Whether industrial or academic, laboratories all over the world have many aspects and features in common, one of which is the type of accidents that their equipment and personnel encounter. Below are five general measures that laboratories may take to prevent accidents and minimize the damage that an unpredicted event may cause.
1. Basics: The principles of laboratory safety
Never forget the basic principles when working with chemicals or laboratory equipment:
- Minimize the amount of skin exposed in the laboratory. Avoid wearing shorts, sandals, open-toed shoes, and flip-flops while working.
- Keep clean. Equipment and materials must be kept clean before they are brought into the laboratory and vice versa. Consuming food and drinks inside the laboratory must be avoided, since chemicals from the lab may attach to the food and drink and may poison the consumer.
- Check everything before use. Make sure the equipment that will be used is not broken or damaged.
2. Spills: Feared but inevitable
Spills are inevitable, even in the best laboratories. That is why supplies must be kept on hand to safely and effectively clean any type of spill that may occur. However, do not clean up any type of spill unless you have been trained to do so, and dispose of the material used for the cleanup in the same way you dispose of the chemical. Some basic spill cleanup supplies that every laboratory should have include:
- An inert absorbent such as kitty litter or vermiculite or a 50/50 mixture of the two, or a commercial absorbent
- A plastic (nonsparking) scoop and plastic bags for the spilled material
- Chemical-resistant gloves
- Sodium bicarbonate to neutralize acids.
3. Laboratory equipment: The medium must be as effective as the user
Since personnel will be using the various laboratory equipment to handle chemicals and other materials, all equipment must be adequately maintained to prevent accidents and unpredicted reactions. Below is a list of some common equipment and handling methods that can be used to prevent accidents:
- Glassware and glass bottles. Dispose of any cracked or chipped glassware. Transport all glass chemical containers in rubber or polyethylene bottle carriers when leaving one lab area to enter another to prevent breakage and spills. Make sure glassware is heat-proof before pouring in heated chemicals.
- Ultraviolet lamps and lasers. Make sure to wear the proper protective gear, particularly eyewear, when working with ultraviolet lamps and lasers.
- Electrical. To avoid chemical fires, ensure that electrical cords are not damaged, are properly grounded, are not used to overheating, and are visible at all times. Most importantly, do not use extension cords for permanent wiring.
- Fumehoods. For all procedures with perilous chemicals that may result in vapors or mist, it is necessary for personnel to use a fumehood.
- Storage. All chemicals must be stored in safe and secure containers and storage units when not in use.
4. Protective equipment: Self-defense in the laboratory
Make sure that all personnel, particularly untrained personnel or visitors, are wearing the appropriate protective equipment, especially in areas with chemicals or specialized laboratory equipment.
- Eyewear and face shields. Goggles and face shields protect best against chemical vapors, dust, and mist, while standard safety glasses protect against impact. Prescription safety glasses may be purchased from opticians on request; however, goggles and standard safety goggles that fit over prescription glasses are also available via retail. Both types of equipment should be replaced if they have scratches or cracks.
- Protective gloves. The Chemical Compatibility Guides1 show the criteria by which to decide what type of glove would be appropriate for the type of chemicals frequently handled by the laboratory. Check the glove for holes and tears before use.
- Laboratory coats and aprons. Lab coats must be worn to protect against chemical spills and splashes. Aprons worn over lab coats provide additional protection against very harmful chemicals.
5. First aid: The difference between life and death
First aid must be available for common accidents such as strains from lacerations, cuts, abrasions, and chemical burns.
Dealing with various chemicals and, depending on the kind of lab, even different strains of virus or bacteria on a daily basis is no easy feat. This is why safety in the laboratory is a primary concern because lack of it can—literally—be a life or death situation.
1. Chemical-Resistance Guide for Gloves. http://www.grainger.com/Grainger/static/chemical-resistance-guide-gloves-166.html?r=l&cm_mmc=LabSafety-_-Integration-_-AllPages-_-AllPages#.
Jonathan James More is a medical writer. He has a degree in Journalism and now writes articles advising readers about the latest technological advances in the fields of science and medicine; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.