Labs are essential in the 21st century, evident by the research that led to the breakthrough of messenger RNA (mRNA) and the associated technology that resulted in a global vaccine for COVID-19. But mRNA was not a discovery that occurred in one lab overnight. Instead, it took decades of research spanning numerous labs, including the Paris laboratory of André Boivin; University College, London; and the Pasteur Institute.
Regardless of any specifiic lab’s achievements over another, they all have one thing in common. The importance of safety is central; otherwise, researchers, scientists, and students can easily be injured by the hazards within a laboratory.
Modern 21st Century Lab
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports over 500,000 workers are employed in laboratories across the United States. Each of these workers looks to enter a healthy workplace where they can perform their job free of safety hazards that pose a significant risk of personal injury. Preventing laboratory accidents requires vigilance, care, and staying informed.
This article dives into lab safety, the most common rules needing to be observed, and the personal protective equipment all lab workers need to wear.
Overall Importance of Lab Safety
Most people remember their first day operating a Bunsen burner in high school chemistry class. They remember it because the chemistry and biology teachers stressed how important it is to take lab safety seriously. And, for those who have gone on to enhance their scientific understanding, that initial safety lesson continues in their modern research and testing activities.
Why is safety so important in a lab? Labs are full of hazards: biological hazards such as foodborne diseases, infectious specimens, and bloodborne pathogens. Many tools and substances used within a laboratory can be dangerous if not handled properly and dealt with safely. Chemicals can present physical danger and health threats to workers in clinical, academic, and industrial laboratories. If not treated with care, hazardous chemicals can be toxic, corrosive, and irritative to the skin, eyes, organ systems, and other body parts. They can also be lethal.
10 Lab Safety Rules
What is the most important lab safety rule? It’s a simple one, but it’s often overlooked: Follow Instructions. From paying attention to safety symbols to listening to an instructor, safety instructions can help prevent accidents. Using common sense and knowing when to ask for help is essential in any laboratory.
Still, there are many other important lab safety rules. Some are common sense, but some are also worth thinking about and reviewing, as they can be easily forgotten or remembered only after an accident has occurred.
Always remember these top 10 rules when you’re in a lab:
1. Know the Location of Safety Equipment
Always know where the safety equipment in a lab is located. If you’re joining a new lab, be sure to find out these locations quickly. Also, regularly check that safety equipment is maintained and can function properly in an accident or emergency. Many lab safety signs designate equipment locations, including fire extinguishers, eyewash stations, safety showers, and other devices.
2. Report Lab Accidents Right Away
If an accident occurs in the lab, even a minor one, let a supervisor know right away. Do not falsify any story or lie about accidents, as awareness and transparency are essential safety steps to follow. Whether it’s a cut, a spilled chemical, burn, all accidents should be reported.
3. Know What to Do in Case of Emergency
You should always know where the emergency eyewash station is located. In a severe disaster, emergency exit routes should be clearly marked, and everyone should be aware of the evacuation path.
4. Proper Disposal of Lab Waste
Many chemicals, metals, papers, disposable gloves, tools, biological samples, and liquid substances cannot be simply poured down the drain or left in the garbage. Proper disposal of lab equipment and substances ensures harmful materials don’t leak into the outside environment.
5. Leave Equipment and Experiments in the Lab
Removing any lab equipment, specimens, or other lab components is typically prohibited, and for a good reason. The proper procedures, equipment, and regulations for dealing with accidents are not in place outside of the laboratory setting.
6. Manage Chemicals with Care
All facets of chemical handling and control should be done with care, including labeling all chemical containers to know their contents and not working with unlabeled or otherwise unknown chemicals.
7. No Food or Drinks in the Lab
Never consume food in a lab, as it can easily contaminate or damage lab samples and equipment. Also, food and beverages themselves can become contaminated by toxic or unknown substances in a lab.
8. Dress for the lab
Wearing proper lab clothing means wearing safety goggles and glasses, closed-toe shoes, gloves, and lab coats or aprons if working with chemicals and substances. Any loose or long hair should be tied back.
9. Care for All Equipment
Caring for lab equipment means using it correctly, whether it’s a piece of heavy equipment or a simple beaker. Some equipment and materials require the use of additional safety equipment, such as handling hot or volatile materials.
10. Safety Signage and Labeling
In addition to labeling the safety equipment locations and making sure all chemicals are clearly marked and labeled, labs should have plenty of visual cues tied to safety. This includes labeling exits, labeling paths to exits, and placing warning signs for unusual hazards and toxic, hazardous materials.
We’ve only targeted the ten rules we believe need to be in the Top 10. Every lab has different rules, so it’s essential to be familiar with them. You may want to visit other websites to see which rules they highlight as being critical. Here are some other websites to consider reviewing:
CDC and OSHA
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a critically valuable resource to any lab operating today. As we highlight in our article titled The CDC and Its Role in Protecting Americans’ Health, this U.S. agency seeks to enrich workers' health, the environment, and the public. By protecting laboratory staff and the public from biological, chemical, environmental, or physical hazards, the CDC works to set an example for laboratory safety and helps more than 260,000 clinical and public health laboratories perform tests assessing safety standards and best practices.
The CDC’s portal offers extensive lab safety background and resources.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) sets standards and establishes general lab safety guidelines to ensure worker safety. Standard 29 CFR 1910.1450, commonly referred to as the Laboratory standard, encompasses all laboratory activities where chemical manipulation occurs. It includes practices and procedures to protect against laboratory accidents and ensure that safety training and policies are in place.
OSHA’s lab safety portal provides ample information and resources.
Useful website links:
For any lab safety symbol to be helpful, you have to understand it first. Symbols that indicate a fire hazard or just a general warning (depicted as a simple exclamation point) are pretty universal. Like a skull that indicates poison, other symbols are also commonly understood inside and outside the lab.
General Warning Symbol
Still, the more symbols that you know, the more information you can garner about a situation and the more warning you can receive about potential dangers. While not every lab will use every symbol, knowing symbols for hazards like non-ionizing radiation, explosive materials, and corrosive materials can be helpful — and life-saving.
Familiarize yourself with some of the most common lab safety symbols and signs.
Just as every lab has consistency in the safety standards, safety symbols should be universal and easily recognizable to keep everyone safe. With universal symbols, the potential threats and hazards can be understood by everyone. This is especially important for labs that host workers, personnel, or visitors from other labs.
PowerPoints and Procedures
Safety information should be shared! It does nobody any good if it is not widely shared, used, and recognized. Many online pages and PowerPoints offer quickly shareable safety basics, background, and steps for that purpose.
Some standard laboratory safety practices and procedures include:
- Know the hazards: It’s been harped on numerous times already, but it can never be stated often enough. Even before you enter a lab, know the extent of its potential dangers, which could be biological, chemical, physical, or radiological. Know which types of accidents could more easily occur and make sure you are protected against them.
- Be prepared: Being prepared means familiarizing yourself with all safety equipment and practices before you begin working and knowing how and to whom for reporting any accidents or incidents.
- Prevent exposure: Preventing exposure to chemicals by following safety protocols and adequately using equipment is critical.
Useful Lab Safety PowerPoints:
· Westbranch School
· Science Safety
What are four pieces of safety equipment present in each lab? Every lab across America will have more than four types of safety equipment, and it may vary somewhat from lab to lab. However, if we had to name at least four types of standard PPE we think of when we think about labs, we would include lab coats, safety glasses and goggles, disposable gloves, and eyewash stations.
MCR Safety carries lab coats, safety goggles, and gloves as part of our product assortment. Here are some other types of safety equipment that are likely to be found in a lab:
Chemical Spill Kits
Chemical spill kits contain special absorbents and other items for cleaning up chemical spills. They contain materials for neutralizing acidic and basic substances, PPE, and proper clean-up tools.
First Aid Kits
A well-stocked first-aid kit is a piece of critical lab safety equipment. These kits contain universal items, including items and supplies to clean, dress, and manage various minor wounds and injuries.
Fire extinguishers are an essential piece of safety equipment both inside and outside the lab. They come in different types and sizes, though laboratory extinguishers often are intended for chemical fires.
Fire blankets work by cutting off oxygen to clothing, equipment, or other items that caught fire. They’re helpful in labs because they don’t involve using the spray from extinguishers, which could damage nearby substances or equipment.
Safety showers help wash away chemicals that have come in contact with the skin or clothing. They can also disinfect after exposure to airborne chemicals or other harmful substances.
In the lab, your hands are the part of your body most at-risk for coming into contact with chemicals or other harmful substances. So cover them up! Disposable lab gloves are a versatile type of PPE that provides simple but effective protection.
Typical disposable gloves utilize latex or nitrile polymers. If you’re working with more potent chemicals or heat, however, you may need extra protection.
Disposable gloves are considered protection for general splash protection. Heavier duty chemical gloves, like our neoprene and heavier-weight nitrile gloves, offer more substantial protection. For precise chemical permeation information, visit our permeation database or leave us a comment regarding your specific chemical-resistant needs.
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Lab coats, aprons, and shoe covers are various types of garments used as precautionary equipment to protect workers from blood and infectious materials. The type and characteristics of the garment worn will hinge on the task and anticipated degree of exposure.
Safety Goggles and Safety Glasses
Safety goggles and safety glasses should be worn whenever hazardous materials or processes are being used or carried out in the lab. Safety goggles help protect against chemical spills or splashes, high-velocity flying objects, small flying or floating particles, dust, and some gases and vapors that could be harmful.
Safety glasses are crucial PPE and should be worn to protect against many potentially harmful accidents. However, safety glasses do not seal to the face like goggles, rendering them ineffective against most harmful vapors and splashes.
For that reason, when working in a lab that deals with chemicals, safety goggles are the way to go.
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What is the purpose of lab safety?
- Lab safety entails being aware of one’s surroundings and cultivating the skills and mindset needed to prioritize and maintain safety at all times. Laboratory safety also includes practices and procedures to protect against laboratory accidents and ensure that safety training and enforcement of policies occur. Its purpose is to keep people safe.
What is the most important safety rule to remember during lab activities?
- As highlighted in our rules section, awareness of your surroundings and what activities are going on is highly critical. Without it, you can’t follow the directions being shown to you in a lab setting.
What can happen if the lab safety rules are not followed?
- The worst-case scenarios for almost any laboratory event, significant bodily injury, exposure to harmful substances and materials, and damage to laboratory equipment and property, can occur if safety practices aren’t followed. Whether a minor accident or something more catastrophic, most incidents can be avoided by knowing and following lab safety rules.
MCR Safety – Protecting Lab Workers
Laboratories are where exciting things occur, and revelations appear that change humanity, as with the COVID-19 vaccine. However, what doesn’t need to appear in a lab are accidents that could injure some of the most precious minds on the planet. At MCR Safety, we protect people in laboratories with educational content, as presented above, and with a wide range of PPE.
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We welcome any comments, feedback, or suggestions for how we can best protect people at work.
For over 45 years, MCR Safety has proven to be a world leader in gloves, glasses, and garments. Whether it's on the shop floor, an oil rig, a construction site, or shooting outdoors, we are there to provide solutions to workplace (and recreational) hazards. It's all part of our commitment to protect people.
No matter your industry, we have the personal protective equipment you need.
Learn more about MCR Safety by checking out our most recent video. For more information, browse our website, request a catalog, find a distributor, or give us a call at 800-955-6887.