Is Your Campus Addressing These Top 5 Lab Hazards?

If your institution has a lab, be sure to take appropriate precautions.

Many campuses have research laboratories that handle flammable substances, as well as other dangerous materials, so institutions must adopt the right safety measures to protect their lab workers. According to Workrite Uniform Co., many accidents in laboratories can be prevented. With the proper precautions and when workers wear the right personal protective equipment (PPE), severe injuries can often be avoided or minimized.

Here are the most common laboratory hazards and some of the precautions that campuses should adopt.

1. 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.

RELATED: Fatal UCLA Fire Prompts Scrutiny of Lab Safety

2. THERMAL AND CHEMICAL BURNS
Many chemicals, both organic and inorganic, may be flammable and/or corrosive to the skin and eyes. It is important to exercise caution with chemicals to prevent spills and splashes. Additionally, the correct PPE should always be worn, such as lab coats that offer both FR properties and chemical-splash protection (CP).

3. 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. Never touch your face or eyes until your 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.

4. 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 there is proper ventilation in the lab.

5. CUTS TO THE SKIN
Cuts to the skin are one of the most common types of laboratory accidents. 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 this accident from occurring, workers should make a proper-sized hole, lubricate the cork or stopper, and use gentle pressure with rotation on the glass portion.

Information for the Workrite Uniform Top 5 list came from various sources — the most notable being Dartmouth College’s Chemistry Lab Safety Rules. 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. For more information on safety hazards and the role of FR clothing in workplace safety, visit www.frinformation.com.

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