The Safety Doctor Article
Dr. Isabel Perry
"Chemical Safety in Laboratories"
In laboratories, chemicals are generally limited to small quantities, on a
short-term basis, in operations where chemicals and procedures change
frequently. YET, many accidents and injuries occur annually in laboratories,
resulting in chemical-related illnesses ranging from skin and eye irritation to
fatal pulmonary edema.
Every laboratory should have a Chemical Hygiene Plan that includes:
- Appropriate work practices
- Standard operating procedures
- Methods of control
- Measures for appropriate maintenance and use of protective equipment,
- Medical examinations
- Special precautions for work with particularly hazardous material
As part of the written plan, employers must designate a chemical hygiene
officer. This officer may have a variety of duties such as monitoring,
procuring, helping project directors upgrade facilities and advising
administrators on improved chemical hygiene policies and practices.
Employee Information and Training
A training and information program for employees must be established. The
training program should be initiated at the time of the initial assignment and
prior to assignments involving new exposures. The discussion of topics must
- Existence, location and availability of the Chemical Hygiene Plan
- Permissible exposure limits for regulated substances and recommended
exposure limits for other hazardous chemicals where no OSHA standard applies
- Signs and symptoms associated with exposures to hazardous chemicals.
Methods and observations that workers can use to detect the presence of
hazardous chemicals (i.e. continuous monitoring procedures, visual appearance
- Location and availability of reference materials, including Material
Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)
- Specific procedures put into effect by the employer to provide protection,
including engineering controls, work practices, personal protective
Medical Examinations and Consultations
Medical attention must be offered to the following:
- Any employee who exhibits signs or experiences symptoms associated with
exposure to a hazardous chemical used in the laboratory.
- Any employee who is exposed routinely above the action level or
permissible exposure level for an OSHA regulated substance for which there are
exposure monitoring or medial surveillance requirements.
A medical examination must be offered to any employee who is present in the
work area when a spill, leak, explosion or other accident occurs that results in
a potential significant exposure to a hazardous chemical.
Personal Protective Equipment
Criteria must be developed for determining and implementing control measures
to reduce employee exposure to hazardous chemicals in the laboratory. These may
include, engineering controls (i.e. general ventilation, fume hoods, glove boxes
and other exhaust systems), work practice controls (i.e. restricting eating and
drinking areas, and prohibiting mouth pipetting), and personal protective
equipment (i.e. respiratory equipment, safety glasses, whole body coverings, and
Particularly Hazardous Substances
Special consideration and additional protective measures must be given to
working with reproductive toxins and substances having a high degree of acute
toxicity. The following provisions should be taken:
- Establish a designated area with appropriate signs warning of the hazards
associated with the substance
- Use of a fume hood or equivalent containment device
- Procedure for decontaminating the designated area
- Procedures for safe removal of contaminated waste
Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are documents that provide specific
information about chemicals, such as their chemical identities, physical
properties, associated health hazards, reactivity data, control measures, and
precautions for safe handling and use.
Labels on containers of hazardous chemical are not to be removed or defaced,
in any manner.
Exposure records and data analyses must be kept for 30 years. Medical records
are to be kept for at least the duration of employment plus 30 years. Medial
records of employees who have worked for less than 1 year need not be retained
after employment, but he employer must provide these records to the employee
upon termination of employment.
An accurate record of exposure monitoring results and any medical
consultation and examinations, including tests or physician medical opinions
must be maintained for each employee.
Adherence to the Chemical Hygiene Plan will provide employees with the
information and training necessary to improve workplace safety and health and to
reduce the number of chemical-related injuries and illnesses in laboratories.
Copyright 2002 Dr. Isabel Perry. All rights
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Dr. Isabel Perry prescribes solutions to reduce risk, costs and increase
production for all types of organizations. Dr. Perry is an Orlando, Florida
based Safety Professional with over 20 years of broad-based safety experience
including: safety speaker, safety consultant, expert witness, and former safety
executive at a Fortune 50 company. Her clients include many multinational firms.
Dr. Perry’s can be contacted at [email protected]