If you work in a laboratory, you’ll understand that it requires great care and attention. With delicate lab instruments, hazardous chemicals and open flames, it is important to exercise caution in order to avoid safety hazards. A major safety 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 acute and chronic health problems. These problems include burns, eye injuries, lung disease, asphyxiation and suffocation.
In this blog, we’ll discuss 5 safety hazards found in the laboratory and how they can be avoided.
1. Chemical burns
Many chemicals used in the lab are classed as corrosive substances, which have the potential to break down or degrade common objects such as equipment, instruments and containers.
Corrosive substances also pose a serious risk to your health. 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 you promptly wash the substance off your skin, corrosives can leave the skin irritated or with chemical burns. They can also cause issues with the eyes, damaging the cornea and potentially causing blindness.
The good news is: chemical burns are simple to prevent with just a few basic measures.
How To Prevent Chemical Burns In The Lab
- Compliant storage cabinet – If you’re working in a laboratory, you must make sure that the corrosives are kept in storage cabinets that meet 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.
- Safety signage – Signage is required to notify staff of the dangerous chemicals being stored and the hazards associated with them. Safety signage needs to be displayed at the entrance to the laboratory as well as on the chemical storage cabinets used to store the hazardous chemicals.
- Safety data sheets – Safety data sheets (SDS) should be kept close to the area that the chemicals are being stored in. This allows the staff in the lab to consult them if they require any technical information about the hazardous chemicals onsite. When storing SDS's, you should use a weather proof document storage box to keep them protected.
- Personal protective equipment – in the event of a chemical spill, corrosive-resistant personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and eyewear, is required so staff stay protected during the spill cleanup.
2. Heat Burns
Bunsen burners and other heating devices are commonly used in the lab to speed up chemical processes and reactions. Just like any activity involving fire, you must be cautious to avoid injuries such as heat burns.
If your skin is exposed to temperatures exceeding 70 °C - you will suffer a burn — even if your skin is exposed for as little as one second.
It is important to keep a safe distance from any open flames or heating devices to minimise the risk of heat burns in the lab. Keep skin, clothing and protective equipment, as well as any other flammable materials in the nearby area, away from heat sources. It is also critical to ensure that you don’t leave a Bunsen burner on or unattended after use.
If you do suffer a heat burn while working in the lab, put the affected area immediately under cold running water immediately and hold it there for 10 minutes — or until the burning sensation goes.
3. Eye Injuries
It’s important to be aware of hazardous chemicals that are harmful to your eyes when working in the laboratory. Your eyes could be exposed to chemical splashes if you fail to wear the appropriate PPE.
When hazardous chemicals come into contact with your eyes, it can cause minor or serious eye injuries. The extent of injury depends on the hazardous properties of the chemical — and the level of exposure. For example, a minor eye injury from chemical exposure could result in redness and irritation, while a more serious eye injury could cause permanent blindness.
To ensure that your eyes are protected while in the laboratory, use eye protection when handling potentially harmful chemicals. If your workplace is deemed at risk of eye injuries from chemical splashes, an emergency eyewash facility is essential. Emergency eyewash stations will allow you to quickly flush harmful contaminants out of your eyes and prevent any further injury.
4. Cuts From Glassware
Many laboratories rely on glassware for holding and mixing dangerous chemicals. However, there are many instances where the glassware can break and cut your skin.
As glassware ages, it can get brittle and become more susceptible to cracking and breaking. Glassware can also break if handled roughly, such as applying to much force when connecting two pieces of a glass apparatus. If glassware isn’t stored in a cupboard with an even and secure surface, it can also fall and break. Broken glass exposes sharp edges, especially when the glass is very thin.
The best way to avoid cuts from glassware is to 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 suffer a cut from glassware, you should contact your first aid officer who will dress the wound. In the event of a glass cut, it’s important to act immediately to prevent your wound from becoming infected.
5. 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 example 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.
Are you working with chlorine in the laboratory? Chlorine is used a range of industrial applications as a disinfectant or fungicide. It is also a chemical that is required in the production of ethylene dichloride, vinyl chloride monomer, polyvinyl chloride resins and other materials.
While small, safe concentrations are found in our drinking water, swimming pools, cooling systems, pesticides and cleaning products, chlorine gas in high concentrations can result in poisoning.
NOTE: Chlorine is classed as a Class 8 Corrosive Substance and is toxic when inhaled.
Class 8 Corrosive Substance
Heath effects of chlorine gas inhalation can include symptoms such as:
- Irritation to mucous membranes in the nose, throat and respiratory tract
- Difficulty breathing
This is just one example of a dangerous good that can have serious health effects if used or stored incorrectly. You will work with many types of hazardous chemicals while you are in the lab, so it’s vital that you are aware of the risks involved so you can protect your people and property.
How Do You Minimise The Risk Of Hazard In Laboratories?
Did you know that 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 adversely affect your health. It’s important to store dangerous chemicals in well ventilated chemical storage cabinets to prevent exposure to these hazardous vapours.
If you’d like to learn how to ventilate chemical storage cabinets, why not download our free eBook today? You can access this helpful guide by clicking on the image below.