Why Is Lab Safety Important And The Shift In Who Is Responsible

Safety is important in any environment when there is an increased risk for workers safety. Learn about the risks of occupancy changes, neglected maintenance and remodels.

Why Is Lab Safety Important?

Safety becomes increasingly important in any environment where there is an increased risk of harm to the workers safety. This is especially true in labs where chemicals, high-powered equipment, compressed gasses and glassware are commonly used. That is why labs should have strict safety procedures in place. This is also why lab equipment must continually be certified to remain in compliance and why there are governing bodies who set these regulations.

Depending on the type of lab you have different regulations you have to follow. But who is responsible for enforcing these regulations and ensuring the safety of everyone in the lab?

Who Is Responsible For Lab Safety?

While the FDA, state and oversight organizations are responsible for enforcing lab safety standards, many labs have not been inspected since their inception. (Even after multiple remodels and occupancy changes) This results in the burden of safety being shifted from governing agencies to the employers.

This is a serious problem! While many labs may have no alarms sounding, more subtle problems could be lurking just around the corner. Problems with controls, airflow, and ventilation rates can pose serious risks without being easily visible. Not only that, but there is an exhausting list of regulations that are designed to ensure the safety of lab users. Unless you have someone in your organization dedicated to regulatory compliance, it is almost impossible to know if you are in compliance.

Why Not Learn It All?

A book approved by the National Research Council called “Prudent Practices in the Laboratory” states:

The individual researcher or laboratory worker cannot possibly be familiar with all of these regulations but it is important that there be a strong institutional capacity, usually in a specialized office of environmental health and safety professionals, that is familiar with the details of these rules and can act as a resource for the researcher. In those smaller institutions that may not have such a specialized office, a researcher or an assigned individual, perhaps from the chemistry department, should seek advice directly from the regulatory agencies, from knowledgeable environmental health and safety professionals from other institutions, or from private environmental health and safety professionals and consultants.

So, unless you have a dedicated office monitoring regulations, you need to be sure to have your lab inspected by an expert. The book also goes on to recommend lab personnel should brush up on the 2 most important regulatory pieces for laboratories:

-OSHA’s Occupational Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories.

What To Watch Out For!

What are the most common problems we see in the field? It almost always comes back to 3 main causes:

  • Occupancy Changes
  • Infrequent Certification/Maintenance
  • Remodeling Oversight

lab technician in cap and gown reviewing a checklist

Occupancy Changes

One of the more frequent safety issues we come across is when a lab has recently changed tenants. This occupancy change often leads to changes in the type of work being performed in the lab. Different types of work may require a different number of air changes or an adjustment be made to values and critical air controls. In either situation it is important to remember to adjust your lab’s safety equipment as its function changes.

Infrequent Certification/Maintenance

It becomes much more important to ensure your lab equipment is maintained and certified when there is no governing body performing regulatory audits. Certification ensures your lab equipment is adjusted appropriately as it ages and is fulfilling its designed function, protecting the health of people in the lab.

Maintenance is also important for prolonging the life of your safety equipment and can be done in tandem with certifications to limit disruptions.

Remodeling Oversight

Many times, we see remodeling projects done with an architect but no engineering involvement. Many labs assume that changes in the room won’t affect the laboratory equipment operation in the room, but that is often a mistake. It is important to have a lab consultant involved when these projects are designed to ensure the plans will allow you to remain in compliance. It also ensures you only have to do the remodel once.

Note: When a large-scale remodel is taking place, it is important to realize that labs are designed for a particular purpose. Try to think about how the lab may be used in the future and build those capabilities into the room. While you may spend a little more money on the front end, you will have more control over your lab when tenants or its purpose changes. This will also make it easier to ensure lab compliance should occupancy change.

Let’s Make Labs Safe

As an organization you must absorb the duties and knowledge needed to ensure the safety of your staff and equipment. Too often we see newly built rooms that are out of compliance before they even open their doors. Keep compliance in mind and involve a subject matter expert when possible to avoid headaches down the road.