How common is it to be injured when working in a lab? Unfortunately, lab accidents statistics show that laboratory accidents are entirely too common. Even if many lab workers report feeling safe in the laboratory, they may engage in unsafe practices and the confidence they feel in the safety of the laboratory environment varies between senior researchers and junior researchers.
Even if lab workers strictly adhere to guidelines for safe practices in a laboratory setting, accidents can still occur in the lab and result in serious injuries.
The Dangers of Working in a Laboratory Setting
Workers can face hazards in the laboratory environment. Unawareness of these potential hazards can leave workers more susceptible to injury in their workplace.
The dangers of working in a laboratory setting include:
- Chemical hazards: Handling toxic substances can cause irritation and carcinogenicity.
- Biological hazards: Biological hazards include hazards from working with small animals, working with bloodborne pathogens and working with biological agents, such as viruses and bacteria.
- Physical hazards: Physical hazards include exposure to noise, poor posture and the explosibility and flammability of substances.
- Safety hazards: Safety hazards include unbalanced centrifuges, danger when handling hot sterilized items and electrical hazards, such as shock, explosions, blasts and electrocutions.
- Allergy hazards: A common allergy hazard in the laboratory setting is a latex allergy, as many of the materials used in a laboratory setting are latex.
Dangers in the laboratory setting can also come from unsafe practices, including:
- Working alone in the laboratory
- Neglecting to wear a lab coat
- Lack of safety training
Researchers who work with chemicals or hazardous materials can be particularly at risk, especially if they have not received the proper safety training on handling these hazards. Chemistry researchers as a whole are less confident in the safety of their laboratories than other researchers.
Serious accidents and subsequent injuries are too frequent, and part of the problem might be that workers feel safer than they truly are in the laboratory setting.
Common Laboratory Accidents
To stay safe in the lab, workers should be aware of common laboratory accidents and first aid associated with these accidents. Awareness of these accidents and knowing how to administer first aid can protect workers while in the laboratory.
If you handle chemicals, you need to wear protective gloves. Treat chemicals with the necessary caution, measure chemicals carefully, contain potentially irritating or hazardous chemicals and use only approved containers when you’re transferring chemicals.
Chemical burns should be treated by flushing the affected area with a large amount of cool, running water for at least 15 minutes. If the burn area is large or if the affected person is dizzy or weak, call 911.
If you work in a chemistry lab, ensure you are taking the proper steps to be safe around the chemicals in your workplace.
Exercise caution when handling hot items. Hastily or improperly handling these items without the correct tools can cause serious burns. Workers should be properly using water baths, tongs and cooling equipment. Be careful not to touch hot surfaces with your bare hand.
If you suffer a heat burn in the lab, run the burned area under cool water for five minutes. If the burn covers a large area, cover it with a wet cloth and then call 911.
3. Cuts and Scrapes
Using sharp tools in the laboratory setting can cause scrapes and cuts. Workers may also use sharp objects, such as needles and razor blades, or need to clean up broken glass. To avoid cutting yourself on these items, carefully wrap them so that you can safely carry and dispose of them.
Avoiding contamination is key to ensuring safety in the lab setting. Though the advice to wash your hands may seem quite basic, it’s an important procedure to avoid contamination. After you interact with any foreign substance, you should wash your hands thoroughly.
Protect your skin and clothing with the proper equipment, such as gloves, glasses and a lab coat. You can contaminate areas outside of the lab if you carry bacteria or other substances on your clothing or skin, which can cause the spread of illnesses and other dangers.
5. Inhaling Substances
Another common type of lab accident is inhalation. If you inhale chemicals or gases in a space that isn’t properly ventilated, you may experience nausea, headaches or fainting. Ensure you follow proper procedures for ventilation, such as using ventilation fans and measuring the amount of gas emitted in a room.
When working with hot surfaces and flammable materials, fires become a common danger. Review and practice the proper procedures to ensure you minimize the risk of fire in the laboratory. All flammable materials should be properly stored and sealed. Inspect burners for leaks to avoid sudden flares.
7. Spills and Breaks
In the lab, glass beakers may be dropped and break. Liquids may be spilled. Generally, these accidents are caused by rushing, being negligent and not properly following procedures. While you work, move carefully through every step. Moving slowly but more steadily will be much better for the safety of yourself and your colleagues.
Though workers have a responsibility to themselves and their colleagues to exercise proper safety measures and follow protocol, the laboratory environment itself should also follow guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to provide workers with safe working conditions.
If your employer is violating OSHA standards, you may have a legal case on your hands. Common OSHA violations in the laboratory setting include:
- Lack of warning labels and signs
- Inadequate eye and face protection against chemical and environmental hazards
- Lack of protection against hazardous sources of energy, such as electric power
- Inadequate respiratory protection for working with gases, chemicals and smoke
If you sustain an injury from an accident at work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
Contact Frommer D’Amico to Discuss Your Case for Workers’ Compensation
Have you been injured in a laboratory accident at work? If so, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation in Pennsylvania. Workers in Pennsylvania have 120 days after the date of the injury to apply for workers’ compensation.
At Frommer D’Amico, we represent workers. We believe you should receive the benefits you’re entitled to after sustaining a workplace injury. Are your benefits late? Is your employer attempting to modify your benefits? We can help you fight for the benefits you’re owed.
If you have questions about your workers’ compensation eligibility or you are experiencing trouble in receiving your rightful benefits, contact us at Frommer D’Amico for a confidential, free consultation.
John Frommer has been litigating Pennsylvania workers’ compensation and personal injury cases for more than 30 years. Since 1997 he has been an Adjunct Instructor of Trial Advocacy at The Dickinson School of Law at Penn State. He was named to the Order of the Barristers and named as a Pennsylvania Super Lawyer for Workers’ Compensation.
Reviewed by John Frommer.