Labs can be hazardous places, and working with dangerous chemicals or performing experiments can put scientists and their colleagues at risk of injury or even death. A good understanding of these 7 common lab accidents, and the steps required to prevent them, will make it easier for scientists and lab workers to keep their work areas safe.
Why Lab Safety Matters?
From chemicals to electrical equipment, laboratories are full of hazards. This is why it's so important to learn about lab safety. If something goes wrong in your lab, not only can you lose time on your research project, but also your safety can be at risk.
Have a look at these 7 Common Lab Accidents and steps to prevent them-
1. Chemical Burns
Chemical burns are fairly common in laboratory settings as a result of exposure to various chemicals - many of which can be incredibly harmful if not handled with proper care. These burns can cause short, long, and even lifelong health problems if not treated properly, so it's important to be cautious when handling any chemicals in a lab. Some of the most common causes of chemical burns include acids, bases, and oxidants. Wearing protective gloves is essential whenever you're handling any sort of chemical substance.
Laboratory workers are advised never to let their guard down and only to use approved containers when transferring or containing potentially irritating chemicals.
To avoid chemical burns, it is recommended that you wash through Safety showers if you are exposed to excessive amounts of chemicals.
2. Thermal Burns
Common laboratory accidents are most often caused by open flames as science requires the use of extreme temperatures for educational and production purposes. From scalding exothermic reactions to liquid nitrogen and supercooled conductors, these extremes can be just as dangerous as a common Bunsen. Teach lab workers how to use tongs properly, water baths, and other cooling equipment, stressing the importance of never touching hot surfaces with a bare hand. In case of heat burn, run cool water over the area for five to 10 minutes. If a burn is severe or extensive, get immediate medical attention. If you can't reach a doctor, wrap the burned area with a clean wet cloth. Do not use ointments or salves unless so instructed by a physician.
In laboratories, fire is essentially caused by three key components: combustible material, an oxidant, and a source of heat. All three are necessary to keep a fire going. A fire extinguisher can be helpful here as it works by blocking the contact between the combustible material and the air that supports combustion.
Fire can also break out in stores maintaining stocks of flammable liquids and gases.
To prevent this, these supplies should be kept in special, well-ventilated areas that are protected from the elements. Gas cylinders should regularly be inspected for leaks.
For flammable solids like sodium, lithium, magnesium, phosphorus heptathlon, potassium sulfide, etc., it's recommended that they be stored in dark, airtight containers under cool and dry conditions.
A laboratory is only a place where one may better set up and control conditions.
Many laboratories have contamination problems, due to the chemicals they use and their interactions with food and drink. This demonstrates the importance of safe storage for all food and drink items, away from chemical exposure.
As preventive measures, remove your gloves and dispose of them properly. Wash your hands immediately after removing the gloves. Handle sharps, including needles and syringes with care and dispose of them in an appropriate container. Make sure you transport materials appropriately, especially when taking them out of the lab. Always wear clean PPE – a lab coat, goggles, gloves, and mask if needed. It is always best to keep food and beverages away from the lab, even your possessions such as bags, lotions, and lip balms should be kept in closures.
5. Electric Hazards
In the lab, you may be exposed to electrical hazards including electric shock, arc blasts, electrocutions, and explosions. These can result from faulty equipment or wiring, damaged receptacles, and connectors, or unsafe work practices. Electrical fires are another common laboratory hazard, which can occur when incorrect or unsafe cords and plugs are used. Any electrical appliance used in the laboratory should be fit for purpose, up-to-date, and correspond to connected devices before it is implemented. Safety testing of any electrical apparatus from adapters to cables is vital to ensure that your lab is safe.
Inspect all wiring for damage, and make sure there are no exposed cables. Only people with shoes and gloves can enter high-tension areas.
6. Spills and Leakage
When you spill liquids and drop glass beakers, it is usually because you're not following procedures and rushing. Even small chemical spills can have deadly consequences if the substance is highly toxic, corrosive, reactive, or flammable. All laboratories must have a plan for responding to chemical spills, whether there are small amounts of hazardous chemicals involved or large quantities.
Before stocking containers and packets in designated spaces, it's suggested that you inspect them for physical damage and leaks.
As a preventive measure, always purchase chemicals in plastic-coated glass bottles when applicable, and only purchase as many as you have space to store securely in a designated area. Chemicals should never be left unsecured or stored in an undedicated area, especially immediately after delivery. To avoid the risk of leakage, move solvent bottles in trays or trolleys.
7. Eye Injuries
In laboratory spaces, injuries to the eye are common and can result in serious damage. There are many potential risks to your eyesight while working, including:
Some common potential eye hazards include: - Projectiles such as dust, concrete, metal, wood, and other particles - Chemicals like splashes and fumes - Radiation from sources like visible light, ultraviolet radiation, heat or infrared radiation, and lasers - Blood-borne pathogens from blood and body fluids that can cause diseases like hepatitis or HIV
To protect your eyes while on the job, always wear safety goggles or glasses when necessary, and be sure to follow all safety protocols to avoid potential accidents. Immediately wash eyes with Eye Washer is also recommended.
These seven accidents are simple to prevent, but they are not always easy. By knowing the causes of these accidents and following the prevention tips, you can reduce your chance of suffering a lab accident or fire, which is bad for your health.