Laboratory safety involves more than just a clean lab area and the proper protective equipment. It requires the cooperation and involvement of everyone associated with laboratory work. 29 CFR 1910.1450, Occupational Exposures to Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories, provides strict guidelines for laboratory safety. Key components of the laboratory standard include having a chemical hygiene plan and providing employees with training and information.
The laboratory standard applies to labs that:
- use hazardous chemicals
- serve as workplaces where relatively small amounts of hazardous chemicals are used on a nonproduction basis
- hazardous chemicals are manipulated on a laboratory scale
- use multiple chemical procedures or chemicals
- have procedures not part of a production process
- use protective practices and equipment to minimize the potential for employee exposure to hazardous chemicals
These hazardous chemicals include those regulated under 29 CFR 1910 subpart Z, and those defined under the Hazard Communication Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1200 (c). See Quick Tips #150: Hazard Communication Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1200 for more information on the Hazard Communication Standard.
"Laboratory scale" refers to work with substances in which the containers used for reactions, transfers and other handling of substances are designed to be easily and safely manipulated by one person.
Laboratories covered by this laboratory standard must assure that lab employees' exposures do not exceed the permissible exposure limits specified in 29 CFR 1910 subpart Z.
Chemical Hygiene Plan
An employer-written chemical hygiene plan describes work practices, policies and standard operating procedures for protecting employees against chemical hazards. The plan also outlines measures to prevent overexposure to hazardous chemicals. A designated chemical hygiene officer is responsible for plan implementation. If appropriate, the employer also may establish a chemical hygiene committee. The plan should be evaluated and updated annually.
The major elements of the chemical hygiene plan are:
- Employee Exposure
- Medical Consultation
- Hazard Identification
- Fume Hood Program
Employers must measure employee exposure levels to OSHA-regulated substances. If the substance's exposure level exceeds its permissible exposure limit or action level, then additional monitoring, such as air monitoring, is required. An action level is a time-weighted average for exposure to a specific substance as designated in 29 CFR 1910. The standard also defines when monitoring may stop. Monitoring results must be disclosed in writing to employees within 15 working days. Employers must keep records of exposure monitoring, medical consultations and exams for each employee.
The employer must provide training and information on the hazards of all the chemicals in the work area. This information should be provided when an employee receives an applicable assignment, and follow-up training should be provided. Training must cover the following topics:
- Methods and observations used to detect the hazardous chemicals (monitoring devices, odors, etc.)
- Physical and health hazards of workplace chemicals
- Measures employees can take to protect themselves including specific procedures, appropriate work practices, emergency procedures and proper protective equipment
- The details, contents and location of the chemical hygiene plan and the Laboratory Standard
- Notification and training whenever a new hazard is introduced
- Permissible exposure limits for hazardous chemicals
- Signs and symptoms associated with exposures to hazardous chemicals used in the lab
- Location and availability of reference materials on chemical hazards, handling, storage and disposal of chemicals found in the lab (including safety data sheets)
Employees can request a medical consultation without cost or a loss in pay if:
- The individual develops signs or symptoms associated with chemical hazards to which they have been exposed
- Monitoring reveals exposure levels routinely above the permissible exposure level
- Events such as spills, leaks or explosions result in a likely hazardous exposure
A medical consultation determines whether a medical examination is needed. Only licensed physicians may perform medical examinations and consultations. The employer then obtains any written opinions, recommendations, results of tests, and medical conditions revealed during the exam. The written opinions shall not reveal any findings unrelated to occupational exposure.
The provisions for hazard identification include labeling and the maintenance of safety data sheets. Labels on incoming containers of hazardous chemicals cannot be defaced or removed. Safety data sheets received with the shipments need to be retained and made accessible to the laboratory employees.
Chemical substances developed in the lab are subject to the following provisions:
- If the composition of a chemical produced exclusively for laboratory use is known, the employer determines whether it can be defined as hazardous. Appropriate training is then required if the substance is deemed to be hazardous.
- If the chemical produced is a by-product and the composition is unknown, the employer assumes the substance is hazardous.
- If the chemical is produced for another user outside the laboratory, the employer must comply with the hazard communication standard
(29 CFR 1910.1200).
Respirators may be necessary to bring exposures below the permissible exposure limit. They are selected according to the guidelines in 29 CFR 1910.134 and are provided at no cost to employees. See Quick Tips #275: Types of Respirators for more information on respirator selection, types and use.
Hoods must be routinely evaluated to determine whether they are functioning properly. Evaluation might include taking an inventory of all hoods in the lab, and taking periodic surveys of hood performance including face velocities, continuous monitoring devices, etc. An individual can be designated to perform the evaluations, report the results and correct any hood deficiencies.
Specific safety considerations are made for particularly hazardous chemicals including select carcinogens, reproductive toxins and substances with acute toxicity. Provisions include:
- Establishing a designated work area for these hazards
- Using containment devices such as fume hoods and glove boxes
- Developing procedures for contaminated-waste removal
- Developing procedures for decontamination
A successful and complete program takes time and the involvement of all laboratory employees to develop. Implementing and communicating the safety guidelines specific to the laboratory's hazards and risks are important goals in preventing injury and controlling hazardous exposures in the laboratory.