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Laboratory Safety : Part Two

Employers have an obligation to maintain a safe working environment for their employees.  Further, they are obligated to provide appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for their employees.

Employees, on the other hand, are obligated to comply with safety standards and utilize PPE in a manner consistent with the manufacturer’s intended use.

Electrical Hazards in the Laboratory

In any laboratory, there is a potential for electrical hazards to injure, or even kill, employees.  Electrical cords can be damaged by the edges of windows and doors, by fastenings or staples designed to hold the cord in place, by chairs or equipment rolling over the cord, or just common wear and tear over time.  This can result in shocking employees or electrocution.  Electric shock or even electrocution can also occur due to employees coming into contact with damaged receptacles, damaged connectors, faulty electrical equipment, faulty instrumentation, and faulty wiring.  Unsafe work practices can also result in electric shock or electrocution.

OSHA has comprehensive electrical safety requirements to protect employees in the workplace.  This is OSHA Standard 1910 Subpart S.  The following is a partial list of electric safety requirements:

  • Workers must be adequately trained to be aware of the locations of circuit breaker panels that relate to their area of the lab;
  • Employees are not to work on electrical circuits and electrical systems unless they meet the requirements for a “qualified person” under OSHA’s rules and regulations;
  • There are additional requirements for electrical equipment and wiring in areas of the lab due to the properties of flammable gases, liquids, and vapors, as well as combustible fibers or dust that may be present in a given area of the laboratory in what is a likely concentration or quantity that is flammable or combustible;
  • Appropriate work practices must be selected and used in the laboratory;
  • Electrical service provided near sources of water must be properly grounded;
  • Employees must be trained to avoid unplugging or plugging in energized equipment with wet hands;
  • All damaged portable electrical equipment and all damaged receptacles must be immediately tagged out and removed from service;
  • All portable electrical equipment and all damaged receptacles must be repaired before being put back into service;
  • In order to allow for safe operation and maintenance of equipment, sufficient access and adequate working space must be both provided and maintained around electrical equipment;
  • When equipment is listed or labeled, the equipment must be both installed and used in accordance with the instructions found on the list or label; and
  • All electrical equipment should be free from recognized hazards.

Fire Hazards in the Laboratory

Fire is an extremely serious laboratory hazard.  Comprehensive training, along with the proper use of existing procedures, can minimize, but not eliminate the possibility of an accidental fire.  It is essential that laboratory employees be prepared to handle a fire emergency, should such a situation present itself.  An appropriate fire response must include, but is not limited to, placing infectious materials in incubators, refrigerators, autoclaves, or freezers to contain the infectious materials.

All laboratories run the risk of fires, from flash fires, rapid spread fires, and explosions due to the use of solvents.  Additionally, the products of combustion, including smoke, and heat, (as well as flames) can expose employees to danger.  Small bench top fires are also somewhat common.  The risk of severe injury or death cannot be ignored.

Efforts to Prevent Fires

There are certain common sense steps employees can take in an effort to prevent the possibility of fire.  These steps include:

  • Solvents should never be heated on hot plates;
  • Combustibles should be kept away from open flames;
  • Open flames should not be left unattended;
  • Open flames should only be used under a fume hood;
  • Solvents should be stored in cabinets designed to hold flammable liquids;
  • Never work alone;
  • Always wear proper clothing and personal protective equipment;
  • Be mindful of barriers designed to reduce the spread of fires, including lab doors, hood doors, and shields;
  • Be mindful of restrictions on equipment.  For example, only store solvents in an explosion proof refrigerator;
  • Keep work areas free of clutter;
  • Avoid keeping unnecessary materials in the work space;
  • Keep aisles and doors unobstructed;
  • Make sure there is clear and easy access to emergency equipment;
  • Keep only the amount of materials necessary for the work at hand in the work space; and
  • Have a written emergency plan and practice with fire drills.

Emergency Procedures in Case of Fire

Employers are obligated to train employees on how to respond in case of fire.  The following best practices should be taught to all employees:

  • In case of fire, remember “RACE.”  Rescue or Remove all occupants; Activate the alarm system; Confine the fire (close the door); Evacuate or Extinguish;
  • Learn to use the emergency equipment available at the laboratory;
  • Know where the nearest fire extinguisher is;
  • Know where the telephone is;
  • Know where the eyewash station is;
  • Know where the emergency shower is;
  • Know where the first aid kit is;
  • Understand that often a series of problems will present themselves, such as a contamination event, an explosion, a fire, and a medical emergency.  Plan and practice accordingly; and
  • Rehearse possible responses before there is an emergency.

The Use of Fire Extinguishers

Employers should train their employees on the “PASS” rule for the operation of fire extinguishers.  Pull the pin; Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire; Squeeze the trigger; and Sweep the extinguisher from side to side to cover the fire with the spray.

If You Have Been Injured in An Electrical Incident or a Fire

If you have been injured in an electrical incident or a fire, or if you have lost a loved one due to an electrical incident or a fire, you may be entitled to recover money to compensate you for your injuries.

The determined workers’ compensation claim attorneys in Atlanta at Bader Scott Injury Lawyers will meet with you at no charge to discuss the facts and circumstances of your particular case to determine whether you may have a claim.  Contact us today.

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Seth Bader
(678) 562-5595