By Jason Frye
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, more than 500,000 workers are employed in laboratories in the United States alone. That means a half-million workers are at risk of exposure to potentially hazardous active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), nano-materials, pathogens, rare earth metals and other materials on a daily basis. Whether your employees work with these materials in a lab or at some other point along the supply chain or production line, they’re at risk for exposure and environmental (and product) contamination as well.
Periodically reviewing your health and safety practices can help minimize exposure and contamination risks in your labs, product and raw material storage, transportation and at other stops along your production line. Here are five reasons to spend some time reassessing your safety practices.
1. My company was just acquired by a larger company and our safety standards are changing. Groups like OSHA, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and others set safety benchmarks and establish safe occupational practices, and we all have our own internal standards, but what do you do when you’re company is acquired and new safety standards are on the horizon? Take a look at the new standards and practices and prepare yourself, your lab or work area, equipment and employees as best you can. By familiarizing yourself with the new standards and starting to work with them before the changes come, you’ll be ahead of the curve and will be able to make the transition into the new organization go more smoothly.
2. My apparatus was built and spec’d for material A, now we’re making a new product and I need to use material B. Orders change, product formulation changes and even ingredients change. As the pharmaceutical industry continues to use higher potency APIs, and as other industries delve into the use of nano-materials, rare earth metals and other potentially hazardous, the risk of exposure for lab workers and other employees increase. Compound that with the increased potency, decreased size and other factors that come with new or reformulated ingredients and you soon have equipment that was good enough for the old recipe but not quite up to par on the new recipe. From filters that let the smallest of particles pass through to cleanout traps that don’t adequately hold the new materials to ventilation hoods that fall short in removing harmful vapors or dust, equipment can quickly become unsafe. When new or more potent materials enter the lab, take the time to ensure that your equipment is calibrated to contain these new materials and keep the lab and the workers in it, safe.
3. My employees need help with organization and workstation hygiene. When lab workers or other employees are having difficulty in keeping their workstations and benchtops organized and clear of clutter, call a timeout. By providing a hood or enclosure around troubled equipment or areas, you can define the space for them. Once the space it defined, employees will take greater care to keep the spaces clean and organized. An added benefit to the new organization and equipment is that the pride in and integrity of work often increases.
4. My technology is out of date. Sometimes new materials don’t present the hazard, but the Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs) change or your equipment just doesn’t perform as well. No matter if it’s old hoods or enclosures, new OELs or just revised internal standards, the introduction of new equipment and technology will often present the cure. Enclosures from seven years ago may not fit new lab equipment properly or may have inadequate filtration systems, but a new enclosure provides ample room around your equipment for easy work and maintenance and introduces new safeguards to cleanup and filter changing. Hoods may have lost some of their ability due to overuse and a new hood will save benchtop space (or even expand it) while providing the ventilation you need. Or maybe advancements in chemical-resistant materials and coatings will cause your old workstations to become hazards harboring hidden contaminants but new workstations with the advanced materials will introduce added safety, cleanup and maintenance measures.
5. My employees need a refresher on the basics. We all get rusty after a while and your employees could use a quick refresher on the basics of lab safety. How many of you can tell what PASS or RACE have to do with fire safety? How many of your employees could answer correctly? PASS summarizes how to use a fire extinguisher: P – pull the pin. A – Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire. S – Squeeze the trigger. S – Sweep the extinguisher from side to side to cover the fire with spray. And RACE? It’s what to do in case of a fire. R – rescue or remove occupants. A – activate alarms. C – close doors and contain the fire. E – evacuate or extinguish. What internal safety practices could your employees (and you) brush up on? Taking the time to review, refresh and reteach the basics can keep you, your employees and your workplace safe.
Jason Frye produced this story with the assistance of Flow Sciences Inc., which produces containment systems for laboratories, pilot plants and manufacturers. These products are designed to protect operators from exposure to hazardous particulates and vapors while performing delicate operations. For more information, visit quiet-harmony.flywheelsites.com or call (800) 849-3429.