Lab safety is a major concern when working in an environment with toxic chemicals and sharps that can cause physical harm. OSHA, better known as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, enforces safety standards by providing regulations for those working in these types of hazardous conditions. With over 20 years of OSHA Health and Safety experience, Mopec’s Safety Coordinator, Ken Roberts, knows the importance of a secure working environment. We asked him some key questions for pathologists and those working in the lab, to reference for optimal safety.

What is OSHA?
Roberts: OSHA was formed by the OSH Act of 1970 to protect workers from safety Hazards/Concerns in the workplace. OSHA is a federal law, however, some states have their own set of OSHA laws.  These states have adopted their own OSHA laws and the enforcement of State and Federal OSHA laws.

Why is it important for people in pathology to know about OSHA?
Roberts: OSHA provides many benefits for reference for various safety concerns throughout the workplace. Hazardous chemicals can present physical or health threats to workers in clinical, industrial, and academic laboratories. OSHA rules limit all industry exposures to approximately 400 substances. These chemicals include carcinogens, irritants, corrosives, sensitizers and toxins that may affect vital organs.

What are some of the biggest safety concerns someone working in the lab should know?
Roberts: Proper PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) workers in labs use many sharp objects and are exposed to many different chemicals, some possibly including disease. Proper PPE can help prevent exposure by following OSHA’s standards. Chemical manipulations have to be carried out on a laboratory scale, meaning that working with substances in which the containers used for reactions, transfers, and other handling of substances are made to be easily handled by one person. Also, make sure protective laboratory practices and equipment are available for common use to minimize potential exposure.

What are some best practices to optimize safety procedures?
Roberts: Top practices are, minimizing exposure to chemicals by establishing standard operating procedures, use of proper engineering controls (chemical fume hoods, air handlers, etc.) and proper waste disposal plans. For some chemicals, work environments have to be monitored for levels that require action or medical attention. A plan for free medical care for work-related exposures must be stated and specified. Responsible persons must be designated for obtaining and handling the Material Safety Data Sheets. They must also organize training sessions, monitor employee work practices, and annual revision of the CHP.  All workers should practice safe work habits and protect themselves from workplace hazards as often as possible. Remember the person most responsible for any worker’s safety is themselves.