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General laboratory safety

Laboratory risks and hazards are numerous but can be avoided with knowledge of safe working practices and simple rules. Common laboratory risks and hazards that may arise from improper work procedures and practices include:

  • Accidental ingestion of a hazardous or an infectious substance
  • Cuts due to incorrect handling of glassware
  • Accidentally dropping containers of hazardous and infectious substances
  • Implosions of vessels being evacuated which may lead to exposure to the reagents inside the vessel or the fragments of shattered glass
  • Explosions of vessels operating under internal pressure with the same effects as implosions
  • Flammability, toxicity, physical and infection risks presented by some wastes

Identifying risks and hazards in the lab environment

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 focuses on the management of work related risks and hazards, and requires the university to follow this sequence:

  1. IDENTIFY workplace hazards
  2. ASSESS risks
  3. MANAGE risks
  4. MONITOR control methods

Once risk and hazards are identified and assessed, these risks and hazards should be appropriately managed:

  • Risks and hazards should be eliminated from the workplace if practicable
  • Where elimination is impracticable, minimise the risk or hazard through appropriate controls

In laymans terms the Act requires that where a safer procedure, substance, item or piece of equipment can be used then that option must be taken. The lab environment should be assessed at regular intervals to identify new risks and hazards. This is completed using an inspection checklist/audit form. Defective equipment, suspect practices and other potential risks and hazards are noted, together with the action required.

Download the checklist/audit form

In addition to specific inspections, there is a need to ensure that risks and hazards identified by workers, students and personnel on a day-to-day basis are acted on. When identified, risks or hazards should be recorded in the Vault system through the website.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 requires a person conducting a business or undertaking to proactively identify and manage risks and hazards so everyone is safe and healthy in the workplace.

General lab practices

Pipetting

Do not pipette ANY substance by mouth. This is a common way of accidentally ingesting a hazardous substance. Use a rubber safety bulb or alternative suction device. Measuring cylinders, burettes or automatic dispensers are also an alternative.

When fitting a pipette filling device to the pipette, hold the pipette as near as possible to the end to be inserted and gently push filling device on to the end. Many severe lacerations have occurred as a result of incorrectly fitting pipette filling devices.

Glassware

Injuries due to handling glassware are common.

To minimise these hazards:

  • routinely inspect glassware for cracks, chips or deep scratches which may cause a breakage under stress. An area for defective glassware should be provided.
  • do not heat glass with a direct flame. Heat beakers with gauze on a tripod.
  • refrigerate jammed stoppers to release them. Do not force or heat.
  • prevent jamming of glass joints by avoiding the use of dirty glass joints and preventing caustic solutions from making contact with such joints.
  • smooth the ends of cut tubing or glass rods by flame polishing before use.
  • dispose of broken glass in a container reserved specifically for the purpose

Inserting/removing tubing safely

Many people cut their hands trying to force glass tubing into bungs, tubing etc. Hold the tubing as near as possible to the end to be inserted. Use a lubricant such as ethanol or glycerine on the glass tubing.

To remove plastic tubing from glassware cut the tubing, using a sharp knife. The cut should be along the side of the glass and away from your hand.

Handling/dispensing liquids

The following tips will help you handle liquids safely:

  • Use a carrier to carry 2.5l Winchesters. Never carry by the neck, use a chemical carrier.
  • Know the substance you are transporting, the class and emergency procedures in case of a spill. Have a copy of the MSDS or SMOU.
  • Avoid transporting chemicals during peak times. If you are in a lift with a substance, others using the lift have the right to ask you to leave and use the lift when free.
  • Never carry incompatible or reactive chemicals together.

Operations under vacuum

Implosions are dangerous and are caused by evacuation of glassware not designed to be evacuated. Apparatus subjected to low vacuum such as produced by a water pump is just as liable to collapse as that under high vacuum. Safety precautions to be followed are:

  • Where practicable place apparatus behind a shield e.g. enclose desiccators in a shatterproof safety screen. This shields the operator and those in the vicinity of the apparatus.
  • Eye protection must be worn at all times, even when the use of safety shields are impractical.
  • Inspect vacuum glassware for hairline cracks or deep scratches prior to use.
  • Equipment with such defects should not be used. Record defects on a Laboratory Inspection Sheet. Repairs should be carried out by a qualified glass blower.
  • Use only glassware designed for vacuum operations e.g. named vacuum desiccators.