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The Safety Doctor Article

Dr. Isabel Perry
©Copyright 2002

"Chemical Safety in Laboratories"

In laboratories, chemicals are generally limited to small quantities, on a short-term basis, in operations where chemicals and procedures change frequently. YET, many accidents and injuries occur annually in laboratories, resulting in chemical-related illnesses ranging from skin and eye irritation to fatal pulmonary edema.

Every laboratory should have a Chemical Hygiene Plan that includes:

  • Appropriate work practices
  • Standard operating procedures
  • Methods of control
  • Measures for appropriate maintenance and use of protective equipment,
  • Medical examinations
  • Special precautions for work with particularly hazardous material

As part of the written plan, employers must designate a chemical hygiene officer. This officer may have a variety of duties such as monitoring, procuring, helping project directors upgrade facilities and advising administrators on improved chemical hygiene policies and practices.

Employee Information and Training

A training and information program for employees must be established. The training program should be initiated at the time of the initial assignment and prior to assignments involving new exposures. The discussion of topics must include:

  • Existence, location and availability of the Chemical Hygiene Plan
  • Permissible exposure limits for regulated substances and recommended exposure limits for other hazardous chemicals where no OSHA standard applies
  • Signs and symptoms associated with exposures to hazardous chemicals. Methods and observations that workers can use to detect the presence of hazardous chemicals (i.e. continuous monitoring procedures, visual appearance and smell)
  • Location and availability of reference materials, including Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)
  • Specific procedures put into effect by the employer to provide protection, including engineering controls, work practices, personal protective equipment).

Medical Examinations and Consultations

Medical attention must be offered to the following:

  • Any employee who exhibits signs or experiences symptoms associated with exposure to a hazardous chemical used in the laboratory.
  • Any employee who is exposed routinely above the action level or permissible exposure level for an OSHA regulated substance for which there are exposure monitoring or medial surveillance requirements.

A medical examination must be offered to any employee who is present in the work area when a spill, leak, explosion or other accident occurs that results in a potential significant exposure to a hazardous chemical.

Personal Protective Equipment

Criteria must be developed for determining and implementing control measures to reduce employee exposure to hazardous chemicals in the laboratory. These may include, engineering controls (i.e. general ventilation, fume hoods, glove boxes and other exhaust systems), work practice controls (i.e. restricting eating and drinking areas, and prohibiting mouth pipetting), and personal protective equipment (i.e. respiratory equipment, safety glasses, whole body coverings, and gloves).

Particularly Hazardous Substances

Special consideration and additional protective measures must be given to working with reproductive toxins and substances having a high degree of acute toxicity. The following provisions should be taken:

  • Establish a designated area with appropriate signs warning of the hazards associated with the substance
  • Use of a fume hood or equivalent containment device
  • Procedure for decontaminating the designated area
  • Procedures for safe removal of contaminated waste

Hazard Identification

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are documents that provide specific information about chemicals, such as their chemical identities, physical properties, associated health hazards, reactivity data, control measures, and precautions for safe handling and use.

Labels on containers of hazardous chemical are not to be removed or defaced, in any manner.

Record Keeping

Exposure records and data analyses must be kept for 30 years. Medical records are to be kept for at least the duration of employment plus 30 years. Medial records of employees who have worked for less than 1 year need not be retained after employment, but he employer must provide these records to the employee upon termination of employment.

An accurate record of exposure monitoring results and any medical consultation and examinations, including tests or physician medical opinions must be maintained for each employee.

Adherence to the Chemical Hygiene Plan will provide employees with the information and training necessary to improve workplace safety and health and to reduce the number of chemical-related injuries and illnesses in laboratories.


Copyright 2002 Dr. Isabel Perry. All rights reserved.

Dr. Isabel Perry offers you these articles to reprint or repost - FREE - provided that her name and contact information (supplied below) are included. Please let us know how you plan to use any article(s) by Dr. Isabel Perry by contacting us. 

Dr. Isabel Perry prescribes solutions to reduce risk, costs and increase production for all types of organizations. Dr. Perry is an Orlando, Florida based Safety Professional with over 20 years of broad-based safety experience including: safety speaker, safety consultant, expert witness, and former safety executive at a Fortune 50 company. Her clients include many multinational firms. Dr. Perry’s can be contacted at [email protected]