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Health & Safety: Laboratory Safety

Emergency showers and eyewash stations must be free of dirt and clutter and tested regularly. They are to be identified with prominent signage. Eyewash bottles are not recommended because of contamination problems.

Fire extinguishers are tested regularly by the Fire Prevention Officers. Access to them must be kept clear of obstructions. Air and water-reactive materials require special extinguishers.

Laboratory benches should be well organized with surfaces intact. The colored plastic buttons should be on all gas jets, air lines, and water faucets.

Services on the fume hood should be checked. The pilot light should be working and the door should move easily. Velocity of airflow through fume hood should read at least 100 feet per minute. The Departmental Safety Committee tests this annually.

Floors and aisles are not to be used for general storage. Hallways that lead to exit doors must not be cluttered with items that reduce their width. Bicycles are not to be stored in stairwells. Ontario Fire Code 2.7.17 (1)

Sinks and drains are to be kept free of clutter. All drains, including floor drains, must have water in them to prevent the entrance of sewer gas. Any water tap equipped with a hose must have a back-flow preventer to stop the back siphoning of water into the water lines.

Electrical apparatus is to be checked for frayed wires, missing ground prongs and exposed high-voltage shock points. All pulleys must have guards (old vacuum pumps are the biggest offender). Check that there are enough power outlets in the room and that extension cords are not used.

General Lab Safety Practices

Some comments taken from Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines, Health Canada, 3rd edition, 2004.

  • A documented procedural manual with safety guidelines must be available for all staff working on a specific project, and its requirements followed; it must be reviewed and updated regularly.
  • Personnel must receive training on the potential hazards associated with the work involved and the necessary precautions to prevent exposure to infectious agents and release of contained material; personnel must show evidence that they understood the training provided; training must be documented and signed by both the employee and supervisor; retraining programs should also be implemented.
  • Outside coats and bags are not to be brought into the lab. If locker space is not available for staff (often the case in Pathobiology) and there is no assigned office space for staff, coats should be hung in ‘clean’ space, separate from daily lab coats and scrubs. Similarly, personal bags should be stored in clean, locked cupboards away from chemicals and active workbenches.
  • Eating, drinking, smoking, storing of either food, personal belongings, or utensils, applying cosmetics, and inserting or removing contact lenses are not permitted in any laboratory.
  • Oral pipetting of any substance is prohibited in any laboratory. Use appropriate bulbs and pipetting tools.
  • Long hair should be tied back or restrained so that it cannot come into contact with hands, specimens, containers, or equipment. Use you discretion depending on the task you are performing.
  • Children are not be permitted in the laboratory or support areas.
  • Doors to laboratories must not be propped open (this does not apply to an open area within a laboratory).
  • Open wounds, cuts, scratches, and grazes should be covered with waterproof dressings.
  • Laboratories are to be kept clean and tidy.
  • Storage of materials that are not pertinent to the work and cannot be easily decontaminated (e.g. journals, books, correspondence) should be minimized; paperwork and report writing should be kept separate from such biohazardous materials work areas.
  • Remove gloves when answering telephone, opening doors, entering corridors.
  • Disinfectants effective against the agents in use must be available at all times within the areas where the biohazardous material is handled or stored.
  • Use of needles, syringes, and other sharp objects should be strictly limited to those occasions when other alternatives are not suitable. Caution should be used when handling needles and syringes to avoid auto-inoculation and the generation of aerosols during use and disposal; where appropriate, procedures should be performed in a biological safety cabinet or fume hood; needles should not be bent, sheared, or recapped; they should be promptly placed in a University Sharps container.

    Autoclaving Procedure

  • Leak-proof containers are to be used for the transport of infectious
  • Materials within facilities (e.g., between laboratories in the same facility).
  • All spills, accidents, or exposures to infectious materials and losses of containment must be reported immediately to the laboratory supervisor.

Personal Protection

  1. Eyes and Face
    What appears to be a minor accident can have tragic consequences if it damages your eyes. Whenever you are working with the following materials you must wear protective eyewear:
    1. Toxic or corrosive chemicals
    2. Power tools
    3. Materials under pressure or partial vacuum
    4. Ultraviolet or intense visible light
    5. Liquified gases
    6. Intensely radioactive materials
    7. Reagents that are hot or being heated

    Note that eye protection from best to worst is as follows:

    1. Goggles
    2. Face shields
    3. Safety glasses
    4. Regular glasses
    5. Nothing
    6. Contact lenses
  2. Feet
    The greatest risk comes from dropping hot, toxic, or corrosive agents on feet unprotected by proper shoes. Therefore, don’t wear open-toed shoes, sandals, or canvas-topped shoes in the laboratory.
  3. Hands
    Wear gloves when handling hazardous reagents. The choice of glove material will depend upon the hazard and the MSDS should be consulted if in doubt about the suitability of one’s choice of glove. Nitrile and neoprene gloves generally provide superior protection to vinyl. Latex gloves are not allowed in Pathobiology.

    While wearing gloves, you should not handle telephones, doorknobs, or other objects that others might handle without using gloves.

    Gloves are not to be worn in hallways

  4. Clothes Lab coats not only protect the wearer from chemical and biohazards, they are also part of the containment barrier that protects other people from these hazards. When used properly, chemicals and biological agents should be contained on lab coats rather than your clothes. By taking off your lab coat before leaving the lab, these contaminants are then contained within the lab. You are required to wear a lab coat when working in a Level 2 lab, and it is certainly a recommended practice in all labs.

    Lab Coat Policy

  5. Lungs Many compounds produce toxic vapors or dusts. Chemical fume hoods provide primary protection against these agents. If toxic agents are spilled outside of a ventilated work area, respirators should be worn during the cleanup.
  6. Hygiene Wash your hands before leaving for lunch or home. This is a surprisingly effective way of minimizing the spread of chemicals and biologicals out of the laboratory.