Working Safely in a Lab

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Working Safely in a Lab

There are many hazards in a laboratory. When you work in a laboratory you must be aware of these hazards and the risks they pose. There are many precautions you may take to keep yourself safe.

Hazard and Risk

A hazard is anything that may cause harm

A risk is the likelihood that the hazard causes harm. All hazards have an associated risk

For example, a Bunsen burner is a hazard because you may burn yourself on the flame. The risk of burning yourself on a Bunsen burner flame is low because you only switch it on during the experiment.

We can assess the size of a risk by looking at how many people in a given group exposed to the risk are harmed.

For example, if $10 \, 000$ people are exposed to harmful radiation and only $20$ develop radiation sickness, we can evaluate the risk of radiation sickness is low. However if $8 \, 000$ of these people develop cancer later in life, the risk of cancer is high.

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In order to make decisions about risks, we need to evaluate two factors:

1. The likelihood of the consequences
2. The severity of the consequences

If a risk has very severe consequences but a low probability, you may decide not to expose yourself to that hazard. On the other hand, if a risk is very likely but has a small consequence, you may decide that the risk is acceptable.

Different people may perceive the same hazard to have a different level of risk. People tend to perceive familiar risks (such as crossing the road) as low risk but unfamiliar risks (such as travelling in an airplane) as high risk. Short-term consequences of a hazard (like burning your tongue on a hot drink) are also often perceived as higher risk compared to long-term consequences (like developing lung problems from smoking). People are also more likely to accept a high level of risk when they are choosing to do something (for example, using a tanning-bed) rather than a risk being enforced upon them (for example, a nuclear power station being built nearby somebody’s home).

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Hazards and Safety Precautions in a Laboratory

There are hazards in biology, chemistry and physics laboratories.

Hazards in a biology laboratory may include:

• Sharp equipment such as a scalpel
• Harmful microorganisms
• Harmful chemicals
• Biological waste

Safety precautions to protect yourself from these risks include:

• Wearing protective clothing such as lab coats, gloves and goggles
• Avoid handling chemicals and biological substances with your hands
• Wash your hands after an experiment
• Tie your hair back

Hazards in a chemistry laboratory may include:

• Harmful chemicals and gasses
• Bunsen burners
• Broken glass equipment such as beakers
• Explosive and flammable materials

Safety precautions to protect yourself from these risks include:

• Wearing protective clothing such as lab coats, gloves and goggles
• Wash your hands after an experiment
• Tie your hair back
• Work in a well-ventilated room

Hazards in a physics laboratory may include:

• Heavy electrical equipment
• High voltage electrical equipment
• High intensity lasers

Safety precautions to protect yourself from these risks include:

• Handle radioactive materials with tongs
• Minimise the time spent around radioactive materials
• Make sure electrical equipment is not broken
• Do not touch live electrical equipment
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Working Safely in a Lab Example Questions

Anything that may cause harm.

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The likelihood of harm occurring from a hazard.

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By assessing:

• The likelihood of the consequences
• The severity of the consequences