Laboratory (lab) workers prepare specimens and perform tests, reactions, and analyses for research and the detection of disease and pathogens. They work with chemicals, glassware, flame, and manual and automatic laboratory equipment. While lab workers experiment with specimens and reagents, safety in the laboratory should be a known quantity.
Dress for safety in the laboratory. Wear close-fitting clothing and secure dangling hair or jewelry to prevent entanglement with moving laboratory equipment and exposure to open flames. Wear long pants and long sleeves to protect your skin. Wear a lab coat over this clothing at all times in the laboratory; take it off when it becomes soiled or when you leave the lab. Use a lab apron made of impervious material when you are working with corrosives and oxidizers. Avoid open-toed and woven shoes that could allow or absorb a chemical splash on your feet.
Wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for the materials and chemicals you use. Read the safety data sheets (SDS) and follow the PPE guidelines. Generally, safety glasses with side shields are adequate for laboratory use. Where there is a danger of splashing chemicals, goggles are required. When using strong caustics, acids, or conducting potentially explosive reactions, use a face shield and glasses. Know the emergency procedures for your worksite.
Choose your gloves based on the materials you use. Butyl rubber gloves work for aromatic and halogenated hydrocarbons, ketones, and inorganic solvents. Natural rubber, neoprene, or nitrile gloves work for concentrated acids and alkalis and organic solvents. Check glove compatibility charts to ensure that you have the right glove material for the chemical(s) you are using. Use insulated gloves made of leather or Nomex when handling hot objects over 100 degrees Centigrade or very cold or cryogenic materials. Use heavy cloth or leather gloves when working with sharps. Inspect your gloves for tears or perforations before each use. Discard and replace gloves when they become overly dirty, worn, or contaminated.
Use chemical fume hoods to minimize exposure to fumes, mists, and vapors in the laboratory. Respirators can protect your lungs when exposures exceed Cal/OSHA limits. Always use mechanical devices for pipetting procedures; never use mouth suction. Avoid eating, drinking, and smoking in the laboratory. Maintain good housekeeping and hygiene in the lab. Do not drink out of laboratory glassware, use the ice in laboratory ice machines, or store food in lab refrigerators. Wash your hands frequently while in the laboratory and always before leaving, eating, or smoking.
Practice good laboratory ergonomics. Repetitive motions and procedures can lead to injuries over time; take frequent breaks and try to rotate tasks. To avoid contact stress, do not rest your arms against a sharp or hard work surface. Use ergonomic pipetting equipment that requires less pressure from the thumb or a finger to activate it. Keep your materials and tools close to you in order to reduce reaches.
Safety in the laboratory makes good science.