To control an employee’s exposure to chemical and other hazards in the science laboratory, OSHA has fostered three general basics or principles for laboratory safety. These include:
- Engineering controls
- Administrative controls, including work practices or standard operating procedures (SOPs)
- Personal protective equipment
By designing laboratory work using one of these basics or a combination of them, employees can keep their exposure levels well below OSHA permissible exposure limits or PELs.
To protect students and teachers from exposure to hazardous chemicals there is a hierarchy of defense. The hierarchy is as follows in implementation:
First line of defense — engineering controls (environmental settings/considerations).
Second line — administrative controls (work practice).
Third line — personal protective equipment.
A. Engineering Controls (Environmental Settings/Considerations)
Engineering controls are OSHA’s preferred method in dealing with laboratory hazards. These controls remove or reduce exposure to a chemical or physical hazard by using or substituting engineered machinery or equipment. Examples include the following:
- Selection of a less toxic chemical.
- Alternate process to minimize interaction with hazardous chemicals.
- Self-capping syringe needles.
- Use of wet methods to reduce generation of dusts or other particulates.
- Sound dampening materials for reduction of noise levels.
- General laboratory ventilation.
- Isolated exhaust such as a fume hood.
- Radiation shielding.
B. Administrative Controls (Work Practices)
Administrative controls or work practice controls involve changes in work procedures to better protect the employee. This can be achieved through written safety protocols/policies/procedures, supervisory activities and employee training/resources. Examples might include:
- Housekeeping — keeping the laboratory work area clear of clutter will reduce the possibility of an accident.
- Prohibiting general access of employees to laboratories where hazards such as lasers or ionizing radiation are being used.
C. Personal Protective Equipment
In cases where engineering controls are not sufficient to provide exposure protection for employees, personal protective equipment must be used. Personal protective equipment includes clothing or devices worn to help protect an employee from direct exposure to a safety hazard or situation. Examples of personal protective equipment include protective clothing (aprons), hand protection (gloves), eye protection (chemical splash goggles and safety glasses) and respiratory protection (particulate respirator). Safety Data Sheets are a good resource for recommended personal protective equipment when working with hazardous chemicals.