Lab Safety Reminders at the Start of a New Academic Year

lab-safety-remindersThe new academic year is upon us, and while not all research labs are housed at, or sponsored by, academic institutions, now is a perfect time to remind ourselves of the importance of lab safety.

Your lab is always a potentially dangerous work environment. You likely work with flammable, corrosive, or toxic compounds, many of which will easily react with other materials in your lab. Even if you don’t, there’s still the chance that you and your colleagues work with infectious and pathogenic organisms, or radioactive isotopes. As a Gilda Radner character often said, “It’s always something.”

Fortunately, if you carefully train all your new and returning students and lab assistants, have the right engineering controls in place, and take appropriate administrative precautions, you can keep the lab-safety odds in your favor. If you don’t, well–here’s the story of two specific lab accidents that serve as potent reminders of the need to follow all lab safety precautions and keep laboratory furniture in good working order.

With the right gear and safety measures in place, you can prevent something similar from happening in your lab. (For more lab safety information, take a look at the 12 most common laboratory safety problems, as determined by the University of Texas at Austin.)

Princeton University Lab Accident

In May of 2012, a post-doc student mistakenly added solvent waste to nitric acid while conducting an experiment. The unplanned reaction caused a spark and smoke, destroyed the container and released a plume of vapor into the air. When the container broke, some of the chemicals also landed on and burned the face of the researcher.

Fortunately for all involved, the student was performing her experiment under a vent hood, which was operational at the time. This meant that most of the smoke and vapors were quickly and safely removed from the lab. A second student researcher and a security guard were treated for minor chemical irritations—the guard developed a mild rash—but their exposure might have been much worse if the experiment had not taken place under the vent hood.

Veterans Affairs Lab Death

While the large number of student researchers at college and university labs makes them particularly vulnerable to safety issues, accidents can happen in any lab. Also in May of 2012, a researcher died while studying Neisseria meningitidis, a bacterium that causes roughly 1,000 cases of meningococcal disease in the U.S. each year.

An investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) revealed that a major contributor to researcher Richard Din’s death was the fact that he’d been working on an active, vaccine-resistant strain in the open rather than in a biosafety cabinet.

OSHA concluded that the Department of Veterans Affairs had “failed to supervise and protect these workers adequately.”

Maintaining Lab Safety with Dedicated Lab Furniture

While we don’t carry vent hoods or biosafety cabinets, we do craft high-quality lab benches with lab safety in mind.

Whether you need a strong, stable bench to counter the height and weight of your equipment, or a well-designed vacuum pump enclosure to reduce noise without dangerous heat buildup, our dedicated lab furniture represents an important investment in the safety of your researchers and staff.

Contact us today to learn more about how our IonBenches can reduce the risk of accidents in your lab.