Laboratory workers must understand how the facilities designed for chemical laboratories operate. They should be familiar with ventilation systems, environmental controls, fume hoods and other exhaust devices associated with such equipment. In order to reduce accidents, the experimental work should be viewed in the context of the entire laboratory and its facilities, both for safety and efficiency.
Many laboratory operations depend on special utility requirements that have become common, such as "clean" electric power, high voltages, high-volume water or cooling, and special gas services. Larger and/ or special exhaust devices are also increasingly necessary. The large scale of some experiments may require special laboratory configurations and hazard containment measures; thus, these factors need careful consideration during the experimental design stage. Further, enhanced measures to protect laboratory workers from exposure to potential dangers, coupled with steps to conserve energy and minimize waste, have triggered the implementation of sophisticated systems to provide a safe, comfortable, and cost-effective work environment. Individuals who wish to gain the full benefits that these systems offer must know how they work.
Inspection programs are an important component of maintaining both the physical infrastructure of the laboratory and good relationships with environmental health and safety support staff and facility engineering and maintenance staff. These experts can address specific questions about operating equipment that is peculiar to a particular laboratory and can give expert advice before specialized equipment is ordered.
Increasing demands are being placed on laboratory staff to work safely. As experiments have become increasingly elaborate, so has the infrastructure to support them. The laboratory worker should be kept abreast of changes in the working environment, should keep relations with environmental, engineering, and maintenance staff friendly, and should always confer with them about newly acquired equipment. Institutions must make every effort to maximize the quality of training in this regard and provide opportunities for workers to maintain a safe and successful workplace as changes are introduced in the laboratory.
Good housekeeping practices supplemented by a program of periodic laboratory inspections will help to keep laboratory facilities and equipment in a safe operating condition. Inspections can safeguard the quality of the institution's laboratory safety program. A variety of inspection protocols may be used, and the organization's management should select and participate in the design of the inspection program appropriate for that institution's unique needs. The program should embrace goals to:
maintain laboratory facilities and equipment in a safe operating condition,
provide a comfortable and safe working environment for all employees and the public, and
ensure that all laboratory procedures and experiments are conducted in a safe and prudent manner.
These goals should be approached with a considerable degree of flexibility. The different types of inspections, the frequency with which they are conducted, and who conducts them should be considered. A discussion of items to inspect and several possible inspection protocols follows, but neither list is all-inclusive.
The following list is representative, not exhaustive. Depending on the laboratory and the type of work conducted in it, other items may also be targeted for inspection. A typical maintenance inspection might consider the following potential hazards:
Keep water in drain traps, particularly for floor drains or sinks used infrequently. Vapors emitted from dry, unsealed drains may cause an explosive or flammable condition; such vapors are also the most common source of unexplained laboratory odors. Running water into a drain for 20 to 30 seconds is usually sufficient to fill a drain trap.
Secure plastic or rubber hose connections. If proper clamps are not used, hoses can slip off fittings, causing serious floods and water damage. Backflow preventers often require periodic testing to comply with local building codes. Locking quick-disconnects are available for locations where lines often need to be disconnected.
Routinely check for inadequate or defective wiring. Frayed cords, improper connections, inappropriate use of extension cords, and power and control wires routed in the same path are found most commonly. Circuit breakers and electrical protection devices should also be checked. These problems create the potential for fires and electrocution.
Inspect for improper gas tubing, and faulty valve and regulator installations. These types of errors can be difficult to identify but are important because they pose significant hazards in systems where toxic or flammable gases are used. The typical items to inspect