As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe in 2020 and 2021, much concern was given to front-line responders such as doctors, nurses, and others who worked with patients in a clinical setting. hese medical professionals certainly deserve credit for their hard work in extraordinary circumstances! However, laboratory workers are often forgotten or overlooked as being on the frontlines of the pandemic.
A September 2020 academic study published in the Safety and Health at Work Journal found that
“The laboratory attendants... and other users in the building were at risk of potential exposure to biohazardous materials due to handling and/or transportation of inappropriately packed or leaking specimens. In addition, environmental contamination of the SRA and other areas in the building could be possible after a biological spill or accident.”
Of course, laboratory safety is an issue that extends beyond the current COVID-19 pandemic. On a daily basis, laboratory technicians and medical laboratory scientists work in near proximity to several potentially dangerous pathogens, chemicals, and other elements that could cause illness and other bodily harm. Below, we take a quick look at some of the statistics on laboratory workplace safety. We then turn our attention to the importance of laboratory safety training .Next we offer some guidance on how laboratories around the country can adhere to the best lab health and safety regulations. Finally, we’ll offer something you can do immediately to improve your worker safety!
Statistics on Laboratory Health and Worker Safety
Even though most laboratory workers are trained in several different engineering and administrative controls to protect them while engaged in their work tasks, lab workers are routinely exposed to serious health hazards. Consider the following statistics published in a 2018 issue of the Journal Nature:
- Between 25 and 38 percent of lab workers surveyed have been involved in an accident or injury in the lab that was not reported to the supervisor or principal investigator
- A full 27 percent of researchers stated that they never conducted any kind of risk assessment before performing laboratory work
- In one study of lab safety between 1966 and 1984, 81 percent of accidents occurred in teaching labs, 13 percent in research labs and 2 percent in fabrication rooms
- Only 40 percent of researchers and others who work in a laboratory setting reported always wearing personal protective equipment when working
- 25 percent of researchers had not been trained in the specific hazard with which they worked.
The Role of Laboratory Safety Training
Though the COVID-19 pandemic may very well have increased the focus on safety measures for laboratory workers, proper safety training continues to be the most important element in preventing accidents that could cause physical harm to lab workers. The U.S. Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) recommends training all laboratory workers in engineering controls specific to their line or work.
OSHA states that: “To maximize worker protection, perform as much work as possible in a properly maintained and certified biosafety cabinet (BSC). Class I BSCs use negative pressure and high-efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA) filters to contain agents and protect workers and the environment. Class II and III BSCs provide higher levels of containment and filtration that also protect samples or other products in the BSC from contamination.”
Furthermore, laboratories should also engage in regular administrative controls that are taught and enforced through constant training of all relevant workers. Laboratory personnel should receive regular training on the necessary procedures to ensure safe handling of specimens that they handle. All contaminated specimens require strict administrative procedures to protect lab workers and to avoid environmental contamination.
Stay Compliant With the Latest Lab Health and Safety Regulations
OSHA is constantly updating their requirements for laboratory safety in order to ensure the best practices for protecting workers in laboratory environments. Hiring a third party with expertise in workplace safety can ensure that your laboratory is in full compliance with all OSHA mandates while simultaneously helping you avoid potentially costly fallouts from workplace accidents.
Reduce Laboratory Worker Stress to Improve Safety Compliance
One immediate action you can take today is to share the stress reduction information below with your laboratory workers. There is no doubt that the heroic efforts of frontline workers also cause significant mental and emotional stress. Staying alert and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic takes an extra toll on mental energy.
According to a recent article from Harvard Medical School, stress has significant effects on the brain, as well as total health and wellbeing. The inflammatory processes associated with stress can affect cognitive skills and memory.
This article states: “For example, if you are in a dangerous or emotionally taxing situation, the amygdala (the part of your brain that governs your survival instincts) may take over, leaving the parts of your brain that help to store memories and perform higher-order tasks with less energy and ability to get their own jobs done. "The basic idea is that the brain is shunting its resources because it's in survival mode, not memory mode," says Dr. Ressler. This is why you might be more forgetful when you are under stress or may even experience memory lapses during traumatic events.”
Therefore, increased stress may affect a laboratory worker’s memory, concentration and ultimately, ability to follow complete safety guidelines. This may make workers more prone to exposure discussed above.
You can offer your laboratory workers this stress management strategy today:
Contact Work-Fit Today
Work-Fit is a national leading company that offers onsite injury prevention and management for your workforce. Work-Fit’s wellness management program can design and implement effective strategies for improving the safety and wellbeing of your laboratory workers.
We’re also experts at applying sports medicine techniques in the workplace to prevent injuries. Our injury prevention program can generate important savings for your company by promoting a preventive care model that increases productivity rates, creates savings on employer healthcare costs and increases your company’s bottom line.
To get started improving the safety policies and protocols protecting your laboratory workers’ health (and your company’s bottom line), contact Work-Fit today and learnhow we can help your team.