Monthly Archives: December 2015

A Lab Safety Guide for Modern Lab Equipment

lab-safety-modern-labJust because we make dedicated lab furniture for mass specs and HPLCs, our interest in making labs safer doesn’t end there. There is a lot of other equipment in every lab, and while we will not claim to be experts on these machines, we believe in lab safety for every occasion, so we’ve done a bit of research and have some information here that we hope will help prevent accidents in every lab.

Handling the Power of the Centrifuge

Sometimes a rotor can fail during a procedure, spraying metal fragments around the room. In one example, blowing out the lab’s windows. It seems the centrifuge had been used many times before—and that was part of the problem. Investigators also theorized that the rotor model was not approved for use in that particular centrifuge machine, and that over time mechanical stress had resulted in rotor failure. When these motors need to be repaired or replaced, make sure it is with a motor designed for the model and conditions being used.

Other issues that can arise with centrifuge rotors and contribute to mechanical stress include improper loading, balancing or cleaning of the rotor. Specialists also recommend that rotors be de-rated (decreasing their maximum operational speed) as the rotor ages.

Scalding Hot Autoclaves

While autoclaves require it to be effective, the scalding hot steam is clearly a lab safety hazard. Take basic safety precautions, such as checking gaskets and drains prior to every use. Don’t open an autoclave until the pressure gauge is back to zero, and stand back when the autoclave opens to avoid steam burns.

Of course, technology has improved over time, and safer autoclaves have front openings. However, some older, tower models load from the top, which creates additional safety hazards, including the need to reach down into the machine and pull out containers filled with still-close-to-boiling water. This is what caused a burn accident for a post-doc student. The use of a metal tray, rather than a Nalgene tub, might have helped prevent the accident.

Seemingly Silent Dangers

Sonicators bring their own set of lab safety issues. The frequencies used by these machines are beyond the range of human hearing, so hearing damage can occur without workers being aware of it. This is why sonicators should be isolated and all workers in the proximity must either wear protective equipment, or consider an acoustic enclosure, such as the ones manufactured by MS Noise.

Perhaps less obvious is the creation of aerosols by cavitation of the sonicator horn in the sample media and mechanical mixing. Simple measures, such as using safety blenders without glass jars and allowing aerosols to settle after blending or grinding, will prevent breakage, explosions and contaminations.

Choosing the Right Equipment

Not all flasks are the same. Using the wrong flask for a task is asking for trouble, as happened when an Erlenmeyer flask was used in a vacuum situation. Not being designed for this particular use, the flask imploded. Fortunately, most of the debris was contained in another of our favorite pieces of dedicated lab furniture: the fume hood.

The right equipment is also key to the safe operation of lasers. For example, goggles are best because they fit over prescription eyeglasses and are heavier than spectacles or wraps. It is also critical to match safety glasses with laser wavelength and track maximum permissible exposure to avoid tissue damage.

Lab Safety is Not Limited to the Equipment

One of the most powerful tools used in every lab is electricity. While we tend to take it for granted, doing so can be a mistake. Fatal accidents have occurred because simple lab safety precautions are not taken. For example, a researcher was fatally electrocuted when he used a 2-prong adapter and overrated lamps with a non-GFCI plug near a stainless steel sink.

It’s also important to remember that extension cords and power strips can pose lab safety hazards if used incorrectly, and improperly located electrical wiring can be a tripping hazard. Of course, our dedicated lab furniture is specifically designed to corral all those electrical wires, keeping them safely out from underfoot. This is why, if you’re ready to invest in lab safety, we suggest you contact us today to learn more about our IonBench line.

Lab Safety Reminders from Student Days

lab-safety-school-daysIn this post, we’re going back to school. After all, most of us learned the basics of lab safety from a science teacher somewhere along the way, and even if IonBench is primarily used in professional laboratory settings, every classroom science lab must adhere to certain—often similar—safety rules.

Perhaps you remember some of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) rules from your student days. Even if you don’t, many are worth revisiting as a foundation for lab safety in any environment.

Standards of Student—and Adult—Conduct

The NSTA begins with some reminders about acting responsibly in the lab. No matter where you do your work, there is no place for mischievous behavior when you are handling dangerous chemicals, open flames, and unknown substances. As adult researchers, we’ve all had to learn to leave the birthday pranks out in the parking lot or break room.

We can also benefit from the reminder to leave all food, drink, and chewing gum outside the lab, while also keeping all dangerous substances within lab confines. Teens are reminded not to apply cosmetics in the lab, and even adults need to remember not to touch their contact lenses during an experiment.

Personal Lab Safety Reminders

Goggles, goggles, goggles—or safety glasses—at all times. Wear the right sized lab coat and gloves, and don’t take them off in the middle of a procedure. Leave the fancy—and flammable!—acrylic nails at home, as well as the baggy clothing and dangling jewelry.

Know the location of all safety equipment, read all instructions, and pay attention while doing so (Can you hear the voice of your science teacher echoing through these words?!)

Young researchers are admonished to report all spills and accidents—no matter how minor—and the same certainly holds true for adults in a professional research lab. While instructors might have to handle regulatory paperwork on behalf of their students, you will have plenty of paperwork to fill out yourself—especially if you procrastinate on reporting an accident.

Handling Chemicals, Lab Equipment, and Dedicated Lab Furniture

Part of the student lab experience is discovering that their school really is allowing them to handle dangerous substances. This is significantly different than what they’ve experienced in English or math. While by now you know better than to fill a pipette by mouth suction, students may not know that yet, plus they often like to take shortcuts.

The danger in a professional research lab, on the other hand, comes when you begin to get comfortable in a lab work environment and forget that you are handling dangerous substances. And so we remind you: Don’t take your lab safety for granted. Avoid inhaling fumes, never leave an open flame unattended, and remember that cold glass is the same color as very hot glass.

You will also want to be careful when setting hot or corrosive substances on your dedicated lab furniture. It might have an epoxy resin work surface, but that doesn’t mean it’s impervious to everything you’re working with.

Fostering a Safer Lab Environment

Along with specific requirements for dangerous substances, the NSTA reminds us that basic housekeeping is one of the best lab safety measures we can take. Keep all work areas clean and neat at all times. Don’t sit on lab furniture. Don’t dump just anything down the sink or into the trash. Clean everything until you could eat off of it—but don’t!

Of course, part of fostering a safe lab environment involves protecting your hearing. This is why we created the MS Bench, which reduces mass spec vacuum pump noise by 75 percent. Our HPLC Bench was also designed with safety in mind, easily raising and lowering in order to prevent spillage of chemicals when servicing instruments.

For a quick—but thorough—lesson in the advantages of dedicated lab furniture, contact us today to learn more about how our benches can improve your lab safety record and workplace efficiency.

Machinery Noise: Creating Work and Lab Safety with Soundproofing

lab-safety-quieting-noiseWe’ve all experienced this one time or another: being cooped up in a room with a loud machine, the noise bouncing off the walls and creating distraction and irritation for everyone present. Whether it’s a printing machine in the back room of a publishing house or a mass spectrometer vacuum pump in a crowded lab, noisy machines can dominate work environments in a variety of negative ways. Many machines are loud enough to cause hearing damage. Others are distracting enough to cause safety issues. Conversations can be misunderstood; foiling experiments or even causing accidents. Sometimes it is easy to isolate these machines in a soundproof environment, like the vacuum pump enclosures in our IonBench MS. Other times: not so much. So to help create a quiet and safe environment in a range of situations, here are some possible ways you can quiet machinery — four effective approaches—including the implementation of appropriate dedicated lab furniture.

Soundproof the Room

One way to decrease the reverberating effect of sound in a room is to soundproof the entire room holding noisy machinery. This can result in noise reduction of as much as 40 percent, or 6 to 9 decibels. While it’s a relatively easy fix that may not inconvenience anyone in the lab or work area, it can be an expensive solution, as all of the walls must be covered—and also the ceiling—to achieve the desired level of noise reduction.

Soundproof the Wall Closest to the Machine

Another way to counter noisy equipment is to soundproof the wall nearest the machine, or the wall facing the noisiest part of the machine, such as a vent or exhaust. If the noise emanates out in all directions, then this fix will only decrease the sound by 1 or 2 decibels. But if the noise is focused toward the wall that has been treated, the decrease could be as much as 6 decibels. To achieve this effect, you can use one of several soundproofing materials from quilted fiberglass to baffles. For best results, you will want to cover about twice the square footage of the wall area directly affected by the machine.

Create a Barrier

Another option for minimizing the effect of a noisy machine in a work area is to create a barrier between workers and the machine. The wall or partition will need to be at least double the height of the machine causing the noise. That barrier may also need to have a window or sliding panels in order to allow access to the machine. Such panels or walls can reduce noise in the rest of the room by anywhere from 6 to 15 decibels, depending on the composition and height of the barrier. They are not without potential drawbacks, however. For one thing, they can be an inconvenience to those who have to work with the machines, as access can be limited. Also, such a barrier can exacerbate crowding conditions in an already full lab or work area.

Create a Complete Enclosure with Dedicated Lab Furniture

In many cases, the creation of an enclosure that completely surrounds the machine, or the noisy portion of it, is the best solution to the problem. Completely enclosing the machine can reduce noise by as much as 20-30 decibels, rendering the machine a non-issue, even in a small workroom or crowded lab setting. Again, such an enclosure will need a window or access panel, but the enclosure should be built with ease of access in mind, so any inconvenience is minimal. As an example of how a complete enclosure might be used, let’s look at our dedicated lab furniture for mass spectrometers. A MS unit itself is not particularly loud, but the noise from its vacuum pumps is a whole other matter. To counter this, we crafted our IonBench MS lab furniture with dedicated enclosures specifically designed for vacuum pumps. These “holding cells” decrease vacuum pump noise by more than 75 percent, the best in the industry. And because the IonBench was designed with vacuum pumps in mind, access is never compromised by these enclosures.

Learn the Facts

To learn more about why a complete enclosure is the best way to quiet a room and the most practical solution for MS roughing pumps, complete this form today. One of our specialists will contact you to answer all of your questions.