Archive for: Lab Safety

Take a lesson about chemicals from janitor’s death

By: July 9th, 2014 Email This Post Print This Post

We hear it every day like a broken record – wear your PPE and know what you are doing when you are working with hazardous chemicals in the workplace. Unfortunately, too many people don’t listen and they end up paying the ultimate price.

I’m reminded of this today as I read more about the janitor in an elementary school in Plymouth, Massachusetts who was apparently overcome and died from exposure from an as-yet unknown chemical on Monday morning.

If you’re just learning about this, 53-year-old Chester Flattery, the head custodian at Manomet Elementary School, was found dead by the school secretary at about 8 a.m.  That employee and 12 other people – many of them police officers, firefighters and other first responders who were exposed – had to also be taken to the hospital for treatment.

The investigation is still ongoing, but reports say Flattery had been at work for an hour before anyone else and that he may have been applying a floor sealant at the time of his death. School is not in session and there is a lot of maintenance work that goes into getting the building ready for next year.

Now, we all in workplace safety world know he was supposed to be wearing a respirator, eye protection, and other protective equipment. I have been a teacher in an elementary school, and I have seen these guys hard at work getting the school ready, even as I was getting my own classroom ready for students.

Most of the time, they are in regular street clothes as they go about their duties and I am willing to bet Flattery was no exception. As someone who had been working there since 2007, he was probably just doing what he always did – this time the fumes were too much for him and no one was there to help him until it was too late.

It almost happened to me. Back in college, I worked as a pool director at a country club in Connecticut, responsible for maintaining the proper chemical levels. One morning, I went into the supply closet looking for chlorine pellets, not knowing that one of my lifeguards hadn’t tightened the cover of the bucket properly the night before, allowing rain water to seep in. When I took the cover off, I got hit with a cloud of chlorine gas that knocked me off my feet and burned my throat. Happily, I was able to get to fresh air quickly and was fine. But no one was around and I was not wearing any kind of protection. I was lucky, and I never made the same mistake twice.

In the healthcare field, you can take a lesson from this tragedy. Don’t assume that just because you have done a job for a long time, you can ignore the rules. OSHA has bloodborne pathogens and hazardous chemical standards for a reason. If you are working with patients, wear your gloves, use your safety sharps, and lift safely.

If you are in a lab and work with chemicals, make sure you know the hazards of what you are working with and how to handle it properly, as well as any first aid information – it’s why OSHA says you must have SDS safety sheets on site. And always be sure someone is around, because it may save your life.

Guest Column: Be Personally Protected

By: July 8th, 2014 Email This Post Print This Post

The following is an occasional series of guest blogs by experts in the medical clinic safety field. If you would like to be featured in this blog as a guest columnist, please email Managing Editor of Safety John Palmer at

In some laboratories, the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) may be confusing to staff. However, a look at OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens and Chemical Hygiene Standards should make clear the requirements for proper PPE selection and use.

Both standards speak clearly to the necessity of PPE when working in the laboratory. Different PPE is needed for different tasks. Lab coats are always necessary in the lab for protection against blood and body fluid splashes or chemical splashes. Plastic aprons may also be used as extra protection in areas where gross tissue work is performed. Lab coats should be buttoned, the sleeves should not be rolled up, and they should be knee-length.

Gloves are needed when handling blood, body fluids, or chemicals, but different gloves may be used for different tasks. Many labs are turning away from using latex gloves because of allergic reactions by staff. Nitrile gloves have become the norm in recent years. However, make sure you have the correct gloves for the duties being performed. Some manufacturers make nitrile gloves that act as a barrier against blood and body fluids, but they do not provide protection against chemicals.  While these will be fine while running a CBC in hematology, they won’t provide enough protection when changing the stainer. Be sure to use chemical-resistant gloves for this and other tasks (gram stains, handling chemistry reagents, pouring acids, etc.). Check the package if you are not sure about the proper use of gloves.

Goggles or face protection is important PPE that is widely under-utilized. Do you carry open specimens in the lab? What about carrying a rack of specimen tubes to or from an analyzer? That is a task that creates a risk for exposure, and face protection should be used. Are you pouring a chemical? Protection is necessary. Help your staff avoid all exposures to the eyes or mucous membranes.

The OSHA standards mentioned above also require that PPE is removed before leaving the laboratory. Do not wear lab coats or gloves to another location outside the laboratory. Does a procedure need to be performed in another area that requires PPE? If so, bring fresh PPE with you for use in the treatment area and dispose of it before returning to the lab.

In a laboratory, all areas should be considered hazardous, bio-hazardous, or contaminated. Do you have a desk area in the lab where only paperwork is done? I have always said that if there is an area in the lab where there are no patient specimens or chemicals, then one could consider the area “clean.” However, that does not mean that food or drink can be consumed there or that no PPE is needed. Remember, you are still in the walls of a laboratory, and accidents may occur. It is acceptable to label the area as “clean” so that gloves are not needed for the computer or phone, but a lab coat would still be required.

Remember, if an OSHA inspector arrives, he will be looking to see that all aspects of safety regulations are being followed. Keep your employees safe and keep your facility from unnecessary fines by using PPE where and whenever needed.

Dan Scungio, MT (ASCP), SLS, also known as “Dan the Lab Safety Man,” is a Laboratory Safety Officer for Sentara Healthcare, a multi-hospital system in the Tidewater region of Virginia.

How do you store, manage, and access your MSDS?

By: November 14th, 2012 Email This Post Print This Post

Many workplaces are going paperless with their MSDS, storing them as PDFs or relying on fax-on-demand services. Others are sticking with paper, or are using a combination of electronic and paper files. How does your facility acquire, store, and manage access to your MSDS?

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CDC proposes safer work practices in medical labs

By: January 9th, 2012 Email This Post Print This Post

Experts convened by the CDC have produced guidelines that reinforce a common-sense approach to biosafety in day-to-day laboratory activities.

A supplement to Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, January 6, “Guidelines for Safe Work Practices in Human and Animal Medical Diagnostic Laboratories” address safe work practices in human and animal diagnostic laboratory, including microbiology, chemistry, hematology, and pathology with autopsy and necropsy guidance.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are approximately 500,000 human and animal diagnostic lab workers, and that “any of these workers who have chronic medical conditions or receive immunosuppressive therapy would be at increased risk for a laboratory-acquired infection (LAI) after a laboratory exposure.” But post exposure infection risks are unknown because of the difficulty in determining the source or mode of transmission and non national surveillance system is available.

Bacteria account for more than 40% of laboratory-acquired infection (LAI), with more than 37 species “as etiologic agents,” says the report, but other microbes also present risks. For example, “Hepatitis B has been the most frequent laboratory-acquired viral infection, with a rate of 3.5–4.6 cases per 1000 workers, which is two to four times that of the general population,” according to the report. “Any laboratorian who collects or handles tubes of blood is vulnerable,” it adds.

Also, LAI surveys have found that laboratory staff “were three to nine times more likely than the general population to become infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis.”

OSHA posts guidance document for laboratory safety

By: October 14th, 2011 Email This Post Print This Post

OSHA has added new educational resources, including Laboratory Safety Guidance, for protecting workers from hazards found in laboratories to its Laboratory safety web page, according to an agency announcement, October 13.

The Guidance document, describes how chemical, biological, electrical, fire, explosive, and slip, trip and fall hazards, can be minimized or eliminated through safety plans, worker training, engineering controls, and personal protective equipment.

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Lab accreditor changes CJD-related guidelines

By: July 29th, 2011 Email This Post Print This Post

I want to make readers aware of a change involving labs and the safe handling of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) specimens when Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease (CJD) is suspected.

CJD is a fatal and degenerative brain disease and because CJD prions resist routine sterilization and decontamination procedures, the Laboratory Accreditation Program (LAP) of the College of American Pathologists (CAP) requires special handling procedures for autopsies in suspect cases of CJD.

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Safe lab work practices: Cosmetics and personal property

By: June 3rd, 2011 Email This Post Print This Post

The following is an excerpt from the Complete Guide to Laboratory Safety, Third Edition, by Terry Jo Gile. To purchase this book, click here.

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Sources of chemical hygiene regulations

By: May 27th, 2011 Email This Post Print This Post

The following is an excerpt from the Complete Guide to Laboratory Safety, Third Edition, by Terry Jo Gile. To purchase this book, click here.

OSHA: Establishing a plan

You can find OSHA’s final rule for occupational exposure to hazardous chemicals in laboratories at 29 CFR 1910.1450. It requires each lab to prepare a written chemical hygiene plan and update it at least annually. The rule also mandates environmental monitoring if chemical exposure exceeds the permissible exposure limits (PEL) for any chemical used in the laboratory. It requires lab managers to keep employees well informed and trained on how to handle chemicals in their work area. Employees must receive training at the time of their initial assignment to a work area where hazardous chemicals are present. Training and ongoing reminders must ensure that all employees understand the hazards associated with working with these chemicals and how to protect themselves through the use of engineering controls, work practice controls, and proper personal protective equipment (PPE). For an overview of PPE used in labs and a table showing what PPE is required for key lab tasks, see Chapter 4 in Complete Guide to Laboratory Safety – Third Edition published by HCPro. Lab management must maintain an up-to-date chemical inventory, as explained later in this chapter, and have a material safety data sheet (MSDS) on hand for reference for each hazardous chemical stored and used at the facility. For more details on what each MSDS contains and how to obtain them from chemical manufacturers, see Chapter 7.

The standard also

  • mandates a medical examination when an employee is overexposed to a chemical
  • dictates requirements for proper labeling
  • imposes recordkeeping duties to document completion of training, to update the lab’s chemical inventory, and to record information about accidents or injuries

Overview of OSHA bloodborne pathogen rule

By: May 20th, 2011 Email This Post Print This Post

The following is an excerpt from the Complete Guide to Laboratory Safety, Third Edition, by Terry Jo Gile. To purchase this book, click here.

OSHA published its Bloodborne Pathogen Standard December 6, 1991, setting rules for minimizing occupational exposure to blood and other potentially infectious materials. The risk of exposure from this type of material is common to all laboratories, although different tasks present a wide range of risks. Therefore, instruct staff to assume that all specimens are potentially infectious and are to be handled accordingly. It is also good practice to have a printed copy of the standard (29 CFR 1910.1030) available in the lab for reference and to require new employees to read it carefully as part of their initial training. There are several routes of infection that need to be considered.

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Safe work practices for the autopsy suite

By: May 13th, 2011 Email This Post Print This Post

The following is an excerpt from the Complete Guide to Laboratory Safety, Third Edition, by Terry Jo Gile. To purchase this book, click here.

Consider all autopsies infectious, and follow standard Standard Precautions. Designate the autopsy suite a biohazard area, and post appropriate signs regarding biohazards and required precautions.

PPE is essential during an autopsy. Use caps or hoods that completely cover the hair. A face shield is preferred; however, safety goggles with a cushion seal and a personal respirator are acceptable. Do not use safety glasses or ordinary prescription glasses alone because they do not offer adequate protection. Do not manipulate contact lenses in the autopsy room.

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Special Safety Requirements for Anatomic Pathology Laboratories: AP equipment

By: May 6th, 2011 Email This Post Print This Post

The following is an excerpt from the Complete Guide to Laboratory Safety, Third Edition, by Terry Jo Gile. To purchase this book, click here.


When designing an AP laboratory or autopsy suite, ventilation is one of the biggest considerations. Most AP laboratories are set apart from the clinical laboratory, located near surgical suites to facilitate preparation of requested frozen sections. Regardless of the location, the gross room and frozen section areas of AP laboratories and autopsy suites may need an air exchange of up to 16 times per hour due to the high concentration of chemicals used.

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Fire Safety (Part III): Keeping staff informed

By: April 21st, 2011 Email This Post Print This Post

The following is an excerpt from the Complete Guide to Laboratory Safety, Third Edition, by Terry Jo Gile. To purchase this book, click here.

Although not common in laboratories, fire risks do exist within a laboratory’s walls. Fires can occur due to electrical malfunctions, hot surfaces, compressed gases, and flammable chemicals. Proper maintenance and continuing surveillance of the laboratory through a safety program can reduce these hazards. A complete and balanced approach to fire prevention and rapid response addresses the following topics:

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