Many people think that safety improvements for an experiment always cost extra money. This is not true–many times, appropriate improvements avoid cost while making the research inherently safer. Read about one such case that saved the Electrical and Computer Engineering department over $10,000 (and lots of class time) in Cost reduction ECE laser teaching lab.
After an incident, it can be difficult to remember how to report it. Post this quick-reference sheet by your telephone to make life easier if an incident occurs. Incident reporting quick reference sheet
If you have experienced or witnessed an incident or close call, you can help the wider JHU research community to avoid similar future problems if you draft a JHU Safety Note.
Don’t worry if you’re not a good writer: the Laboratory Safety Advocate will edit your Note for style and certain technical guidelines before it is published.
See instructions on how to write a Safety Note in this document..
A close call is an “almost-accident:” if circumstances were slightly different, someone could have been injured or something could have been damaged.
Learn more about close calls in What is a close call.
If you use chemical products or lab chemicals, you probably empty a bottle occasionally. What do you do with it?
Improperly-disposed containers can expose custodians and the public to hazardous chemicals, can create legal liability for you and the university, and can even explode at the disposal facility.
Find out what to do (and what not to do) in What do I do with my empties?
Even if you are not doing anything that “needs” safety eyewear, you still need safety eyewear in the lab!
You do not have control over all hazards in the lab—one of your fellows may walk in with a chemical bottle and suddenly drop it on the bench in front of you, or a pressurized system (like a gas cylinder regulator) may throw off a part. You are exposed to more hazards than you personally are handling—choose eyewear according to your exposure, not your specific work. There have been incidents at Homewood where uninvolved labmates were suddenly involved in someone else’s accident.
Wearing appropriate eyewear in lab or shop is also a mark of a professional scientist or engineer. If you have to be told to put on your safety glasses or goggles when visiting an industrial or governmental facility, you will be considered unprofessional, and you may not get the job for which you are interviewing. Acquire the habit of wearing safety eyewear.
Algorithm for deciding whether you need safety eyewear:
- Is the work you’re about to do hazardous?
If YES, wear appropriate eyewear. Obviously, you personally need it.
- Is anyone else in the lab doing hazardous work?
If YES, wear appropriate eyewear. You are exposed to their hazards.
- Are chemicals or compressed gases stored or used in the lab at any time?
If YES, wear appropriate eyewear. You do not have control over falling chemical bottles, poorly secured pressurized parts, etc.
- Is it possible anyone else will bring hazardous work into the lab while you are there?
If YES, wear appropriate eyewear. Somebody can walk in and drop a chemical bottle at any time, so you need to be ready.
- Is it possible that you will “forget” to put on your eyewear if you decide to do hazardous work—or simply not do it because “you’re just doing one little thing?”
If YES, wear appropriate eyewear.
- Are you sure you won’t do anything hazardous in lab today, no one will walk in with hazardous materials or equipment, nothing hazardous is stored in the lab, and you want to exhibit bad professional habits?
If YES, you DON’T need to wear safety eyewear.
Many government agencies have jurisdiction or interest in laboratory safety, and their websites often contain useful information.
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA: worker safety and health)
- Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA: public health and the environment)
- Maryland Occupational Safety and Health
(MOSH: Maryland’s representative for OSHA)
- Maryland Department of the Environment
(MDE: public health & the environment; independent of EPA)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Food and Drug Administration
(FDA: pharmaceuticals, lasers, and medical devices)
- Drug Enforcement Administration
(DEA: drugs of abuse and their precursors)
- Department of Homeland Security
(DHS: chemical/biological weapons and their precursors)
- National Institutes of Health
(NIH: research safety, particularly recombinant/synthetic DNA)
- National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health
(NIOSH: worker safety and health; part of CDC, not of NIH)
- Department of Transportation
(DOT: transportation of hazardous materials–biological, chemical, or radioactive)
The National Academy of Sciences publishes the definitive book on lab safety. It’s technically written for chemical labs (hence the full title: Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Management of Chemical Hazards) but it’s got substantial information on other hazards such as liquid nitrogen and other cryogens, centrifugation, etc. A large portion of the book is devoted to management topics like how to effectively manage chemical inventories and how to assess the hazards of a chemical you haven’t used before.
A PDF version of the book may be obtained from the National Academy Press. The hardcover book is $99.95, but the PDF is free if you register.
Sometimes, safety rules can be impractical. This can happen if the safety measure compromises the experimental intent, for example, or if it protects against a hazard that is not actually present in that specific case. Excessive cost can be a reason to vary from standard safety practices as well.
When it is necessary to omit a standard practice, it is often possible to craft solutions that offer equivalent safety. This can involve anything from simply getting permission from Health, Safety, and Environment (when there is no actual hazard) or completely re-evaluating the experimental design and construction with the help of a safety professional.
Contact Dan Kuespert, Lab Safety Advocate, for assistance in identifying solutions and getting permission to vary from JHU requirements.
As a part of its compliance with occupational safety regulations, JHU has a set of Standard Operating Procedures for various types of chemicals (e.g., corrosives, compressed gases, carcinogens, flammables, etc.). Following these rules for chemical handling is mandatory.
Make sure you have the campus SOPs bookmarked in your browser if you use hazardous chemicals.