Life Science

Lab safety 101 through 110

by John V. Carvalho III

John Carvalho III

John Carvalho III

The lifeline of a life science company stems from the important research and development done in laboratories. While many of the people performing those experiments have Ph.D’s and master’s degrees, to be safe in a lab requires common sense and an awareness of where all the safety apparatus are situated.

Four of the most critical pieces of safety equipment in a lab are the fire extinguisher, eye wash station, chemical shower and, perhaps most importantly, the telephone. These apparatuses should be visible and easily accessible from every lab station. Putting 911 or an emergency number on speed dial is another must as every second does count.

Many of the other basics of lab safety are pretty straightforward and equipment-related. You want to wear the appropriate attire, with as little skin exposed as possible (no open-toed shoes). Safety eyewear and gloves are also musts.

Should a spill occur, contain it as soon as possible. Be prepared to neutralize an acid or base in order to make it easier to clean up.

If you spill chemicals on an exposed piece of your skin, wash immediately with cool water.

For chemical burns, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. They will know how to treat it.

Add acids to water instead of the other way around. Adding water to an acid will cause heat to build up, and may cause an explosion.

Those are some of the basics. Most are common sense and involve situations that are apparent to the naked eye. The other key part of lab safety has to do what you can’t see: hazardous gases.

All labs should be equipped with some sort of gas detection monitoring system that can alert you to carbon monoxide and other combustible or toxic gases. The recommended type of system for most labs is a constantly monitoring, hard-wire stationary gas detection system with a monitoring panel and sensors located throughout the laboratory.

One of the recommendations we make with the installation of any gas detection is some sort of maintenance plan. Why? Well, if the gas detection system doesn’t work, you typically find out in one of three ways. The first is somebody smells something and alerts property management. Second, somebody smells something, becomes ill to the point of losing consciousness and the person who finds them alerts the property management.  Third being the worst, there is no odor to some toxic or deadly gases and no one knows it because they can’t smell it.  The most important aspect of safety while working with or around hazardous gases is that the monitoring equipment is properly maintained on a manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule by gas detection professionals in order to be in compliance with OSHA and other state and federal regulations.

Regrettably, many facilities managers go by the mantra that if the gas detection system doesn’t see or read other than zero that nothing is wrong. Consequently, not every life science lab has a maintenance plan for their gas detection systems. Unfortunately, you can’t know a gas detection system is working unless it’s tested with the appropriate gases. Since most facilities managers at life sciences companies do not intentionally have those gases on site in a safe form to test their system, there’s no way for them to know if the system is actually reading gas.

Investing in a routine maintenance system for your lab’s gas detection systems protects the health and lives of visitors and workers to the lab first and foremost. Second, it protects your organization from tremendous liability that could ruin your company’s hard-earned reputation and potentially bankrupt it.

As a life sciences company, creating a safe lab environment does more than protect those working for you. It makes your workers feel better about your organization because it shows your care and concern for their well-being as well as your commitment to the next discovery.

John V. Carvalho, III is the President and CEO of Apollo Safety, Inc