Anyone who works in an environment that includes potentially harmful equipment must be cognizant of the safety of everyone around them. This is particularly true in places like labs, where toxic and dangerous chemicals are part of the everyday schedule. Since we can’t assume each person comes into the lab with a full head of knowledge about safety practices, each institution has practices in place to instruct its staff and students on them. Most safety standards are designed to follow the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations.
OSHA is integral to the safety and compliance of almost any industry, but it is particularly vital to people in a lab setting, such as pathologists and other researchers. OSHA was instituted as a federal law in 1970 to protect workers from any hazards and concerns in the workplace. Each state has its own set of OSHA laws but must follow the guidelines of the federal act. Understanding how OSHA is part of your institution’s makeup helps you ensure compliance with the lab safety materials you use when conducting research and experiments.
Why Labs Are So Dangerous
Did you know that over 500,000 people in the United States work in labs? Some of these people have years of training, while others are there to assist, clean, and do basic errand-style tasks. They don’t understand why it’s so crucial to be careful not to knock over a chemical or throw a particular item in the general garbage can.
As a lab worker, you’re exposed to various hazards, depending on your work and what’s in the environment. Hazards can be biological, physical, chemical, and/or radioactive, and they’re all potentially life-threatening. Your safety, and that of those around you, is governed by the laws of the institution and the local, state, and federal government regulations.
OSHA encompasses 28 state plans and a vast array of other occupational safety and health programs. Yet, laboratories require a unique set of guidelines, so OSHA has a plan designed specifically for enforcing safety in this environment. Every industry must limit employee exposure to nearly 400 listed substances that OSHA deems a physical or health threat, including irritants, corrosives, carcinogens, toxins, and sensitizers, but the lab environment’s safety rules go beyond the standard rules.
Common OSHA Compliance Expectations for Lab Safety Materials
Before you start working in a lab environment, reviewing and learning your campus’s lab safety material guidelines is crucial. OSHA’s regulations are comprehensive, but your institution may have rules over and above these laws.
Following both federal and university-level regulations is essential to your health and safety and for those who are around you. A small accident with the wrong chemicals or toxins can have widespread consequences.
OSHA requires anyone in the lab to use proper personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent injury from sharp objects, chemicals, pathogens, and other airborne diseases. OSHA’s standards reduce the potential for injury and exposure.
If you’re manipulating chemicals, you must follow the regulations laid out by OSHA. Use containers that can be handled by an individual, ensure you’re abiding by laboratory practices, and use as much PPE as necessary to minimize the potential for exposure.
Other common OSHA lab requirements include minimizing chemical exposure through standard operating procedures and proper waste disposal. If you’re already trained in these regulations, you’re a role model to those new to the environment. Teach them the university’s expectations for operating things like chemical fume hoods and air handlers to remove airborne pathogens. Post and explain the procedure for action and medical attention.
Your university should have policies in place and someone who organizes training for lab safety material practices. Workers must always engage in these practices, knowing they’re responsible for everyone’s safety and wellbeing. It may help to remind them that an OSHA representative can show up at any time to evaluate the lab, but also that each individual is monitored by everyone around them. Safety is not something to take lightly, especially in an environment as dangerous as a lab.
Bringing OSHA Into Your Research
OSHA’s standards are for everyone, and when you’re implementing your research and experiments, you must ensure your team abides by those regulations. Bringing OSHA guidelines into everything you do gives you the peace of mind of knowing that your work will be conducted safely and that delays due to injury or illness are minimized.
If your experiment is outside of your scope of expertise, turn to your Impactio community for guidance. Ask the experts in your network how they handled similar situations, and use their advice to further your research goals. With Impactio’s tools and the network at your fingertips, your research skills will continue to grow.