Safety Data Sheets (SDS), chemical labels, instruction manuals and other vendor-supplied information helps employers evaluate the risks and hazards of chemicals that are used in laboratories. This information, combined with in-house process knowledge is used to create Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
The SOPs that are established provide a detailed outline for employees to follow that allows them to use engineering controls and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) properly. When the SOPs are followed, the risk of injury or illness can be prevented.
Housekeeping procedures, the use of ventilation systems and waste disposal protocols are all examples of SOPs that may be established as safe work practices in laboratories. Some general SOPs that apply to most laboratory operations include:
- Following assigned work schedules and never working alone
- Maintaining situational awareness
- Only performing authorized experiments
- Establishing and reviewing safety procedures before beginning any laboratory operation
- Reading SDS and labels before using a chemical
- Wearing appropriate PPE at all times
- Wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and closed-toed shoes to protect skin from splashes; removing jewelry and tying back loose hair
- Pipetting must never be done by mouth
- Washing hands with soap and water after working with chemicals, even if gloves were worn
- No eating, drinking, smoking, gum chewing, applying cosmetics or taking medicine in laboratories; food, cups, plates and eating utensils may not be stored in the laboratory
- Properly disposing of all wastes
- Reporting injuries and near misses
Providing access to SOPs or including written copies with each experiment can help to reinforce their use.
In addition to SOPs, laboratory employees should also know what to do when there is an emergency, such as a fire or spill. Posting information on evacuation procedures, evacuation routes and how to handle suspicious packages can help employees to be prepared.
Stocking first aid kits, spill kits and other response supplies also helps employees to respond quickly. When these items are available, the proper use of each tool should be covered during training so that employees will know how and when to use them.