Workplace laboratories, whether they are research laboratories or medical laboratories, are subject to their own sets of safety rules. If you work in or manage a laboratory, there are many safety rules and procedures to keep in mind. Every lab will establish different sets of specific rules, but some general rules remain the same from lab to lab.
General Safety Rules
The following are general laboratory safety rules to remember as you work in the lab:
- Know your hazards. Whether you work with toxic chemicals, pathogens, or blood, always know what you are working with and what hazards are presented with each.
- Wear your protective equipment. From latex gloves to a hazmat suit, there is always protective equipment designed for your specific job.
- Location, location, location. Always know the location of emergency equipment like eyewash stations, safety showers, and fire extinguishers. Becoming familiar with how to use the equipment is also necessary.
- Do not block aisles, doors, or safety equipment at any time. Blocking aisles can produce tripping hazards, and blocking exits and safety equipment can present dangers to you and others.
- Beware of unsafe actions. Let your supervisor know if a colleague is not following procedures. Dangers presented by unsafe actions in any laboratory can cause catastrophes.
- Be extremely careful with reactive chemicals and reactive chemical tests. An unplanned, unsupervised chemical reaction can also be catastrophic.
- Store chemicals and reactants properly, according to laboratory procedures.
- Do not work alone if you work with hazardous materials.
Waste Disposal Procedures
One more laboratory tip is to follow waste disposal procedures. This rule is very important and should be further explained. Each laboratory will produce different types of waste, but generally, the following disposal principles apply:
- Follow your laboratory disposal procedures for hazardous wastes, radioactive wastes, and biohazardous wastes.
- Properly package and label all waste materials as directed by laboratory rules.
- Ensure any and all sharps are properly disposed of in a sharps container.
Also follow or post signs as necessary. Safety signs are especially important to post for quick location of first aid or safety equipment in an emergency. Also, universally labeling hazardous material disposal locations can decrease accidental and potentially dangerous mixing of reactant materials. Some signs you may choose to post include:
- Eyewash sign
- Safety shower sign
- First aid sign
- Defibrillator sign
- Fire blanket safety sign
- Radiation symbol, biohazard symbol, or radioactive symbol
- Ionizing radiation symbol
- Recycle symbol
- Toxic symbol
Material Safety Data Sheet
Another tool that should be available to all laboratory employees is the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). The MSDS lists all of the chemicals in your lab as well as the recommended use and disposal for each individual chemical. It can be an extremely helpful and useful tool if you are unfamiliar with a chemical’s properties.
Laboratories can be very safe workplaces if all safety procedures, wasted disposal, and signs are followed properly. However, there are a lot of inherent dangers to working in a lab with which you must be familiar to ensure your safety and the safety of your co-workers.