Lab Safety Issues Aren’t Always Obvious or Catastrophic

We frequently talk about safety in the lab on our blog and periodically share news about accidents that bring attention to the issue of lab safety. We do this to remind busy researchers that some safety issues can be addressed by investing in high-quality dedicated lab furniture. Other safety issues are sometimes not as simple.

Not All Accidents are Obvious

And not all accidents are catastrophic. Some of the most insidious lab accidents, in fact, occur over time. As we have pointed out in the past, even moderate levels of noise in the lab can have hidden, adverse effects on the health and well-being of staff. Long-term noise exposure wears down a body’s system in multiple ways, causing stress and a multitude of silent secondary illnesses like cardiovascular disease and sleep loss.

A Recent Insidious Lab Accident

Noise is not the only insidious cause of lab incidents. As we learned recently, a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University in New York experienced a lab safety accident that could have resulted in the loss of her sight. She was inspecting agarose gels under UV light, not wearing goggles, and did not know that a simple plastic cover on the UV light screen needed to be closed to protect both her eyes and her skin.

Over the course of just a few months, she suffered significant damage to her eyes. A trip to the hospital and many visits with a specialist followed. Two incorrect diagnoses slowed the process of addressing this lab safety issue. While the good news is that this student suffered no long-term permanent sight damage, the accident clearly illustrates the dangers of hidden lab safety issues.

Improving Lab Safety with Guidelines, Notices, and Meetings

Fortunately, Columbia University took a series of concrete steps to address the causes of this lab accident. First, they updated their existing lab safety guidelines to include safety information and precautions related to ultraviolet equipment. At each UV workstation, they placed goggles in a prominent location and added warning signs about UV dangers.

They also focused on conversation and collaboration. They held a series of meetings with staff from the university’s office of environmental health and safety. Those meetings focused on both the specific concerns of working in that particular lab and on the identification of general hazards. Lab workers also met together and discussed the accident. Then they went further. Each person shared which lab safety hazards they focused on, recognizing that no one person usually considers everything. By doing this, every staff member heard about the variety of hazards within the lab.

Including Dedicated Lab Furniture in the Lab Safety Conversation

Hopefully some member of that university lab team mentioned noise as a lab safety issue. Like UV light, noise is often taken for granted in a lab because its dangers aren’t obvious. This is why we designed our MS dedicated lab furniture with two vacuum pump enclosures that eliminate the noise from those pumps by 75%. To learn more about how dedicated lab furniture can prevent insidious lab accidents, contact Tim Hawkins at tim.hawkins@farhawk.com or 1-888-669-1233.