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How to Conduct a Lab Safety Inspection

Posted by Amber Poltl on Feb 14, 2024 11:48:11 AM

Lab safety inspections are crucial for a variety of reasons, but their ultimate purpose is to protect the well-being of everyone in the lab and the environment. Here are the primary reasons why lab safety inspections are conducted: 

  • Prevent Accidents and Injuries: Labs are filled with potentially hazardous materials and equipment. Inspections identify and address health and safety hazards to prevent accidents, protecting lab personnel and visitors from injuries like burns, explosions, and exposure to harmful substances.
  • Ensure Regulatory Compliance: Labs are subject to various regulations regarding safety procedures, waste disposal, and environmental protection. Inspections ensure that labs comply with these regulations and help avoid fines and legal consequences.
  • Promote Safe Work Practices: Inspections assess if proper safety work practices are being followed, like wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), handling/storing of chemicals, and disposing of hazardous waste. An evaluation of internal adherence with these work practices promotes a culture of safety within the lab and encourages everyone to prioritize working safely.
  • Identify Improvement Opportunities: Inspections can reveal areas where procedures can be improved, controls can be upgraded, or training can be enhanced. This continuous improvement leads to a safer lab environment for everyone.

Conducting the Lab Inspection

  • Define the Scope and Prepare Resources 

The first step of the lab inspection is defining the scope. Identify which buildings and labs will be included in the inspection. Gather as much information as you can, such as:

    • The type of activities taking place in the lab
    • An overview of the hazardous materials and equipment
    • Lab safety manual, SOPs, and emergency procedures
    • Previous inspection reports, including outstanding issues

Are there specific programs or safe work practices that you’ll be evaluating or is this a general lab inspection? Familiarize yourself with the regulations and standards that apply to your lab from agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Assemble your team and prepare checklists for the inspection (e.g., lab inspection software on tablets, hard copy documents, etc.). 

  • Schedule the Inspection 

Contact the lab manager(s) to schedule a convenient time for the inspection. Note that some inspections may need to be unannounced so you’re able to observe how the lab normally operates without any audit preparation. 

Outline the areas you’ll visit in the lab and the order you’ll visit them in. Allocate sufficient time for each area based on its complexity and potential hazards.

  • Review of Lab Safe Work Practices and Programs

There are several programs you may need to include in your lab inspection. Below are some examples of guidelines or requirements that you’ll want to consider including in your inspection checklist.

General Safety Best Practices

Below are some general safety guidelines to keep in mind during a lab safety inspection:  

  • Follow general housekeeping and cleanliness guidelines. Look for clutter, spills, and improper storage of chemicals or equipment.
  • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) as required by the lab, including lab coats, safety glasses, and gloves.
  • Always wear appropriate clothing when working in a lab. Protect your skin, avoid open-toed shoes and long/dangling jewelry, and keep sleeves at an appropriate length.
  • Be familiar with the emergency procedures and the locations of emergency equipment, such as fire extinguishers, fire blankets, safety showers, and eye wash stations.
  • Use appropriately designated waste containers to dispose of liquid and solid waste.
  • Report any accidents or injuries to supervisors immediately.

Chemical Safety Best Practices

Chemicals are some of the most dangerous hazards in a lab. Here are some of the requirements to look out for regarding chemical safety. 

  • Eyewash stations should be readily accessible in case of chemical splashes. Ideally, they should be located within a 10-second walking distance from any potential chemical splash hazard. Obstructions should be cleared from the path to the eyewash station and in the immediate surrounding area.
  • Chemical labels should clearly identify the chemical name, hazards (including pictograms) in accordance with the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, CAS number, concentration, and any special handling instructions.
  • Flammable liquids, acids, and bases are to be stored in approved storage cabinets and cabinets, ensuring incompatible chemicals are not stored together. 
  • Requirements for maximum allowable quantities (MAQs) of chemical storage. 
  • Chemical fume hoods should be used appropriately and tested/certified. 

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Hazardous Waste Safety Best Practices

Adequate handling, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste protects workers from exposure, reducing the risk of occupational illnesses and injuries. Proper hazardous waste management also ensures local ecosystems and communities are shielded from the negative environmental consequences of hazardous waste disposal. Below are some key areas to inspect: 

  • Hazardous waste storage area (i.e., Satellite Accumulation Area and Main Accumulation Area) requirements ensure compliance with specific regulations governing the storage of hazardous waste on-site.
  • Properly maintained containers help prevent leaks and spills that could lead to environmental contamination and health & safety hazards. Clear labeling ensures that hazardous waste containers are properly identified, which facilitates tracking, inventory management, and regulatory compliance. Container condition and compatibility with the waste are also important in prevention of incidents.

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Biological Safety Best Practices

There are many measures to maintain a safe laboratory environment with biological hazards, protecting employees from potentially harmful biological agents and preventing the spread of contamination. Here are a few: 

  • Similar to chemicals, use appropriate containers like vials, biohazard bags, and secure freezers for different types of materials and ensure clear labeling with agent information, storage temperature, date of collection, etc.
  • Clear and visible biohazard signs serve as visual reminders of potential risks and encourage safe practices. They should be placed at the entrance of the lab, on biohazard waste containers, and near areas where biological agents are handled.
  • Wear appropriate PPE. Lab coats/gowns act as a physical barrier, protecting from splashes, aerosols, and contact with potentially infectious materials. They should be worn whenever handling biological agents, even for short procedures.
  • Ensure access to appropriate disinfectants for quickly and effectively decontaminating surfaces and equipment after use. Prompt and thorough disinfection prevents the spread of contamination within the lab and protects employees from exposure. 
  • Biological safety cabinets (BSCs) provide a controlled environment for handling highly infectious or volatile agents. The cabinet's airflow and filtration systems protect users from airborne contaminants. Regular certification by qualified professionals ensures the BSC is functioning properly and meeting safety standards. A compromised BSC can increase the risk of exposure. 

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Radiation Safety Best Practices

Understanding and implementing proper measures is crucial to protect employees and the environment from the potential harm radiation exposure can cause. Here are some critical areas to inspect: 

  • Clear and visible radiation warnings and easily recognizable symbols like "Caution: Radioactive Materials" must be displayed on storage containers, equipment, and areas where radioactive materials are present.
  • Regularly calibrated Geiger-Müller counters (GM meters) allow for precise measurement of radiation levels in the air and on surfaces.
  • Designated, secured storage areas with controlled access minimizes the risk of unauthorized access or accidental exposure.
  • Clear and detailed labels including materials, activity level, potential hazards, etc. provide important information for safe handling and use.
  • Permits and licenses for radioactive materials should be current and include the radioactive material type, quantities, and intended use. 

Additional Considerations 

Laboratory inspections can include a wide range of Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) programs in the scope, or they can be more focused. Ensure you know what’s included in the scope of your inspection so you can be as efficient as possible. Some other considerations when conducting an inspection are: 

  • Review the safety training records and ensure all personnel have received mandatory training.
  • Check for proper documentation of chemical inventories, incident reports, and previous safety inspections.
  • Verify that any corrective and preventive actions (CAPAs) following previous inspections have been implemented effectively.
  • Offer constructive feedback and suggestions for improvement in a positive and collaborative manner.
  • Recognize and praise good safety practices observed during the inspection to encourage a culture of safety in the lab.
    Learn More About Scishield’s Lab Inspection & Auditing Software

Resources 

Resources you’ll want to keep handy are lab inspection templates such as the Lab Audit Checklist, a list of applicable regulations, and other EHS resources from government agency or laboratory organization websites such as: