Medical practitioners, researchers, and laboratory workers are required to comply with a wide variety of regulations to ensure the accuracy and reliability of their work. However, working in laboratory settings also requires staff to be aware of the dangers and concerns regarding their safety, as well as the correct functioning of the equipment. The application of safety practices in clinical laboratory settings is essential to guarantee the safety of workers, prevent damage to equipment and materials, and obtain certain quality certifications. Unsafe labs can result in the delay of research, damaged or destroyed equipment, regulatory fines, environmental damage, as well as injury and death of the personnel (UTA, 2017). Even despite the safety policies, many labs handling potentially dangerous substances or equipment regularly report accidents and near-misses with regards to their security regulations (Sample, 2014). In the United Kingdom, there were several cases reported in 2014 that could have led to serious repercussions both for the laboratories and the communities. For instance, in the APHA lab based in Surrey, scientists who were handling anthrax have sent highly infectious samples to the nearby labs by accident, which posed a serious threat to the safety of their staff (Sample, 2014). A similar case happened at the CDC lab in Atlanta, Georgia, and received a lot of attention from the U.S. authorities (Sample, 2014). The only way to avoid incidents, according to Sample (2014), is to ensure that the design of lab operations is safe and that all staff is adequately trained to adhere to all of the guidelines. Therefore, lab safety practices are essential in everyday lab operations and especially crucial if biohazardous materials or dangerous equipment are involved. Laboratory safety should be applied as a comprehensive policy at all stages of the lab processes and include all personnel that works in laboratory settings.
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According to NCAT (2017), biohazards are infectious agents or hazardous biological materials that present a direct or indirect risk or potential risk to the health of people, animals, or the environment. These materials may include organisms and viruses that may be dangerous to humans, animals, and plants, such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites, as well as toxic agents that may have an impact on the living organisms or their environment (NCAT, 2017). The guidelines Such materials need to be handled with care to prevent damage. The safety guidelines regarding the use and transportation of biohazardous materials normally apply to recombinant DNA molecules, infectious or potentially infectious agents, such as human- or non-human primate-derived materials, cultures, and genetically modified cells, microbial agents, such as bacteria, viruses, yeast, fungi, and parasites, as well as biological toxins (NCAT, 2017). Adherence to the regulations provides an opportunity to avoid damage to health and the environment, as well as to promote healthy working conditions and avoid issues with local or federal authorities (NCAT, 2017). Safety regulations for working with biohazardous materials are designed to ensure safe possession, handling, transportation, and manipulation of biohazardous materials (NCAT, 2017). It is usually required that all personnel working in the laboratory is provided with necessary training on the safety practices, obtains proper approval before working with such materials, and adheres to the security policy at all times during work, although specific rules may be in place in individual laboratories (NCAT, 2017).
Blood and body fluids may be a source of infection, including serious hazards, such as HIV, hepatitis B, and C (Blahd & O’Connor, 2014). Incorrect handling of these materials may lead to a threat of exposure to infectious agents, thus putting the laboratory staff at risk. Universal Precautions is an approach that requires the staff to “treat all human blood and certain human body fluids as if they were known to be infectious for HIV, HBV and other bloodborne pathogens” (USDL, n.d., para. 2). One of the precautions that are applied during operations in laboratory settings is to wear gloves when handling items that contain blood or body fluids or could have been soiled with blood or body fluids (Blahd & O’Connor, 2014). Gloves decrease the risk of disease transmission, especially if the skin on the person’s hands is damaged (Blahd & O’Connor, 2014). Gloved should be changed after each use and hands should be washed each time the gloves are removed (Blahd & O’Connor, 2014). Gowns or aprons, as well as masks and protective eyewear, are also necessary to protect eyes, mouth, nose, and the rest of the body from accidental exposure to infectious materials, for example, as a result of splashes or sprays of body fluids (Blahd & O’Connor, 2014). Also, it is necessary to adhere to the same protective recommendations while giving first aid (Blahd & O’Connor, 2014).
Sharps injuries are some of the most common injury types in clinical and laboratory settings: “Between 2004 and 2013 a total of 4830 healthcare-associated occupational exposures to body fluid were reported in the UK, 71% of these for percutaneous injuries” (Riddell, Kennedy, & Tong, 2015, para. 2). They may result from incorrect operation of certain equipment, such as scalpels, needles, and other sharp instruments. CDC (2015) states that these injuries are associated with the occupational transmission of hepatitis B and C viruses, as well as HIV and 20 other pathogens. However, most of these injuries are preventable if correct practices are in place to prevent and manage sharps injuries (CDC, 2015). As part of the prevention program, it is necessary to promote the culture of safety, facilitate injury reporting, and create awareness of the necessary first aid procedures to be undertaken in case of an accident (CDC, 2015). The standard first aid procedure includes washing the surface carefully, stopping the blood, and applying a protective cover to protect the wound from being infected. However, in laboratory settings, it is also necessary to perform a risk assessment (Riddell et al., 2015). If a risk assessment showed a possibility of HIV transmission, post-exposure prophylaxis using antiretroviral drugs within the hour after injury could reduce the risk (Riddell et al., 2015) However, if hepatitis B could have been transmitted, administering hepatitis B vaccine to all healthcare workers can help to prevent the disease (Riddell et al., 2015). Other risks should be managed by prescribed prevention procedures.
The use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is an important part of safe laboratory practices. The equipment, such as masks, gloves, and protective clothes, can be used to shield damaged skin from potentially infectious materials, thus avoiding the transmission of diseases in the workplace. Protection should be worn at all times during lab work and especially if biohazardous materials are being handled. Adequate use of PPE, as well as strict adherence to all safety regulations, is vital in ensuring safe working conditions for all lab personnel.
Blahd, W. H., & O’Connor, H. M. (2014). Blood and body fluid precautions – Topic overview. Web.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2015). About the workbook for designing, implementing & evaluating a Sharps Injury Prevention Program. CDC. Web.
North Carolina A&T State University (NCAT). (2017). Biological and Biohazardous Materials Safety Guide for Researchers. Web.
Riddell, A., Kennedy, I., & Tong, C. Y. W. (2015). Management of sharps injuries in the healthcare setting. The BMJ. Web.
Sample, I. (2013, December 3). Revealed: 100 safety breaches at UK labs handling potentially deadly diseases. The Guardian. Web.
United States Department of Labor (USDL). (n.d.). (Lack of) Universal Precautions. Healthcare Wide Hazards. Web.
The University of Texas at Austin (UTA). (2017). OH201 Laboratory Safety Training. Web.