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Culture of Safety

With the promulgation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Laboratory standard (29 CFR 1910.1450), a culture of safety consciousness, accountability, organization, and education has developed in industrial, governmental, and academic laboratories. Safety and training programs have been implemented to monitor the handling of chemicals from ordering to disposal, and to train laboratory personnel in safe practices. A crucial component of chemical education for all personnel is to nurture basic attitudes and habits of prudent behavior so that safety is a valued and inseparable part of all laboratory activities throughout their career.

Over the years, special techniques have been developed for handling chemicals safely. Local, state, and federal regulations hold institutions that sponsor chemical laboratories accountable for providing safe working environments. Beyond regulation, employers and scientists also hold themselves responsible for the safety of the building occupants and the general public. Appendix A (non-mandatory) of the Laboratory standard was derived from the 1983 edition of Prudent Practices. The National Academies of Sciences published an updated edition of Prudent Practices in 2011. The new edition includes sections on emergency preparedness, emergency response, and consideration of physical hazards as well as chemical hazards. To be most effective, safety and health must be balanced with, and incorporated into, laboratory processes. A strong safety and health culture is the result of positive workplace attitudes – from the chief executive officer to the newest hire; involvement and buy-in of all members of the workforce; mutual, meaningful, and measurable safety and health improvement goals; and policies and procedures that serve as reference tools, rather than obscure rules.

In order to perform their work in a prudent manner, laboratory personnel should consider the health, physical, and environmental hazards of the chemicals they plan to use in an experiment. . However, the ability to accurately identify and assess laboratory hazards must be taught and encouraged through training and ongoing organizational support. Training should be at the core of every good heath and safety program or management to lead, personnel to assess worksite hazards, and hazards to be eliminated or controlled, everyone involved must be trained.

Additional Information

US Chemical Safety Board (CSB)

  • Video entitled "Experimenting with danger". The 24-minute video focuses on three serious laboratory accidents: the death of a lab research assistant in 2008 in a flash fire at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA); a death by accidental poisoning of a highly regarded Dartmouth College professor in 1997; and a 2010 explosion at Texas Tech University (TTU) that severely injured a graduate student, who lost three fingers in the blast and suffered eye damage.

The University of California

  • The UC Center for Laboratory Safety. This center was created to improve the practice of laboratory safety through the performance of scientific research and implementation of best safety practices in the laboratory. The Center will operate under the oversight of the UC Center for Laboratory Safety Advisory Board with technical support from the UCLA Office of Environment, Health and Safety and the UCLA School of Public Health – Department of Environmental Health Sciences.
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