The recent lab accident that sent smoke billowing into the sky above a research facility on Eglin Air Force Base in Florida is a reminder of the importance of lab safety. Fortunately, it appears no one was injured in this laboratory mishap, but one building exploded and burned, sending toxic smoke into the air and likely damaging ongoing research projects in the McKinley Climatic Laboratory, which is the largest controlled-environment facility for testing aircraft under adverse conditions.
Making Lab Safety a Priority
This news is a serious reminder about lab safety, which we believe is critically important for every research lab, regardless of its size. While we don’t know the details or cause of this lab accident, we’re willing to bet that it might have been avoided if all existing lab safety protocols had been followed. In the past, we have shared other stories about lab accidents that have caused injury, sometimes deadly.
Causes of lab accidents vary widely, from a lack of understanding about hazards in the lab to incorrect use of lab tools and equipment. Inexperience, distraction, and inattention can cause lab accidents, as can cracked or broken glassware or other damaged tools.
Key Components for Preventing Lab Accidents
Fortunately, protocols and procedures exist to help prevent lab accidents from occurring. Critical thinking and follow-through can go a long way. Here are some tips on how to get everyone in your lab subscribing to methods and practices that help promote lab safety culture:
Recognize potential hazards and risks - Every class of compounds and solutions should be well-known to those who work with them. This includes a complete understanding of the various hazards and risks involved in handing each compound. Understand which pieces of equipment should be used and what procedures are appropriate when completing each task.
In addition to recognizing the risks involved, it’s important to ask if there is a safer class of compounds that can be used instead. If this is not possible, determine whether a reaction scheme or procedure can be minimized to reduce hazard risks.
If personal protective equipment is your primary line of defense, make certain to address whether any other safety measures might be taken in addition, to minimize the chance of lab accidents.
Evaluating risks - In addition to risk likelihood, it’s important to evaluate risk severity. Fume hood spills are higher in probability than explosions, but fortunately fume hood lab accidents are usually less severe. With more severe possibilities, it’s important to ask whether both supervisors and institutional leaders would consider the risk sufficiently worth taking in light of the potential outcome of the experiment. What would be the legal ramifications of a severe lab accident?
Paying attention and work in appropriate groupings - Another element which can jeopardize lab safety is inattention caused by working with too many or too few people. Some lab operations are serious enough that established safety procedures require a coworker to be present, or the work to be done only during regular operational hours. It is always wise, whenever hazardous situations are possible, to thoroughly evaluate the possibilities and discuss appropriate protocols with supervisors or PIs.
Keeping News Lab-Accident Free
Honestly, we hate reading about lab accidents in the news—especially ones that end in tragedy. We’d rather discuss lab safety from a theoretical level and recognize that adopting effective accident prevention habits takes a communal effort.
Carelessness is a potential danger in every lab. Even the quality and placement of your dedicated lab furniture can make a difference in lab safety. Don’t add to lab chaos, or allow lab furniture to contribute to a lab accident. Contact us today to learn more about the lab safety features in our IonBenches.