Laboratory safety and what you need to know

Do you know what you should definitely not forget?
Jul 13, 2021 / Michal Jirák

Regardless of the industry - pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial engineering or food production - sufficient safety measures must be adopted to create a safe, productive and enjoyable working environment for everyone.

Any laboratory facility that is interested in achieving superior safety must ensure that suitable safety equipment is in place for all persons present at the workplace at all times.

Below you will find an overview of some of the main pieces of personal protective equipment that should constitute a standard equipment of every laboratory worker. Although the needs and requirements of individual laboratories may vary, a large proportion of the personal protective equipment is common to all laboratories in general.

Personal protective equipment can be roughly divided into two groups:

  • Personal protective equipment for everyday use
  • Special personal protective equipment

Personal protective equipment for everyday use:

1. Safety footwear

Safety footwear plays an important role in the lab for several reasons. First, it provides stability and grip, helping to avoid uncoordinated slipping or tripping. Naturally, it also protects the feet from heavy or sharp falling objects against which standard leisure shoes could not provide sufficient protection.

Safety footwear is equipped with a metal or non-metallic toecap and other protective features such as a non-slip sole or a durable (metal / non-metallic) insole. Thanks to the composite insole and toecap, safety footwear is now extremely lightweight.

You can choose from a wide range of safety footwear, but first and foremost, it should comply with legal requirements and standards, and be used for the purpose it has been designed for.

Safety footwear designed for work in the laboratory should ideally be anti-skid, antistatic and resistant to substances it can come into contact with in the workplace.

2. Protective goggles

Chemically resistant protective goggles protect your eyes from foreign objects and substances that could chemically or mechanically damage your eyes or visual system.

Eye injuries rank among the most common workplace injuries, and up to 90% of these injuries could be avoided by wearing protective goggles.

The most common eye injuries include chemical splashes, exposure to UV or infra-red radiation, and the penetration of small-sized metallic or wood particles. In addition, laboratory workers can also add contamination by infectious diseases through the mucous membrane of the eye to these hazards.

Goggles should again be selected based on occupational hazards. You can choose from a selection ranging from classic protective goggles, to side shield goggles and special face shields or masks.

Most commonly, eye protection products are made of plastic and polycarbonate materials or trivex.

3. Safety gloves

As with other PPE, gloves must also be selected with regard to the hazards you may face in the workplace. Protective gloves are usually made of nitrile or latex, but each glove is designed to protect against a particular group of chemicals. Again, you should follow safety standards when choosing the correct gloves. In the new CERVA product catalogue you will find an overview of the standards for each category of personal protective equipment.

When choosing protective gloves, the frequency and intensity of exposure to the hazardous substance must be taken into account. If the possibility of contact with the substance is only accidental or short-term, it is usually sufficient to wear disposable gloves. Normally, nitrile gloves are preferred over latex, because of their properties (chemical resistance) and because it is easy to distinguish any eventual tear of the glove.

If there is a long-term hand contact with a hazardous substance, chemically resistant gloves are recommended. These are reusable and guarantee long-term protection of the hands' skin from danger. However, these gloves should be duly checked before each use.

4. Protective garments

Lab coats and overalls should fit properly and they should be selected based on the type of hazard they are supposed to be exposed to. You can choose from a wide range of sizes and lengths, so you can always find a fitting piece of protective garment.

When in the workplace, cloaks and overalls should be worn buttoned/zipped up with sleeves running down to the gloves. At the same time it is necessary to take them off as soon as you leave the workplace or dispose of them according to the instructions, in the case of disposable overalls.

Do not forget! If a lab coat or overalls are contaminated with a dangerous or toxic substance, the protective garment should be disposed of immediately as a hazardous material.


Special personal protective equipment:

5. Filtration masks

Full-face masks are recommended in all laboratories where toxic, contagious or volatile substances are handled, simply wherever eyes or nose could provide an entry point for hazardous chemicals.

In places where there is no immediate danger and there is no legal obligation, it may be acceptable to wear a half-mask in combination with protective goggles. However, it is always necessary to follow the safety standards.

6. Tyvek overalls

If the nature of your work calls for special protective garment, then Tyvek overalls represent an excellent choice. Tyvek overalls by DuPont have a good reputation for their resistance to a wide range of hazards. The overalls create an effective protective barrier against hazardous liquids and aerosols.

Tyvek overalls provide protection from chemicals, oils, liquids or dust particles. They are used in a wide range of plants as chemical and biological protective equipment. Every overall is tailored to the specific risks, but as elsewhere, you need to know what hazards you are going to face and wear the appropriate suit.

Final word

This brief guide should not be regarded as a dogma or a bible of safety in a chemical laboratory, but rather an overview of the personal protective equipment commonly used in chemical laboratories. Everyday use personal protective equipment should be commonplace for every chemical laboratory employee, others are used based on the particular hazard.

Nevertheless, everyone should, first and foremost, follow the safety standards that apply to their work activity.

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