Playing It Safe in the Lab

Laboratories represent some of the most complex safety challenges for both public and private employers. The very nature of work done in a lab setting means you have a bunch of chemicals in one place that are potentially:

  • Toxic
  • Flammable
  • Explosive
  • Corrosive

Add to that the equipment used to process and experiment with these substances, and there’s a lot to take into consideration when developing a safety program. You’ve got to plan for the issuance and maintenance of protective gear, proper ventilation, storage, labeling, and handling of chemicals, waste and biohazard materials, monitoring of all work processes, and much more.

Laboratories Can Be Deadly

It’s not surprising that labs are an environment where fatal workplace accidents can occur. Just last September, a California R&D firm in Menlo Park was cited by DIOSH for safety violations to the tune of $56,000 for an explosion that killed one scientist and injured another employee. The tragic accident was a result of several factors including:

  • Forcing a mix of explosive gases into a propane cylinder – greatly exceeding its maximum psi rating
  • A safety valve design that was improperly rated for the cylinder on which it was installed

Sadly, this type of lab accident is not a fluke. OSHA recently released an updated guidance document for lab safety to help more employers provide a safer environment for workers. The guide is set up as a series of fact sheets so businesses can quickly find information on the types of hazards that are likely to be present in their specific workplace.

New Labeling Requirements in the Offing

If you already have a comprehensive lab safety program in place, you’ll be familiar with much of the information presented in the new OSHA guide. However, there are some changes coming up that will have a significant impact on workplace safety practices. OSHA is planning to adopt the GHS (Global Harmonization System) for classification and labeling of chemicals. This will affect the Hazard Communication Standard that applies to US workplaces. Labels and MSDS (which will be called just Safety Data Sheets in the future) will be changing significantly to meet these new standards. This may affect how well your workers understand the safety warnings on data sheets and labels. Both suppliers and employers who use hazardous materials in the workplace will have new responsibilities for communicating effectively using the GHS format.

Have you reviewed your existing safety program in light of the new lab safety guide? Are you ready for upcoming changes to SDS and warning labels? It makes sense to have a trusted partner who can customize your workplace safety training and make sure you are always aware of the latest guidelines from OSHA. Contact us today for a consultation to help make your lab a safer place.