What is Laboratory Safety? Is it chemical segregation? Is it wearing PPE? Is it training? Over the years I have come to realize that laboratory safety is a 3 sided triangle in which each side is supporting the other 2 and should one side weaken or should one side be absent then the entire safety program collapses and we are left with a laboratory that is vulnerable to an accident or injury.
What are the 3 sides you ask? Knowledge, Certainty and Preparedness.
Knowledge begins before you begin working in the laboratory with basic laboratory safety training. This is accomplished by attending our OSHA mandated Laboratory Safety Training. This training is required for all employees who are working in a laboratory that houses or utilizes hazardous materials. This training is given in a classroom setting on the second Monday of every month from 9:30-11:30. The classroom training schedule can be found here. The classroom training is our preferred method of training for new employees. If you are a new or existing employee who was not able to attend our classroom training then we do offer an online version that can be found here. This introductory training covers the basics of laboratory safety such as chemical segregation, PPE use and selection, emergency equipment, spill response and other requirements of the OSHA Laboratory Standard. Students that will be taking classes in a laboratory setting are also encouraged to take our online training.
A second required piece of knowledge is your laboratory specific training. This training is given by the individual that is responsible for your supervision in your laboratory. This training includes training on your laboratory specific standard operating procedures (SOPs), PPE location, emergency equipment location, evacuation procedures, location of material safety data sheets (MSDSs) and other procedures that are specific to the equipment or materials that are found in your laboratory. Take ownership in your knowledge. Although training must be given by individuals knowledgeable of the equipment or materials in the laboratory, do not be afraid to ask questions if you do not know or understand a particular procedure or operation of a piece of laboratory equipment. Take the time to read the MSDSs for each of the chemicals found in your laboratory. Take ownership of your safety and don't rely on others. Understand how each of your chemicals react, their properties and how they should be stored. Simple knowledge of a chemical's properties can prevent a myriad of disasters.
Certainty is simply defined as: Lacking any doubt that something is true. One can work unsafely in laboratories for years without sustaining an injury. When this happens our human nature kicks in and we begin to doubt the need to take safety precautions. The perfect example is failure to wear eye protection. You could work with hazardous chemicals without the appropriate eye protection and as you repeat the behavior without an injury you begin to doubt that an injury can occur. You must understand with certainty that PPE requirements are required for a reason. People have been blinded, scarred and have even died because of failure to utilize appropriate controls to prevent exposure such as shielding and PPE. Because something has not happened yet does not mean it can't happen, you have simply been fortunate.
We are human and as a result we are not perfect, accidents do happen. The last leg of the triangle is preparedness. What do you do when you spill a hazardous chemical? What do you do if you are exposed to a hazardous chemical? What are your evacuation routes? Where is your nearest eyewash or emergency shower? What does the signage posted at the entrance of the laboratory mean? You must know the answer to these questions and more to be truly prepared for an accident or emergency in the laboratory. If you do not know where your emergency equipment is located, such as emergency eyewashes and showers, or how they operate then how can you utilize them when you are unable to see because of an eye exposure to a hazardous chemical? Be prepared for an accident or emergency and know the location of your Emergency Procedures Handbook, the location of your nearest eyewash, shower and fire alarm pull station. You should also know 2 ways to exit your building and the location and use of your nearest fire extinguisher.
Another important but often overlooked aspect of emergency preparedness is your housekeeping skills. Does your laboratory look like a tornado has hit with clutter everywhere? Could the television show "Hoarders" do an episode on your laboratory? Is something sitting underneath your emergency shower or blocking access to your emergency eyewash? Are your isles or exits cluttered or blocked? Laboratory space is a precious commodity and our human nature is a possessive one in which we feel the need to keep everything. This combination results in a cluttered lab, which is an unprepared lab. Properly dispose of or recycle all of your unused or unwanted laboratory equipment and chemicals.
Do not place yourself or your employees in an unsafe working environment because you have neglected the preparedness leg of the triangle and your lab is a cluttered mess.
Ensure all sides of your Laboratory Safety Triangle are strong. Remember your safety is your responsibility.