Lab Health and Safety

Questions to Ask When Conducting Experiments with Hazards or Potential Hazards

Can you identify the hazards that are present? Are they chemical, physical, biological, mechanical, electrical, radiation, noise, stress, or high/low pressure? Those are life’s nine hazards and you should look for them before beginning an experiment.

James A. Kaufman

Can you identify the hazards that are present? Are they chemical, physical, biological, mechanical, electrical, radiation, noise, stress, or high/low pressure? Those are life’s nine hazards and you should look for them before beginning an experiment.

What kinds of emergency situations can you anticipate? Fires, explosions, electrical shocks, bleeding, burns, cuts, poisonings, slips, trips and falls, spills, extreme weather, medical problems, workplace violence and natural disasters should be considered. What about other medical emergencies and utilities failures? And, everybody’s favorite … a colleague who goes “postal.” Are you prepared to deal with these kind of problems? Do you have written procedures describing what to do?

Do you have the necessary safety equipment and emergency equipment? Deluge showers, eye wash fountains, first aid kits, fire blankets, fire extinguishers, communication system? What about gloves, goggles, and lab coats? What are the generally recognized safety practices that a reasonable person would follow before experimenting? Carefully reading labels and MSDSs is a good beginning. Hand washing when finished is another.

Have you considered reducing the scale of the experiment, substituting a less hazardous chemicals or eliminating the experiment altogether? Teachers/ supervisors need to adjust the experiments so that the health and safety risks involved are appropriate for the facilities, the equipment, the experience of the teacher/ supervisor, and the abilities of the students/employees.

Some organizations, both non-academic and academic, have a hazards review committee and/or process. The function is to try to make reasonably sure that all the issues have been properly considered.

Source: Kaufman, James A., Laboratory Safety Guidelines - Expanded Edition, The Laboratory Safety Institute, www.labsafetyinstitute.org.