Chemistry labs are a haven for all sorts of mishaps, but there are a few that happen more often than others. And according to a recent survey, 40 percent of researchers claimed to not have received any lab safety training whatsoever! So to spread awareness on this issue, we’re here to discuss the five most common lab accidents, how they occur, and what you can do as a lab manager to keep them from happening.
1. Heat Burns
Scientists often work around open flame, and many have paid for their negligence in the form of serious burns to their face or body. A lab worker may touch a hot pair of tongs without the proper protection, or students might forget to turn off a Bunsen burner during an experiment. Whatever the cause, heat burns comprise of one of the top injuries in the lab despite how easy they are to avoid.
As a precautionary measure, mark off a section of the lab for the disposal of hot objects until they have cooled. Also, be sure that the employees in your lab are kept aware of the proper dress code, such as wearing fitted sleeves and keeping long hair tied back. These are simple measures, but it’s often that quality that makes them so easily dismissed.
2. Chemical Burns
An unintentional chemical spill that lands on the hands or splashes into the eyes can mean a trip to the emergency room, and even permanent damage or disfigurement. Much of the time, these accidents occur when the scientist is in a hurry and believes they can get away with skimping on the proper safety equipment. So, don’t make a potentially life-threatening mistake – put on your goggles and gloves every time you work with chemicals, even if it’s just for a second. Because an accident can happen in less time than that.
3. Cuts from Glassware
Because of the composition of glass, a sudden change in temperature can easily cause glassware to expand and shatter, sending shards flying into anyone in proximity to the blast radius. In this situation, advise your lab employees to keep empty glasses away from burners and to allow glassware to cool before exposing it to cold liquids.
As human beings, we are all prone to dropping things, and with glass, you’ll either have a big mess to clean up, or worse, you could be putting you or your colleagues in danger of cuts and scrapes. The best way to prevent these injuries is to clean up as quickly and thoroughly as possible – remember, tiny shards can be easily overlooked and still hurt just as much! A simple broom and dust pan is adequate for cleaning up the majority of any broken glassware.
4. Spills that Result in Unsafe Work Environments
Slip-and-fall accidents are another common lab disaster that can be avoided if your employees properly clean up after themselves and cordon off areas that require special cleaning measures. These accidents can prove even more dangerous if the liquids are flammable or caustic, resulting in secondary injuries from burns or poisoning. Even if you’re in the middle of something, put your project on hold to clean up the spill – it’s not worth concussions or corrosive materials soaking through clothing.
Inhalation is one of the more insidious lab hazards on this list, as some chemicals have no scent whatsoever and can be impossible to detect until it’s too late. Furthermore, vaporizing certain chemicals – such as chlorine gas or formaldehyde – can cause serious respiratory problems and even death, so always make sure your employees use a fume hood when dealing with these chemicals to avoid an unnecessary trip to the hospital. As an additional measure, you can also purchase a multi-gas detector that sets off an alarm whenever dangerous gases are contaminating the air.
Heather Lomax is a contributing writer and media relations specialist for Blaze Systems. She writes for a variety of science blogs, providing insights on keeping labs safe and organized.
M2 Scientifics would like to thank Heather and Blaze Systems for their contribution to the M2 Scientifics blog.
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