Lab Safety 101: Health & Safety Resource For Students
As well as the hazards and dangers outlined in the rest of this resource, there are other factors that could cause complications too.
Hazard Recognition & Control
Before completing any project, hazard recognition is very important. By carrying out these steps you can determine the potential hazard which could develop and have an action plan in place to prevent this from occurring.
Hazard analysis is used to systematically breakdown any project to evaluate hazards and ensure these are under control. If during this stage you discover a potential hazard can’t be controlled, seek immediate help from a member of staff.
Four Step Guide
For your own hazard analysis you should break a certain task or project into four clearly defined sections.
1. Choose the task/project to be analysed
Ensure to prioritise your analysis to include the most critical factors first. This would be based on:
- The potential and severity of injuries
- New or modified tasks
- Tasks not frequently performed.
2. Now break this task down into steps
Try not to generalise when doing this, as it could cause certain hazards to be overlooked. Ideally, any task shouldn’t be broken down into more than 10 steps, but if this seems to be the case – It may be worth creating an additional task. Ensure to write down the required steps and keep them in the correct order for your own notes.
The best way to breakdown the process of a task, is to observe someone else taking on the project. Of course, this should be someone of experience, who can explain certain elements and be available to assist and answer questions or queries you may have. Once you have set the task out into steps, ensure the expert, who can amend and adjust accordingly, views this.
3. Identify the potential hazards
Depending on the task or project you are undertaking, hazards can vary from minor to severe. Even the smallest potential hazard should be observed as this ensures the best possible preparation for your work in the lab.
Of course, the most difficult part of this is recognising a hazard, especially if it’s not immediately obvious. You need to:
- Identify all potential hazards in the laboratory
- Determine the effects this will have on safety
- Ensure a strategy to eliminate risk and keep yourself and others fully protected at all times.
Each potential hazard must be assessed on its own merit. You need to evaluate the dangers and consider all outcomes, such as who will be exposed. Hazards will include:
- The use of safety equipment, laboratory conditions and best working practices
- Biological hazards
- Chemical hazards
- Noise or vibration hazards
- Heat or cold hazards
- Weather, radiation or pressure hazards.
There are also other hazards to consider which may be less obvious in their appearance. This would include psychological demands, awkward postures and repetitive / forceful movements.
There are also a series of questions to ask yourself before commencing with any project or task, such as:
- Is there the potential for personal injury?
- Will any equipment used that could cause a potential hazard?
- Is there the potential for a fall?
- Is there a potential to come into contact with harmful chemicals or toxins?
- Are there any risks of strains from operating machinery?
- Will you be exposed to extreme temperatures?
- Will there be excessive noise or vibrating?
- Can falling objects pose a problem?
- Will there be adequate lighting?
This is by no means an exhaustive list and for each project you should liaise with an experienced professional to seek further help and assistance.
4. Determining preventative measures
With the aid of a risk assessment, you should be able to highlight potential areas where a hazard could be caused. As such, for each danger that emerges it becomes important to find a way of eliminating the risk.
Controlling the Hazard
There are three ways to do this; control at the source, control along the path and control at the student.
Control at the source
The best preventative measure is to eliminate any hazard in the lab entirely. This would mean finding an alternative solution or substituting the hazardous material. If this isn’t possible, steps should be taken to ensure the hazard is isolated and enclosed.
Control along the path
Some hazards can’t be eliminated from the process, as this would affect your project. For these instances, a solution should be encouraged to reduce exposure. As an example, a ventilation system would reduce exposure of hazardous substances in the air, whilst screens would prevent flash from welding reaching the eyes of students.
Control at the student
If neither of the above are an effective solution, the third option is control at the student. This would include the use of specialist protective equipment and clothing, used to ensure injury and harm is eliminated. An example of this would be gloves when handling chemicals and earmuffs when loud noises are expected.
Remember, potential hazards don’t just have to be controlled at one of the three – and there can be a combination of all three to ensure better protection.
Once completed, your hazard analysis should be written up in full and made available to other students, to ensure the best preventative measures are in place. These procedures can then form the basis of training programmes.
Every laboratory is likely to be hooked up with electricity and as such, there will always be a potential danger in this regard. All equipment used in the lab will be regularly checked to ensure it meets electrical standards. This includes electronic equipment that is sold, displayed or connected to power.
As a general rule of thumb, when working with electrical appliances in the lab, remember to:
- Inspect all tools and equipment for signs of wear or damage before using. If anything untoward is noticed, report this to a supervisor
- Ensure all switchboxes are clean and closed
- Do not try to repair electrical equipment yourself. This should be left to competent and qualified personnel
- Do not use an extension cable as an alternative to permanent wiring
- Be aware of circuit breaker panels and ensure these are clearly marked.
Fire hazards are also prevalent in laboratories and precaution should always be taken to ensure risk is eliminated. There is a range of ignition sources and fire or explosions can lead to both loss of property and life.
Flammable liquids are one of the most notorious reasons for a fire breaking out in the lab. All flammable liquids should be stored and handled with extreme care and attention at all times. Each lab will have certain regulations on how much flammable liquid is allowed outside of a storage cabinet at any one time.
Hot surfaces can also be the cause of a fire in the laboratory and students should take action to:
- Ensure the floor is kept clean and tidy, limiting the risk of sparks or hot metal causing a fire
- Use fire retardant curtains
- Ensure all machinery is switched off and unplugged when not in use.
Sparks and ignitions
As you would expect, the smallest spark could cause a fire in a laboratory, leading to devastating consequences. To reduce this risk:
- Never work with flammable chemicals in the vicinity of ignition sources. This would include flames, heat guns and hot plates
- Only use brass or plastic equipment with flammable liquid
- Try to avoid metal to metal or metal to concrete contact.
General Housekeeping Rules
Housekeeping should be observed in the lab to ensure the environment is kept clean and tidy, whilst minimising the risk of personal injury and hazards.
- Ensure the good working order of machinery and tools, by keeping them in a clean and tidy condition
- Avoid long use of machinery which could lead to overheating
- Work with flammable materials away from flames and heat areas
- Report leaks or equipment damage to a member of staff asap
- Clean and wipe up spills immediately
- Avoid using doorsteps with fire doors
- Ensure emergency exits aren’t blocked or locked
- Keep the whole area in a tidy condition, including stairs, hallways and doorways
- Always work in a small area and tidy as you go
- Be aware of how to use fire extinguishers and other safety equipment.