5 safety hazards found in the laboratory
Apr 17, 2018

5 safety hazards found in the laboratory

Walter Ingles Walter Ingles

Working in a laboratory requires care and attention. With delicate instruments, hazardous chemicals and open flames, it is important to exercise caution to avoid incidents. A major hazard in the laboratory is the risks presented by the dangerous properties of hazardous chemicals. 

When dangerous chemicals aren't handled in a safe and compliant manner, they can cause a number of health hazards. These complications include burns, eye injuries, lung disease, asphyxiation and suffocation. Below we will discuss these hazards and how they can be avoided.

Chemical burns

Corrosive substances can break down or degrade a number of commonly used materials. Many chemicals used in the laboratory are corrosive and therefore they pose significant health risks. If a corrosive substance comes in contact with your skin, it will dissolve your flesh and cause severe damage to your body tissue. Even if corrosive chemicals are washed off your skin relatively quickly, there is a chance that the chemical will leave irritating chemical burns. When in contact with your eyes, corrosive substances will damage the cornea and in some cases, cause blindness.  

However,  it is quite simple to prevent chemical burns. To do this, you must ensure that the cabinets used to store packages of corrosive chemicals meet the requirements of the Australia Standard AS 3780-2008. This standard sets out the requirements for the safe and compliant storage of class 8 corrosive substances. It is also important to ensure those working in the laboratory are aware of the hazards associated with the dangerous chemicals being stored. This can be done by displaying the appropriate safety signage. This signage must be displayed at the entrance to the laboratory and on chemical storage cabinets used to store hazardous chemicals. It’s also necessary to hold safety data sheets close to the area that the chemicals are being stored. This allows the staff in the lab to consult them if they require any technical information about the hazardous chemicals being stored. A weather proof document storage box is the idea solution for storing safety data sheets.  If a chemical spill occurs, it is important to use corrosive resistant PPE such as gloves and eyewear while cleaning up the spill.

Heat burns

Bunsen burners and other heating devices are commonly used in the lab. They are used to speed up chemical processes and reactions. Just like any activity involving fire, caution must be taken to avoid injuries such as heat burns. If your skin is exposed to temperatures exceeding 70 °C - you will suffer a burn. This will occur even if your skin is exposed for as little as one second.

In order to prevent heat burns, it is important to keep a safe distance from any open flames or heating devices. This applies to your skin, clothing, protective equipment and any other flammable materials in the nearby area. It is also critical to ensure that you don’t leave a bunsen burner on or unattended after use. In the case of a burn being suffered by an individual in the lab, immediately apply cold running water to the area for 10 minutes or until the burning sensation dissipates.

Eye Injuries

When working in the laboratory, it is important to be aware of hazardous chemicals that are harmful to your eyes. If you fail to wear the appropriate personal protective equipment, your eyes could be exposed to chemical splashes. When hazardous chemicals come in contact with your eyes the extent of injury depends on the hazardous properties of the chemical and the level of exposure. A minor eye injury could be redness and irritation. A more serious eye injury from chemical exposure could cause permanent blindness.

To ensure that your eyes are protected, use eye protection when handling potentially harmful chemicals. If your laboratory presents the risk of eye injuries from chemical splashes, an emergency eyewash facility is a must have. Emergency eyewash stations will allow you to quickly flush harmful contaminants out of your eyes and prevent any further injury.   

Cuts from glassware

Many laboratory processes require glassware for holding and mixing dangerous chemicals. When using glassware, there are many instances where the glassware can break and cut your skin. Overtime glass gets brittle, making it more susceptible to cracking and breaking. Glassware can break if handled roughly, such as applying too much force when connecting two pieces of a glass apparatus. Laboratory glassware can also break if it isn’t stored in a cupboard with an uneven surface. Broken glass exposes sharp edges, especially when the glass is very thin.   

The best way to avoid cuts from glassware is to simply handle it with care. Always hold glassware firmly and never with wet or slippery hands. When glassware is not being used, it should be stored in a secure location where there is no risk of it falling and shattering. If you do get cut, contact your first aid officer instantly and dress the wound. When cut, It’s important to act immediately to prevent your wound from becoming infected.    

Inhaling dangerous gases

Many dangerous chemicals emit hazardous vapours and gases that are hazardous to human health. The effects from exposure to hazardous vapours can be either acute or chronic. Acute effects are those effects that are experienced immediately after contact with the vapours. Chronic effects are those effects that are not experienced immediately, but months and years after initial exposure. Two examples of dangerous vapours that are commonly found in the lab are flammable vapours and corrosive vapours. If these vapours are inhaled they can induce wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. Prolonged exposure to flammable and corrosive vapours can cause lung cancer later in life.   

Chlorine is a chemical that is used in disinfectant solutions, drinking water and swimming pools. While chlorine in drinking water and pools is kept at a safe concentration, exposure to high concentrations of chlorine gas can cause chlorine gas poisoning. Symptoms of chlorine poisoning include coughing, difficulty breathing, sneezing and nose and throat irritation. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting and headaches.

Next steps.

There are nine classes of dangerous goods and each class emits vapours with different hazardous properties. If you become exposed to these hazardous vapours, they can have very adverse effects on your health. To prevent exposure to these hazardous vapours, it’s important to store dangerous chemicals in well ventilated chemical storage cabinets. For more information on how to ventilate chemical storage cabinets, download our free eBook by clicking on the image below 👇.

How to ventilate dangerous goods storage cabinets

Walter is STOREMASTA’s Dangerous Goods Adviser. He loves helping business reduce the risk that Dangerous Goods pose upon their employees, property and the environment through safe and compliant dangerous goods storage solutions.

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