What are laboratory inspections? How can you use a laboratory safety checklist to ensure the highest possible level of protection? What hazards do laboratory audits check for? Find out all this and more below, and use our templates to help you get started.
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A laboratory is an exciting place. Among the many microscopes, test tubes, and Petri dishes, scientists continuously bring our species one step further in our evolution. They solve the most pressing problems of the present that have stumped even the brightest and most intelligent among us. State-of-the-art machinery has opened up modern pathways of innovation that have set us apart from any other species on this planet. However, scientific advancement comes at a steep price. Many of the materials and substances that we use to conduct our cutting-edge research are toxic to humans, and that’s why we must mitigate risk and protect our clever scientists with a laboratory safety checklist.
Depending on the laboratory’s specific research goals, different hazardous substances will be present and necessary to solve their scientific inquiries. A laboratory inspection, therefore, should not be limited to substance properties and activities. It’s important to keep an eye on the overall danger the combination of materials poses to employees and even public health at any given time.
A laboratory hazard assessment is conducted by laboratory managers and safety officers to identify and reduce chemicals, biological, physical, and radioactive hazards that can occur in laboratory facilities of any kind. Those hazards depend largely on the type of laboratory. The inspection ensures that the laboratory is following environmental standards to avoid increased exposure to hazardous chemicals for their employees and the general public.
Safety and accuracy in the lab are of paramount importance. For laboratory standards pertaining to accuracy, competency, and validity of results, use our free ISO 17025 checklist.
Laboratories aren’t like other work environments. Of course, every job has its own list of dangers that employees will need to be trained to handle and equipped to respond. However, some jobs have more than others, and that brings us to the common safety hazards found in and throughout the lab. OSHA’s Laboratory Safety Checklist breaks hazards into four categories: Chemical, biological, physical, and other:
Given the experimental nature of research work, a lab is ripe with danger. There are over 400 different types of chemicals used in any given laboratory, the most common among them being: toluene, xylene, and acrylamide. Most people think of chemical exposure as direct skin-to-skin contact with a hazardous substance in liquid form, however, most often, exposure comes in the form of air contaminants.
A prime example of this is in the pharmaceutical industry where pill dust can easily become airborne and inhaled. Workers must be extra mindful to wear personal protective equipment of a grade matching the dangers present in their work environment.
Specific Chemical Hazards in the Laboratory:
To prevent exposure to these chemical dangers, OSHA’s Occupational Exposure to Hazardous Materials in the Laboratories standard 29 CFR 1910 requires the workers to use a chemical fume hood to protect their persons from physical harm when working with flammable or toxic chemicals.
In addition to using chemical fume hoods to mitigate the risk of exposure, you can also employ the use of a laboratory safety checklist to keep the dangers at the forefront of awareness. Daily use of a checklist will also reinforce safety measures with constant repetition.
Biological hazards are as plentiful as there are questions left unanswered. They are separated into five categories and go beyond any number or variety of hazards you’d normally find in a nonlaboratory work setting. Not only are scientists exposed to the regular risks present in any workplace (falling objects, slipping, etc.), but their research instruments can be a carrier of unexpected diseases, such as cadavers, culture specimens, body tissues, blood, and bodily fluid as well as their coworkers.
Here is the list of potential biological hazards present in a lab:
The problem with biological hazards is they are invisible to the human eye, so mistakes are easier to make and less likely to be detected. There’s no way to tell if a worker is in danger until they start exhibiting symptoms, which by that time, often means it’s already too late. For instance, storing food or drink in refrigerators, freezers, cabinets, or any surface that also comes in contact with blood or other potentially infectious material can contaminate the lunch or snack the employee unwittingly eats.
Many of the physical dangers in a laboratory resemble those found in an office setting or construction site, except probably for radiation. After all, a receptionist is unlikely to have the need to use a laser to answer the phone and schedule appointments, but they are susceptible to ergonomic injuries, such as back pain or carpal tunnel from long hours of repetitive movement. The only difference is that scientists are looking into a microscope instead of sitting at a desk.
Side effects from prolonged exposure to these dangers can result in numerous injuries, such as skin and eye damage from a laser’s highly concentrated light waves or hearing loss as a result of high decibel or frequency lab equipment. Although exposure to these hazards is unavoidable, this doesn’t mean injuries from them are not. Wearing the correct personal protective gear can save employees from lifelong, permanent injuries as well keeping them from having to collect that worker’s comp.
In addition to the known chemical, biological, and physical hazards commonplace in the laboratory setting, there are also less obvious dangers lurking in the other laboratory staples. These include:
Because laboratories are so diverse in their research and goals, the list of potential pitfalls can trail from ceiling to floor and then out the door. This can make work an overwhelming and stressful place if employees are uneducated, unequipped, or underprepared to handle their daily routine with caution. That’s why a lab safety checklist can be a valuable tool to help keep the lab is stocked with all its necessary safety equipment at all times and serve as a reminder to employees to follow the proper safety procedures required of each task.
The laboratory environment can also be a hazardous place to work in. Some of the potential hazards workers are exposed to include biological, chemical, radioactive, and physical hazards.That’s why laboratories should have a lab safety inspection checklist to ensure the well-being of the people who work in and around the premises.
When it comes to these hazards, OSHA has set specific standards that apply to laboratories and activities conducted in them. The following elements should also be part of any laboratory safety audit checklist.
General Work Environment
Depending on the task involved, there should be adequate lighting in the laboratory. Exit doors should be provided and they should remain open and must not be locked down during business hours. Security measures are allowed after office hours with the approval of the local fire organization.
Combustible materials, like paper, should be limited because it has a tendency to add fuel to a burning fire. Furthermore, certain materials, such as controlled substances, require special security systems or controls to limit access.
Fire extinguishers should be mounted near the doorway without any obstructions. They should undergo an inspection every month to ensure that they are functioning properly when needed.
Self-contained breathing apparatus must also be subjected to a monthly inspection.
Furthermore, there should also be a pre-planning on how to handle a chemical spill. A written Spill Control Plan should be available for each laboratory, considering the amounts and types of chemicals used or stored in the lab.
Each organization must have a Chemical Hygiene Plan in place. It should contain information about hazard communication, exposure determination, medical consultation and exams, training and information, safe work practices, and procedures. A copy of the Chemical Hygiene Plan must be available to each laboratory at all times.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
The organization must provide workers who are exposed to hazards with the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). These PPEs should offer protection for the eyes, face, head, and other extremities.
Workers are required to submit a written report when they use respirators or any self-contained breathing apparatus. Companies should have a Respiratory Protection Program in place which contains instructions on how to select and properly use a respirator. Respirators should also be inspected, maintained, and recorded properly.
Devices that are operating at 50 volts or more should have guards or covers to protect workers from getting electrocuted. Most new devices come equipped with covers. Older devices, which may lack covers, can be guarded with shields constructed of non-conductive materials.
Chemical containers should be clearly labeled with at least a chemical name. The manufacturer’s label is best, as it usually contains a great deal of information about health and physical hazards. When a chemical is transferred from the original container, the new container should be labeled, as possible. Small containers may use other means of identification, such as a code or number system referenced to the user’s lab notebook.
The laboratory environment poses numerous hazards to employees, students, and the general public. Conducting regular laboratory inspections in the lab helps reduce risks. Until now, safety officers have used pen and paper when conducting lab assessments, which is a tedious and time-consuming way to record their findings in reports.
They can avoid this hassle by moving to a digital application like Lumiform. The app and software solution specializes in making audits and inspections efficient and easy. Lumiform can be used by laboratories, schools, and universities worldwide to improve safety and prevent incidents by: