How Safely Are You Handling Lab Chemicals?

Does your lab have a chemical hygiene plan? This is a document that outlines the different hazardous chemicals in a lab and provides a guideline on protocols, processes, tools, and equipment to counter threats posed by the chemicals. It is a requirement in law that labs put in place safety mechanisms to lower risks and respond to these threats when they materialize.  Here are a few safety tips that everyone handling lab chemicals should be encouraged to observe.

Observe set SOPs

Every lab should have Standard Operating Protocols that outlines general principles in safe handling, use of protective clothing and equipment, safe use and disposal. Where a wide variety of lab chemicals are in use, SOPs are supplemented by signs and other literature on specific chemical hazards.

Safe air flow

Is the lab ventilation adequate to ensure there is safe airflow? A lab ventilation system should be capable of at least 10 change outs per hour when the lab is in use.  For added air safety, an exhaust hood can be added. It is recommended that 2.5 linear feet of hood space per person working in the lab.

Chemical storage

Putting one person in charge of storing lab chemicals ensures there is coherence in the way the store is organized. The storekeeper should ensure that proper inventory is done without duplication, and expired chemicals are disposed of properly.

Any chemical that is to come into the store should have a plan for handling, storing and disposing of. This should include segregating incompatible chemicals.

Working space safety

Slippery floors cause a significant portion of workplace injuries from falling. Absorbent mat pads and mops should be placed near spill prone locations. Water disposal should also be well established with wastewater being evacuated to a central location from where it can be treated or disposed of properly.  Pouring volatile liquids down drains should be highly discouraged.   Keeping countertops clear of clutter also provides space to work and avoids accidental spills.

Training on spill response

Accidental spills do happen even to experienced technicians. The manner of responding to the spill is what makes a difference between the threats being contained or doing harm. Everyone working with lab chemicals should be trained on containment measures, evacuation, first aid and medical care, and reporting methods.

Use of safety equipment

A lab should have working drench showers and eyewash stations at accessible points such that contact with chemicals can be minimized when it happens. First aid kits and fire extinguishers should also be kept at visible spots.

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