Embedding Laboratory Safety Into the Culture of Firms and Organizations
In 2011, an organic chemistry student was in the Boston College chemistry laboratory working on an experiment. As part of the experiment, the student was working with a small amount of thionyl chloride, a chemical that is highly explosive when mixed with water. Although authorities are not entirely sure what happened, it appears that moisture in the air mixed with the thionyl chloride, causing the beaker to explode, sending broken glass across the room.
Fortunately, the student was able to walk away from the experience with only minor cuts and burns from the exploding beaker. It could have been a lot worse.
Laboratory safety is a topic about which most people like to talk the talk, but may not actually walk the walk. This dichotomy regarding laboratory safety is illustrated in the results of a survey published in Nature in 2013. According to the survey, 86% of 2,400 respondents claimed that their laboratory was safe. However, nearly 50% also noted that they had “experienced injuries ranging from animal bites to chemical inhalation, and large fractions noted frequent lone working, unreported injuries and insufficient safety training on specific hazards.”
The best way to reduce the frequency of laboratory accidents is to create a culture with safety as part of the foundation. By embedding safety into the culture of the laboratory, employees know intuitively how to prevent emergencies and how to respond when they do occur.
Building safety into the culture of a company is not difficult, but it requires a consistent focus on the following:
- Educate employees regarding the details and location of safety plans
Laboratories that use chemicals, compressed gases or cryogens are required to have safety plans in place that address what should happen when something goes wrong. However, this is only helpful when employees know how to access these plans. Educating employees regarding the specific details and location of safety plans can help ensure that when accidents take place, they will know how to respond.
- Ensure all employees have access to Safety Data Sheets
Government regulations require that lab personnel have access to all Safety Data Sheets related to the chemicals that they may be working with in the lab. In addition, these sheets need to be available to all first responders when an accident occurs so that they can be aware of any potential risks regarding chemicals on site.
Although there are different ways to distribute safety data sheets, the best method is to implement a chemical inventory management system. The benefits of this system include the ability to automatically receive updates from the manufacturer when changes occur, as well as disseminate the information digitally to employees and local first responders before emergencies arise.
- Ensure that chemicals are properly labeled
When it comes to determining the contents of a container, nothing is more important than the label. The label provides information regarding the specific contents of containers and ties information back to the safety data sheets. Making sure labels are updated is crucial in staying on top of laboratory safety.
The labeling process will be changing this year under the Globally Harmonized System. New labels should be even easier to decipher.
- Ensure proper signage is in place
Laboratories work with many different substances, including those dealing with radiation and biohazards. When working with these types of materials, ensure that the proper signage has been put into place to warn people.
Laboratory safety needs to become more than something we give lip service to. Developing it into the culture is the best way to ensure that people live it. For more information regarding BIOVIA CISPro and how it can help improve laboratory safety for your firm, please visit our website today.