Lab safety concerns – do they put you at risk?

An interesting and timely exclusive in The Guardian highlights the frequency of serious safety incidents in UK laboratories (NHS, private, research labs & universities, commercial) which create significant risks of infection. While identifying risks to employees and to the environment, it fails to consider possible collateral damage to those involved in waste management, either locally such as porters and other ancillary workers, or in the disposal industries.

Labs that handle harmful bacteria, viruses and fungi are potentially dangerous places, and so to is their waste. In most cases, it will be treated on-site first, using disinfectants or by autoclave treatment. Rarely will autoclave performance be properly controlled. Nor will disinfectant concentrations be properly assessed by in-use testing that addresses the complex issues of penetration & exposure as well as time-dependant killing effect.

Waste processing in the commercial sector is tightly regulated, and properly so, but it requires care on the part of the operator to ensure compliance and a safe outcome. The risks are perhaps small, but upstream a greater risk certainly exists, with all healthcare and laboratory wastes, of exposure of staff during collection, uplift, transport and preparation for final treatment.

Are your staff adequately trained and suitably resourced to do this safely? Its not expensive, and certainly cheaper than a claim, and much preferable to intervention from HSE and the Environment Agency.

Some simple instructions and supervision are appropriate, together with accessible and properly maintained hygiene facilities such as wash basins and towels to be used before every rest period. PPE must be in good condition, and never rationed no matter how frequent gloves are worn or lost.

Most important, and almost never considered, is the provision of changing facilities for staff. Their uniform workwear will be soiled, but at the end of the day only gloves will be removed before taking all of those bugs home, to the pub, or the bookies! This is a problem heightened by laundering of workwear with the family wash, the baby’s clothes and whatever else, sorted and loaded into the washing machine in the kitchen.

Not good. Not good at all.

 

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