs and gases should be handled delicately and treated seriously. On most occasions they’ll be contained in cylinders of solid drawn steel. Ensure these are never subjected to heat or shocks and keep them stored in an upright position.
When opening the cylinders, do so slowly and without improvising with other tools. Ensure two stage regulators are used on the cylinder and beware of leaks – If you spot a leak, seal the cylinder and contact someone of authority. If this is a flammable gas, ensure to house it somewhere of safety first.
With the liquefied gases there’s a greater need to be aware of the potential dangers, and these are in fact more hazardous than handling liquids and solids. Before coming into contact with liquefied gases it’s important to know their hazardous properties – flammability, chemical activity, corrosive effects etc.
It’s important to remember, liquefied gases can easily ignite with a low flash point and in many cases these gases are both odorless and colorless.
Hazards relating to liquefied gases often present themselves through leaking and/or improper use. Just some of the complications involved include:
Leaking gases released will contaminate the atmosphere, leading to effects such as toxicity, asphyxiation and formation of explosive concentrations.
Low flash points increase the likelihood of a fire or explosion
Low boiling point gases such as liquefied nitrogen and oxygen can cause frostbite when in contact with skin and tissue
Effects such as corrosion, irritation and high reactivity.
Biological hazards are more common in industrial laboratories, although as a student, you may also come into contact with these deadly biological agents. Extreme care and attention is required at all times and failure to handle chemicals correctly may lead to lasting tissue and organ damage, or even death.
All biological materials present potential hazards and as such, there are certain precautions, which should always be taken (see our laboratory safety section). There is also legislation in place to protect lab workers, known as the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. These regulations outline correct procedure for handling hazardous biological material, including information on implementing safety.
There are various biological agents and toxins you could come across in the laboratory setting, including microorganisms, cell cultures and human endo-parasites. These are classed into four main groups:
In Group 1 you’ll find biological materials unlikely to cause human harm. There has been a long history of safe use and these include non-pathogenic and disabled bacteria.
Group 2 biological materials could be harmful and hazardous to workers if incorrectly managed. This includes E. coli, adenovirus and clostridium.
In Group 3 you’ll be presented with materials capable of causing serious harm and could even spread in the community. This category includes Hepatitis B, HIV and salmonella.
In the most severe group are biological materials unlikely to be worked on in student laboratories. This would include highly contagious and dangerous strains of viruses, such as Ebola and Rabies.
Blood borne Pathogens
Blood borne pathogens can be particularly hazardous to workers, but nowadays there are many rules and regulations in place in order to protect you. For students, the likelihood of coming into contact with blood borne pathogens is extremely rare.
However, before working with blood borne pathogens, you will need to complete relevant training and have a thorough understanding of the best practice guidelines.
There are up to 5.6 million workers in the healthcare industry at risk of blood borne pathogens and these include HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Professionals most at risk include first aid workers, housekeeping personnel, nurses and other healthcare workers.
Depending on the pathogen, infection can be spread through saliva, blood, semen, vaginal secretion, cerebrospinal fluid, synovial fluid, pleural fluid, pericardial fluid, peritoneal fluid and amniotic fluid.
As well as the hazards and dangers outlined in the rest of this resource, there are other factors that could cause complications too.
Hazard Recognition & Control
Before completing any project, hazard recognition is very important. By carrying out these steps you can determine the potential hazard which could develop and have an action plan in place to prevent this from occurring.
Hazard analysis is used to systematically breakdown any project to evaluate hazards and ensure these are under control. If during this stage you discover a potential hazard can’t be controlled, seek immediate help from a member of staff.
Four Step Guide
For your own hazard analysis you should break a certain task or project into four clearly defined sections.
Try not to generalize when doing this, as it could cause certain hazards to be overlooked. Ideally, any task shouldn’t be broken down into more than 10 steps, but if this seems to be the case – It may be worth creating an additional task. Ensure to write down the required steps and keep them in the correct order for your own notes.
The best way to breakdown the process of a task, is to observe someone else taking on the project. Of course, this should be someone of experience, who can explain certain elements and be available to assist and answer questions or queries you may have. Once you have set the task out into steps, ensure the expert, who can amend and adjust accordingly, views this.
Depending on the task or project you are undertaking, hazards can vary from minor to severe. Even the smallest potential hazard should be observed as this ensures the best possible preparation for your work in the lab.
Of course, the most difficult part of this is recognizing a hazard, especially if it’s not immediately obvious. You need to:
There are also other hazards to consider which may be less obvious in their appearance. This would include psychological demands, awkward postures and repetitive / forceful movements.
There are also a series of questions to ask yourself before commencing with any project or task, such as:
Is there the potential for personal injury?
Will any equipment used that could cause a potential hazard?
Is there the potential for a fall?
Is there a potential to come into contact with harmful chemicals or toxins?
Are there any risks of strains from operating machinery?
Will you be exposed to extreme temperatures?
Will there be excessive noise or vibrating?
Can falling objects pose a problem?
Will there be adequate lighting?
This is by no means an exhaustive list and for each project you should liaise with an experienced professional to seek further help and assistance.
With the aid of a risk assessment, you should be able to highlight potential areas where a hazard could be caused. As such, for each danger that emerges it becomes important to find a way of eliminating the risk.
Controlling the Hazard
There are three ways to do this; control at the source, control along the path and control at the student.
The best preventative measure is to eliminate any hazard in the lab entirely. This would mean finding an alternative solution or substituting the hazardous material. If this isn’t possible, steps should be taken to ensure the hazard is isolated and enclosed.
Some hazards can’t be eliminated from the process, as this would affect your project. For these instances, a solution should be encouraged to reduce exposure. As an example, a ventilation system would reduce exposure of hazardous substances in the air, whilst screens would prevent flash from welding reaching the eyes of students.
If neither of the above are an effective solution, the third option is control at the student. This would include the use of specialist protective equipment and clothing, used to ensure injury and harm is eliminated. An example of this would be gloves when handling chemicals and earmuffs when loud noises are expected.
Remember, potential hazards don’t just have to be controlled at one of the three – and there can be a combination of all three to ensure better protection.
Once completed, your hazard analysis should be written up in full and made available to other students, to ensure the best preventative measures are in place. These procedures can then form the basis of training programes.
Every laboratory is likely to be hooked up with electricity and as such, there will always be a potential danger in this regard. All equipment used in the lab will be regularly checked to ensure it meets electrical standards. This includes electronic equipment that is sold, displayed or connected to power.
As a general rule of thumb, when working with electrical appliances in the lab, remember to:
Fire hazards are also prevalent in laboratories and precaution should always be taken to ensure risk is eliminated. There is a range of ignition sources and fire or explosions can lead to both loss of property and life.
Flammable liquids are one of the most notorious reasons for a fire breaking out in the lab. All flammable liquids should be stored and handled with extreme care and attention at all times. Each lab will have certain regulations on how much flammable liquid is allowed outside of a storage cabinet at any one time.
General Housekeeping Rules
Housekeeping should be observed in the lab to ensure the environment is kept clean and tidy, whilst minimizing the risk of personal injury and hazards.