Workplace safety: Working in a Lab

Safety in the workplace has become an expected aspect of most people's work. When initiatives to increase safety and well being are undertaken by a company or mandated by government agencies, the influence can often take workers by surprise. Whether one is in the construction industry and has OSHA on-site to provide enhanced work place safety (as excellently evidenced in this infographic of OSHA's historical effects on construction workplace safety), or they are working in a scientific laboratory, safe conditions are always of paramount concern to all involved.

One of the key aspects of working in a safe lab is having the proper tools, lab supplies and equipment. Without the right tools for the job, the incidence of accidents and mishaps increase dramatically. Maintaining the proper levels of supplies is equally important. Having to reach for, or leave the area of an experiment in order to retrieve additional stirrers, microscope slides, or titration supplies increases the chances that something could get nudged, knocked, spilled or otherwise disturbed enough to create an accident.

Much of the responsibility for creating and maintaining a safe working environment falls onto the shoulders of the lab workers. An on-going working understanding of how to prevent laboratory accidents is integral for the scientists success and generally considered a basic requirement by most employers.

Familiarity with conditions and equipment in the lab, as well as changes which tend to occur over time, are all important aspects that the well-informed lab worker need make an everyday priority.

There are also legal ramifications to ones actions, especially regarding lab safety. Having proper working equipment, tools and supplies, while the responsibility of the employer, needs still to be on the forefront of the worker's mind. When supplies run out or equipment is damaged or malfunctioning, the employee must make the effort to bring this to the attention of their supervisor or upper management, where appropriate.

Hazard recognition is a major aspect of working with volatile chemical compounds. As such, understanding the class of compounds required for specific research and experimentation is expected to be a part of the lab worker's repertoire.

The importance of this knowledge cannot be overstated. Understanding the potential to cause damage must be constantly considered. Then proper procedures need be chosen, applicable protective equipment and correct supplies made readily available to ensure experiments are safely performed.

In order to eliminate or reduce potential hazards, consider the following tips:

  • Substituting less hazardous reagents, where possible, can greatly reduce or eliminate the chances of accidents occurring in the laboratory.
  • Minimize risk by modifying the reaction scheme with additional administrative controls.
  • Using the appropriate personal protective equipment should be considered standard lab safety procedure.

Other considerations often overlooked in relation to laboratory safety are cost factors. Many renewable supplies like gloves, masks disposal boxes and temporary lab coats, while important and often necessary, can increase operating costs.

Being diligent when using some of these temporary supplies is important. At the same time, the validity of the experimentation needs to be kept in mind. Balancing the number of times one uses and replaces latex gloves against the need to protect samples and processes should be considered. Where possible, continue using a supply but at the same time ensure accuracy in one's work.

Most workers have reasonable expectations to safety in their workplace. Even high-risk jobs in fields like skyscraper construction, have systems in place to ensure working conditions are conducive to safety and production.

Lab safety is both the responsibility of the professional scientist and technicians as well as the employer or educational institution. Working in the lab, the scientist must pay attention to following proper procedure as well as being cognizant when equipment or supply challenges might cause an increase in laboratory accidents.

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5 Response to Workplace safety: Working in a Lab

September 5, 2011 at 4:32 AM

Absolutely true! Learning how to behave in a lab and how to handle the different materials is just awesome.

September 6, 2011 at 4:35 AM

This post should be shared in every school and college lab. Definitely!

September 12, 2011 at 3:27 AM

Great article …Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting. I will be waiting for your next post.

December 26, 2011 at 6:54 AM

With proper knowledge about health and safety at workplace people at their employers will be able to know on how to protect their subordinates even at work.

August 29, 2013 at 10:18 AM

Whether in a lab or a cubicle, a safe environment should be promoted for employees and personnel. How we get by it is varied, depending on geography and situation. These are good pointers and advise, and yes there should be more caution and care on the part of employee's. But there should also be more sense and consideration on the set-up of labs as well. Maintenance and clean-up should be a start.

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