Top 5 laboratory hazards

By Mark Saner

More often than not, accidents in laboratories can be prevented and, with the proper precautions and by wearing the right personal protective equipment (PPE), severe injuries can often be avoided or minimized.

Following is a “Top 5” list of laboratory hazards.

1. Fire/Explosions

In a laboratory, all chemicals and liquids should be treated as if they are as potent as gasoline. Vapours can travel long distances and may ignite if they reach a flame or spark. Keep a fire extinguisher on-hand and ensure each individual in the laboratory knows its exact location to prevent fires from spreading. The appropriate PPE, like a flame-resistant lab coat, should also be worn.

2. Thermal and Chemical Burns

Many chemicals, both organic and inorganic, may be flammable and/or corrosive to the skin and eyes. It is important to exercise caution with chemicals to prevent spills and splashes. Additionally, the correct PPE with chemical-splash protection should always be worn.

3. Skin Absorption of Chemicals

Keeping chemicals away from direct contact with the skin is fundamental in laboratory safety. Even if chemicals are not corrosive, exposure can cause allergic reactions or other problems if absorbed by the skin. Gloves may be permeable to certain chemical reagents – even without visible deterioration – so be sure to carefully trade out any gloves that have come into contact with such chemicals for a new pair immediately. Never touch your face or eyes until your hands are clean of all chemicals or solvents. Wear a lab coat that can prevent chemicals from wicking through fabric to the wearer.

4. Inhalation of Toxic Fumes

Many common solvents are extremely toxic if inhaled, and inhalation of certain chemicals can severely irritate membranes in the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. To reduce these risks, never evaporate excess solvents. Laboratory workers should also maintain a safe distance when pouring chemicals and make sure there is proper ventilation in the lab.

5. Cuts to the Skin

Cuts to the skin are one of the most common types of laboratory accidents. In severe cases, nerves and tendons may even be severed. Often, these injuries occur as a result of attempting to force a cork or rubber stopper into a piece of glass tubing, thermometer or distilling flask. To prevent this accident from occurring, workers should make a proper-sized hole, lubricate the cork or stopper, and use gentle pressure with rotation on the glass portion.

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