All lab personnel are required to complete the online training called Laboratory Roles & Responsibilities.
Before beginning laboratory work, take the time to assess the hazards of the chemical with which you will work. Assessment is a process of identifying the hazards, evaluating the risks associated with your use of those chemicals and implementing controls that reduce those risks. The assessment process must be thorough and documented; the Chemical Use Planning Form is a tool that can help with this process.
Identify Potential Risks and Hazards
Having a safe laboratory means you are able to first recognize and identify workplace hazards. Most hazards encountered fall into three main categories: chemical, biological, or physical hazards. Below you will see a graphic showing a few of the new GHS (Globally Harmonized System) hazard symbols. You will notice these more and more on chemicals you purchase and will need to understand their meaning. To help you do so, please go here.
Feel free to download and hang this poster in your lab.
Chemical hazards can make themselves known while chemicals are in use or in storage.
Physical hazards associated with research facilities may include items that can cause slips, trips and falls (often in wet locations) or the ergonomic hazards of lifting, pushing, pulling, and repetitive tasks. Other physical hazards that often go unnoticed are electrical, mechanical, acoustic, or thermal in nature. Ignoring these can have potentially serious consequences.
The “OSHA Lab Standard,” 29CFR1910.1450 requires laboratories to identify hazards, determine employee exposures, and develop a chemical hygiene plan (CHP) including standard operating procedures. The “lab standard” applies to the laboratory use of chemicals and mandates written Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) addressing the particular hazards and precautions required for safe use. This goes hand in hand with experimental design and planning. Both standards require providing material safety data sheets and employee training.
Biological hazards can include allergens, infectious agents, microbes, recombinant organisms, zoonotic diseases (animal diseases transmissible to humans), and experimental agents such as viral vectors.
When working with biological hazards, ensure that procedures can be conducted safely. Much of the research done with recombinant DNA, acute toxins, and select agents is now regulated by federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Health and Human Services (including the National Institutes of Health). If your facility is conducting research in these areas, you must submit and have your work reviewed by UVM's Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC).
One of the most prevalent biological hazards, in terms of frequency of occurrence, are simple allergens associated with the use and care of laboratory animals. Health surveys of people working with laboratory animals show that up to 56% are affected by animal-related allergies. In a survey of 5,641 workers from 137 animal facilities, 23 percent had allergic symptoms related to laboratory animals. Refer to the Center for Disease Control website for information about working safely around animals. These figures do not include former workers who became ill and could not continue working.
UVM employees who work with animals must complete a baseline form through UVM's Research Protections Office and be cleared by Concentra Medical prior to working with animals. The completed form is maintained at Concentra. Employees found to have risk factors that require further medical evaluation will be contacted directly by Concentra to schedule an appointment. An employee’s supervisor may be contacted if repeated attempts to contact the employee regarding this questionnaire are unsuccessful.
Research facilities inherently have significant physical hazards present. Included in this hazard category are: electrical safety hazards, ergonomic hazards associated with manual material handling and equipment use, the handling of sharps, and basic housekeeping issues.
Many operations in the lab can result in lab workers assuming sustained or repetitive awkward postures. Examples include working for extended periods in a biosafety cabinet or looking at slides under a microscope for long periods of time. Pain is a good indicator that something is wrong. Conduct work with a neutral, balanced posture. Magnetic assist or programmable pipettes can reduce frequency of hand force required to prevent worker injury.
Use only puncture-proof and leakproof containers that are clearly labeled when using sharps in the lab. Train staff and students to never remove the sharps container covers or over-fill sharps containers. Have sharps containers replaced when they are 3/4 full to prevent overfilling and an unnecessary puncture. Full sharps containers can be closed and locked and placed in biohazard waste boxes.
Many injuries stem from poor housekeeping. Slips, trips, and falls are very common but easily avoided. Start with safe and organized storage areas. Bags, containers, bundles, etc., stored in tiers should be stacked, blocked, interlocked, and limited in height so that they are stable and secure against sliding or collapse. Keep storage areas free from an accumulation of materials that could cause tripping, fire or harbor pest.
Electrical hazards are potentially life threatening and found much too frequently. First, equip all electrical power outlets in wet locations with ground-fault circuit interrupters, or GFCIs, to prevent accidental electrocutions. GFCIs are designed to “trip” and break the circuit when a small amount of current begins flowing to ground. Wet locations usually include outlets within six feet of a sink, faucet, or other water source and outlets located outdoors or in areas that get washed down routinely. Specific GFCI outlets can be used individually, or GFCIs can be installed in the electrical panel to protect entire circuits.
Another very common electrical hazard is improper use of flexible extension cords. Do not use these as a substitute for permanent wiring. The cord insulation should be in good condition and continue into the plug ends. Never repair cracks, breaks, cuts, or tears with tape. Either discard the extension cord or shorten it by installing a new plug end. Take care not to run extension cords through doors or windows where they can become pinched or cut. And always be aware of potential tripping hazards when using them. Use only grounded equipment and tools and never remove the grounding pin from the plug ends. Also, do not use extension cords in a series—just get the right length of cord for the job.
The use of hanging pendants and electrical outlets are widespread in research lab facilities to help keep cords off of floors and out of the way. Check electrical pendants for proper strain relief and type of box used. The box should be totally closed and without any holes. If it contains knockouts or holes for mounting, it is not the safest type of box for a hanging pendant.
Best Practices Include:
- Assume toxicity is as high as the most toxic component. A chemical mixture is assumed to be as toxic as its most toxic component. Always investigate possibilities for substitution.
- Review established exposure limits, target organs and symptoms of exposure for the chemicals you work with. Laboratory employees should be familiar with exposure symptoms for the chemicals they work with -- and precautions necessary to prevent exposure.
- Don't eat, drink or smoke where chemicals are present. Eating, drinking and smoking is prohibited in areas where laboratory chemicals are present. Wash hands thoroughly after working with chemicals. Do not store, handle and/or consume food or beverages in chemical storage areas, refrigerators, or use them with glassware or utensils also used for laboratory operations.
- Keep work areas clean. Lab employees are responsible for keeping work areas clean and uncluttered. All chemicals and equipment should be labeled with appropriate hazard warnings. At the completion of each work day or operation, work areas should be cleaned.
- Mouth suction for pipeting or starting a siphon is prohibited.
- Avoid skin contact with all chemicals. Wash exposed skin prior to leaving the laboratory.
- When toxicological properties of certain chemicals are unknown, the laboratory supervisor will develop any additional precautions needed.
- Be familiar with these 16 chemicals which have their own standards and are specifically regulated by OSHA.
- Review and keep Safety Data Sheets in the lab safety notebook for reference. Use more than one source when making decisions about controlling the hazard.
- Use "Prudent Practices in the Laboratory" as a reference for best safety practices in the lab.
1.) Identify and use administrative controls: Administrative controls are procedures used to control and minimize exposure to chemicals. Substitute a non-hazardous or less hazardous chemical for a more hazardous chemical. Alter procedures so that smaller quantities may be used, or to make workflow safer.
2.) Identify and use engineering controls: Engineering controls are tools or equipment such as chemical fume hoods and biosafety cabinets used to protect against exposure.
3.) Identify and use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): When all of these safety measures have been taken, proper Personal Protective Equipment should be chosen and worn to increase lab workers' protection from chemical, biological and physical hazards.
- Chemical Fume Hoods
- Biological Safety Cabinets
- Building-Specific Safety Features
- New Equipment Installations and Building Modifications