According to OSHA, more than 500,000 workers are employed in laboratories in
the U.S. Through their work tasks, they face chemical, biological, physical and radioactive hazards, as well as musculoskeletal stresses. Several OSHA standards apply to laboratories, including the Occupational Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories standard (29 CFR 1910.1450).
Many occupational incidents that occur in laboratories can be avoided or minimized with proper preventive measures. Workrite Uniform Co. offers a top 5 list of laboratory hazards and how to prevent these hazards from causing injuries and illnesses.
- Fire/Explosions: In a laboratory, all chemicals and liquids should be treated as if they are as potent as gasoline. Vapors can travel long distances and may ignite if they reach a flame or spark. Be sure to keep a fire extinguisher on hand and ensure each individual in the laboratory knows its exact location to prevent fires from spreading. The appropriate PPE, like a flame-resistant (FR) lab coat, should also be worn.
- Thermal and Chemical Burns: Many chemicals, both organic and inorganic, may be flammable and/or corrosive to the skin and eyes. Workers should exercise caution with chemicals to prevent spills and splashes. Additionally, employees should always wear the correct PPE, such as lab coats that offer both FR properties and chemical-splash protection (CP).
- Skin Absorption of Chemicals: Keeping chemicals away from direct contact with the skin is fundamental in laboratory safety. Even if chemicals are not corrosive, exposure can cause allergic reactions or other problems if absorbed by the skin. Remember that gloves may be permeable to certain chemical reagents––even without visible deterioration––so be sure to carefully trade out any gloves that have come into contact with such chemicals for a new pair immediately. Workers should also know to never touch their faces or eyes until hands are clean of all chemicals or solvents. As an extra precaution, wear a CP lab coat to prevent chemicals from wicking through fabric to the wearer.
- Inhalation of Toxic Fumes: Many common solvents are extremely toxic if inhaled, and inhalation of certain chemicals can severely irritate membranes in the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. To reduce these risks, never evaporate excess solvents. Laboratory workers should also maintain a safe distance when pouring chemicals and make sure the lab has proper ventilation.
- Cuts to the Skin: Cuts to the skin are a common laboratory incident. In severe cases, nerves and tendons may even be severed. Often, these injuries occur as a result of attempting to force a cork or rubber stopper into a piece of glass tubing, thermometer or distilling flask. To prevent such injuries, workers should make a proper-sized hole, lubricate the cork or stopper, and use gentle pressure with rotation on the glass portion.
To help combat laboratory hazards, it is important to perform risk assessments, keep work areas clean, conduct regular inspections and ensure that employees wear the appropriate PPE. Visit Workrite's FR Information web page for more information.
Originally published July 6, 2016