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7.1 Note on laboratory safety
The modern laboratory covers a multitude of disciplines and services over a wide cross-section of industry. Medical, chemical, biological, physical and micro-electric laboratories may be engaged in research and development, measurement and calibration, academic or teaching work. The activities undertaken within the laboratory can be subject to both specific and general health and safety legislation designed to protect everyone from the most experienced scientist through to the student in a school laboratory.
Of paramount importance must be the clear identification and recognition of all the hazards present and the specification of suitable and sufficient control measures to reduce the risk to an individual's health and safety. This approach is particularly appropriate to the laboratory environment, which will often require the use of substances or processes that are hazardous to health. Furthermore, research and development environments may involve work where the physical effects of process or substance may not be completely understood. In these circumstances an assessment of risk, based on the worse case scenario is the most appropriate course of action to avoid injury or ill health. Health and safety data are very limited for work involving carbon nanotubes and nanofibres, for example, and laboratories working with radioactive or biological materials have to take specific precautions.
Most countries have well-established health and safety legislation specifically formulated to meet these basic requirements.
The USA introduced the Occupational Safety and Health Act in the early seventies. The act has subsequently generated many standards on health and safety and led to the founding of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), both excellent sources of information on laboratory hazards and control measures. In addition, information on workplace exposure limits can be obtained from the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH).
AS/NZS 2243 is the Australian standard relating to laboratory health and safety; it contains 10 individual sections that provide instruction and guidance on all aspects of laboratory work from planning and operation through to the safe storage of chemicals. Safe Work Australia was established in 2009 and its website again provides a source of valuable information relating to Health and Safety (http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au).
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) was established in Bilbao in 1996. EU-OSHA is the main reference point for Safety and Health at Work across the European Community. A wide range of information on Directives, Guidelines and Standards is obtainable from their website http://osha.europa.eu.
Within the UK new Health and Safety legislation is promulgated by European Community Directives and transposed into UK Regulations accompanied by Approved Codes of Practice and Guidance made under the original Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974.
Successful Health and Safety performance within the laboratory environment requires a structured management system which is embraced at all levels of the organisation. Within the UK there is currently no requirement for a certified management system however many organisations follow the requirements of HSG65 - "Successful Health and Safety Management". A considerable amount of further guidance, much of it free, is available from the UK Health and Safety Executive website at http://www.hse.gov.uk/.
Many organisations are moving towards the use of integrated management systems which are certified to BS OHSAS 18001:2007 for Health and Safety management, ISO 14001:2004 for Environmental Management and IS0 9001:2008 for Quality Management. Adoption of these standards offers a holistic approach to managing any operational laboratory in a safe, healthy, responsible and effective manner.
In addition to the many Health and Safety websites referenced above, there is a wide range of textbooks available on subjects applicable to laboratory health and safety. The following references are just a few of them: they present a reasonably comprehensive package of health and safety legislation and advice, which if complied with, should deliver a safe working laboratory environment.
R. J. Lewis, Sr (2004) Sax’s Dangerous Properties of Industrial
Materials, 11th Edition, Vols 1–3, Wiley, Chichester,
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