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.