Safe Working in the Lab
A laboratory can be a source of significant health and safety hazards. Some of these hazards are minor but others can threaten lives.
Lab DesignA lab should give priority to health and safety issues. Lab design, for instance, must always take these into account. Safety begins with the lab layout. Workspaces must be separate from any desk, meeting or refreshment areas. To distinguish between these, designers should use screens, walls and different types of flooring according to the type of lab.
Furniture and fixtures must be suitable for lab work. There must be secure Storage for Chemicals and other products; enough sinks; emergency equipment that’s easily accessible; and ventilation that copes with odours and fumes. All these items must be chemically resistant and easy to keep clean.
Workspaces should be as ergonomic as possible. They should have adjustable units and adequate lighting.
A further aspect of design is the availability of electric sockets. A lab should always have plenty of sockets so there’s never a need for extension cords. These can pose a serious Risk of Injury. Staff must also be able to reach electrical panels without obstructions blocking the way.
Lab Safety ManagementThese are some of the main design considerations for a lab. Ideally, lab managers can ensure that safety is a natural part of a new design. With an established lab, managers must regularly review safety requirements. The best tool to help such reviews is a Risk Assessment. In a lab this can prove to be a lengthy and complex task. Nonetheless, it’s possible to create checklists that find common ground between the risks. To do this, a manager may be able to combine the risks associated with such items as chemicals, biological substances and radioactive materials.
Finding this common ground isn’t an attempt to cut corners. It helps ensure that a risk assessment is manageable and fully understood by everyone involved.
One way to confirm that staff understand a risk assessment is to run a lab safety quiz. This helps drive home the safety message. It can even encourage staff to devise better safety practices.
Safe Working PracticesStandard safe working practices in a lab should be second nature to staff. Everyone should know the types of hazard they face; the worst event that can occur; and the personal protective equipment and facilities that reduce the risks. These facilities include safety showers and eyewash stations. Lab workers must know where these are and how to use them. They should also be familiar with alarm signals, evacuation procedures and the response to an emergency.
PollutionA further safety issue common to labs is pollution control and prevention. Tipping chemicals down a sink can create reactions that release dangerous toxins. Management must therefore supply waste disposal rules that cover not just chemicals but also gases, oils and other hazardous waste. There must also be a separate waste disposal route for radioactive materials such as thorium and uranium.
All these measures require lab workers to remain vigilant about safety every hour of the working day. This way, they ensure their work protects the health of themselves and their colleagues.