How to ensure Laboratory Safety through Safety Audits?

Well protected laboratory worker

Well protected laboratory worker

Laboratory safety is of prime concern for all laboratory workers as a laboratory presents a multitude of hazards due to presence of potentially dangerous materials. Article on Lab Safety Guidelines provided some useful safety tips for laboratory workers. Another article offered familiarization with Safety devices and symbols.

It is unfortunate that laboratory accidents still occur even after all safety instructions are provided and safety signs are prominently displayed. The main reason for such incidents is indifference to safety instructions and guidelines. Periodic safety audits help in minimization of such accidents.

During safety audits several areas need to be inspected to ensure a hazard free work environment. Tips on auditing critical areas and hazardous materials are offered in this article. The areas that need to be looked into are:

  • General laboratory layout plan
  • Storage of hazardous and corrosive chemicals
  • Fire hazards
  • Electrical Hazards
  • Biological hazards
  • Training
  • Preparedness to handle emergencies
  • Security

The auditor should verify the points covered under each head

General laboratory layout plan

  • Aisles and passages are clear
  • Provision of illuminated exit signs
  • Entry restrictions through secure card systems
  • Hazard signs and safety instructions are displayed prominently at crucial locations
  • Work area is sufficiently illuminated
  • All laboratory workers use safety gear such as labcoats, safety goggles head covers and gloves
  • The lab is provided with effective ventilation

Storage of hazardous chemicals

  • Material safety data sheets on chemicals used are available and accessible to all
  • No excess storage of hazardous chemicals inside the lab
  • Hazardous and corrosive chemicals or poisonous materials are stored in specially designed cabinets and kept under lock and key
  • Reactive and incompatible materials are not in close vicinity
  • Appropriate hazard signs are affixed to respective containers
  • Hazardous chemical bottle caps are free of cracks
  • Shelves are sturdy enough to bear the load of reagent bottles
  • Fume hoods are not used as storage space for chemicals
  • Fume hood exhaust system is functional and periodic inspection records are available

Fire hazards

  • Refrigerating units are available for highly flammable liquids
  • Flammables are kept away from strong oxidizers
  • Flammable liquids are not kept close to hot plates are other ignition sources
  • Fire extinguishers are inspected periodically and inspection records available

Electrical Hazards

  • Electrical hazard signs are prominently displayed on electrical equipments and high voltage sources
  • Power cords are in good condition and protected from rodents. All live wires are properly insulated
  • There are no loose hanging wires in passageways
  • Power strips are used only for computers and not for sophisticated instruments or equipments
  • Electrical panels are easily accessible and provided with emergency circuit breakers
  • Sockets of appropriate amperage are used as per equipment specification and proper grounding is provided

Biological Hazards

Specified procedures are in place for collection and handling of specimens especially from doubtful sources or at- risk persons

  • Procedures are defined for safe handling of sharps such as broken glass, needles, scalpels, etc
  • Emergency shutdown provision is provided next to the autoclave
  • Contaminated pipette tips are disposed in a specified manner
  • Biosafety cabinets are located in isolated areas of the laboratory

Training

Laboratory persons are adequately trained on:

  • Test methods
  • Proper handling of laboratory apparatus, chemicals and waste disposal
  • Use of laboratory safety gears such as eye wash fountains, fire extinguishers and their specific use for different types of fires
  • First aid training

Gases

  • All compressed gas cylinders are properly secured when not in use
  • Regulators and gas joints are inspected regularly for freedom from leaks
  • Cylinders moved around in cylinder trolleys
  • Hydrogen cylinders are stored outside the laboratory in well ventilated spaces
  • Specified colour coding of gas lines inside the laboratory

Preparedness to handle emergencies

  • Guidelines for safe assembly and exit plans are in place in case of emergencies
  • Spill kits are available which are replenished from time to time
  • Use of safety devices in case of emergencies
  • Access to emergency contact numbers of institutional safety officer, medical support, fire services and police

Security

  • Regulated entry of visitors
  • Fire and Smoke alarms are in working order
  • Access systems are functional and pilfer free

Laboratory safety should under no circumstances be compromised and regular safety audit plans can go a long way in preventing avoidable mishaps.

About Dr. Deepak Bhanot

Dr Deepak Bhanot is a seasoned professional having nearly 30 years expertise beginning from sales and product support of analytical instruments. After completing his graduation and post graduation from Delhi University and IIT Delhi he went on to Loughborough University of Technology, UK for doctorate research in analytical chemistry. His mission is to develop training programs on analytical techniques and share his experiences with broad spectrum of users ranging from professionals engaged in analytical development and research as well as young enthusiasts fresh from academics who wish to embark upon a career in analytical industry.

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