The importance of the fume hood in the laboratory environment cannot be underestimated. Neither can following fume hood safety guidelines when it comes to protecting employees who work with toxic or volatile chemicals and compounds.
We examine why accidents occur, the steps that should be taken when an accident occurs and how to prevent another one from happening.
Why Accidents Occur
If you research laboratory accidents involving fume hoods, you will find that they are typically caused by one of the following issues:
- Lack of proper safety equipment
- Improper safety procedures
- Safety procedures not being followed
- Inadequate training
- Insufficient supervision
Occasionally, there is an issue with the fume hood (Example...damaged electrical cord), but that is rare.
Severe injury and even death can occur in laboratories where chemicals are involved.
So, what do you do in the event of an accident?
Step 1: Respond to Accident
It is important to take any and all actions to safeguard people working in the lab first and foremost...put out any fires, contain any spills, evacuate the area if necessary, attend to the injured, and/or contact emergency services.
Step 2: Investigate the Cause of the Accident
It is crucial to begin investigating the accident as quickly as possible. This will prevent important data from being lost or overlooked and witnesses from forgetting important details. It is important to review whether safety procedures were followed, equipment worked as it should have, and what factors may have contributed to the accident.
Step 3: Prepare a Root Cause Analysis and Report to Management
A root cause analysis is a process used to identify the primary source of a problem. In the case of a laboratory accident, the process would include the following:
Identifying possible causes that led to the accident - Some questions to ask include:
What sequence of events led to the accident? Example...Step by step process
What conditions allowed the accident to occur? Example...Not following procedures
What factors co-existed that may have contributed to the accident? Example...Improper training
Identifying the root cause - Start with the causal factors identified above and through trial and error determine which factors were the actual root cause of the accident.
Identifying Communication Challenges - Determine how better communication might have prevented the accident from occurring...communication of safety procedures, better training, and input from equipment manufacturers.
Prioritizing the Communication Challenges - It is important to address the communication challenges that had the most impact on the accident first.
Once the analysis is completed, it is important to report the information to the management stakeholders who are responsible for the safety of individuals working in the laboratory.
Step 4: Fix the Problem
Once the cause of the accident is determined, steps must be taken to improve safety and to ensure that similar accidents won’t happen again. A plan of action will ensure that the issues that led to the accident will be resolved.
Step 5: Test New Procedures
Any new safety measures must be monitored and tested to ensure that they are resulting in a safer fume hood laboratory.
Fume hood safety is the responsibility of everyone working in the laboratory. For management, their responsibility is to ensure that proper safety procedures are in place and that everyone is following those procedures. For employees, their responsibility is to follow the procedures laid out and make sure their co-workers are following them as well.
After all, it may not just be your life that is at stake!