Workers in a laboratory environment face many hazards, including floods from water-cooled equipment, extreme noise, dangers from rotating or cutting equipment, slips, trips, and falls, and more. Part of lab safety includes proper use of lab equipment, maintenance, and inspections.
Water-cooled equipment is common in laboratories and may have a risk of flooding. Refrigerated circulators are the preferred method of cooling laboratory equipment to conserve water and minimize the flood risk.
A mixture of water and ethylene glycol can be used as a coolant to prevent the refrigeration coils from freezing. This mixture is particularly slippery, however, and must be cleaned to avoid slips, trips, and falls.
Laboratory Equipment with Electrical Components
Lab equipment that’s powered by electricity is common in many lab environments and may be used to mix, agitate, heat, cool, pump, and more. These devices are at risk of mechanical and electrical hazards. It’s imperative that all lab personnel are trained on safety around electrical equipment, including how to shut the electricity off in an emergency.
It’s also important that electrical equipment is maintained and safely used. Here are some precautions:
- Insulate electrical equipment properly
- Visually inspect electrical cords and check for erosion from organic solvents or oxidation
- Hire qualified professionals to replace frayed or damaged cords
- Enclose all power supplies with suitable barriers or enclosures to eliminate the risk of accidental contact with power circuits
- Equip motor-driven electrical equipment in a laboratory that contains volatile flammable materials with non-sparking induction motors
- Avoid the use of sparking motors in laboratories where flammable materials may be present
- Minimize condensation that may enter electrical equipment if it’s in a cold room or refrigerator
- If condensation occurs, shut down power and unplug the device with rubber gloves
- Ground electrical equipment with a suitable flooring material and GFCIs
- Shut off power to equipment before making modifications or repairs
- Inspect all repaired or modified electrical equipment before use
The use of compressed gas in laboratory environments requires different precautions for the types of compressed gasses, their containers, their regulators, and the piping used to confine them. It’s important that cylinders are inventoried and inspected regularly. Any cylinders no longer in use should be disposed of properly.
Other procedures for safety with compressed gasses include:
- Attention to purchase
- Selecting the smallest cylinder for need
- Proper transportation and storage
- Proper content identification
- Correct handling and use
- Returning the empty cylinders to the company where they were purchased
Working with substances or equipment at extremely high or low temperatures or pressures requires special precautions. It’s important to protect against explosion or implosion by using the proper safety equipment and selecting the right equipment.
All equipment should be tested and inspected periodically to ensure its function and safety. Equipment that will contain corrosive or hazardous substances should be tested and inspected more frequently. Personnel should also be familiar with the safety procedures to depressurize a system, including the order in which to open fittings and valves.
The training of laboratory personnel is necessary to promote a safe working environment. All personnel needs to wear the appropriate personal protective equipment, including eye, face, hand, and foot protection, and must review the safety and emergency protocols for the lab and its dangerous equipment.
Emergency procedures can vary according to the type of lab and its particular hazards, whether with equipment or materials. These general guidelines are recommended for labs that may experience an explosion, spill, or medical accident, and all procedures are designed to mitigate injuries or damage in the event of an accident.
- Post all emergency numbers near the telephones in hazardous areas
- Train all laboratory personnel on protocols for the types of equipment and materials they’ll encounter in the lab
- Without endangering themselves, personnel should offer assistance to staff involved in the accident and reduce exposure to greater injury
- Leave the accident area, if possible, and don’t reenter unless the proper authorities allow it
- Warn personnel in nearby areas of any potential risks
- Offer immediate first aid, including CPR, washing in a safety shower, or other equipment-specific first-aid measures
- Put out small fires with a portable fire extinguisher and remove combustible materials
- For large fires, contact the fire department
- Provide clear and concise information to emergency services about the type of hazard and damage, including a copy of the material safety data sheet (MSDS)
- Call for medical help as soon as possible
- Don’t move or reposition an injured person unless it’s necessary to prevent further injury
- Assign a staff member to stay with the injured person and monitor their condition
- In the case of chemical spills, remove the chemicals with a safety shower and remove contaminated clothing
- Wash eyes that have come in contact with hazardous chemicals in the eyewash unit for at least 15 minutes
- Identify the chemicals and inform emergency responders
Laboratory instruments, lab equipment, and lab materials present safety risks to lab personnel. All lab personnel should be trained on how to handle hazardous materials, how to inspect, use, and maintain laboratory equipment, and how to handle an emergency if it arises.