Vol. 24 • Issue 9
• Page 10
The Learning Scope
CE Offering 0.1 CEU • 1.0 Contact Hour
Navigating lab hazards means taking proper precautions against hazardous chemicals, bloodborne pathogens, broken glass, chemical spills and repetitive motion injuries.
Plastic Vs. Glass
Through routine handling, labware sustains a certain amount of bumps and occasional drops-an unavoidable part of the lab environment, according to Lorie Croston, product manager, Thermo Scientific Nalgene Labware, Thermo Fisher Scientific. When using glassware, lab professionals are more at risk for injury from shattered, chipped or cracked test tubes, beakers and other vessels.
Crostin points out plastic has many advantages over glass, aside from its durability, including:
- Workflow: when used within its recommended temperature ranges, plastic is shatterproof, meaning catastrophic failure is much less likely when working through daily lab routines.
- Cost savings: plastic labware pieces, on average, tend to cost less than glass counterparts, especially larger pieces like desiccators, separatory funnels, large beakers, cylinders and burets. Less breakage and lower weight also results in avoiding replacement costs for broken glassware as well as higher shipping costs.
- Ergonomics: the light-weight nature of plastic also makes it more ergonomically-friendly in the lab.
- Environmental: plastic labware is "greener" than borosilicate glass labware, as it uses less energy to manufacture the raw materials and mold products from plastic and can be recyclable.
Plastic containers and labware can be used as a direct replacement for glass in many lab applications, Croston noted. "Many routine labware items such as beakers, graduated cylinders, bottles, jars, carboys, burets, desiccators and hundreds of other labware items are available in a variety of different plastic materials," she said.
When choosing plastic labware replacements for glass, there are important considerations to be made.
- Temperature: Plastic labware items are available in heat- and cold-resistant materials, Croston noted. Selecting the best material depends on the application temperature range. For instance, polypropylene, polymethylpentene, and polycarbonate are autoclavable, whereas the polyethylenes are not and will melt if taken over their maximum-use temperature. However, polyethylene products maintain their flexibility and impact resistance at low temperatures, making them an excellent choice for refrigerator or freezer applications in addition to room-temperature use. In some cases, plastic is not an appropriate substitute for glass (e.g., when direct contact with hot plates and heating mantles is involved).
- Chemicals: Other considerations are the nature of the chemicals and solutions with which the labware will be in contact, and the length of storage time. "Some plastic materials are extremely resistant to chemical attack like the polyethylenes, polypropylene and polymethylpentene, while polycarbonate and polystyrene are less resistant to some chemicals and may be damaged by direct contact with them," she said.
Since President Bill Clinton signed the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act into law in 2000, accidental needlesticks have been reduced by about 34 percent industry-wide. However, lab professionals are still at risk if they do not follow the following recommendations.
- Use the right equipment: Helen Maxwell, president and executive director, The American Society of Phlebotomy Technicians Inc., noted CLSI standards caution against using a needle and syringe for venipuncture for safety reasons. "Even though it is law, and a lab can be fined and given a citation by OSHA if not using safety devices, we only have a 90 percent compliance rate in the U.S. Ten percent of facilities are not using the required safety devices," reported Dennis Ernst, MT(ASCP), executive director of the Center for Phlebotomy Education Inc., Corydon, IN.
- Avoid unnecessary risk: Ronald Goldschmidt, MD, director of the National Clinicians' Post-Exposure Prophylaxis Hotline (PEPline), based at San Francisco General Hospital, noted needlesticks usually occur because the sheath was not applied over the needle; or the needle or other sharp were left somewhere, or gloves were not used.
Goldschmidt encouraged any healthcare professional who suffers a possible exposure to a bloodborne pathogen to contact the employer's occupational health service or go to the nearest emergency room for immediate evaluation.
One of the best ways to protect against harmful chemicals is to wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) in the laboratory at all times. Terry Jo Gile, MT(ASCP), MA Ed, a laboratorian for 45 years with a quarter century specialization in lab safety, noted almost 90 percent of chemical spills occur from the top down. Wearing knee-length lab coats with overlapping gloves and closed shoes will protect you from injury. When cleaning up a chemical spill, additional PPE, including a cover gown of fluid resistant material, facial protection such as safety goggles or a facemask, heavyweight, puncture-resistant gloves and rubber boots or water-proof shoe covers may be indicated.
Many guidelines for liquid spills are recommended. Among them are:
- Confine or contain the spill from spreading further.
- For small quantities of inorganic acids or bases, use a neutralizing agent or absorbent mixture (e.g., soda ash).
- For small quantities of other materials, absorb the spill with vermiculite, towels or spill pillows.
- For large amounts of inorganic acids and bases, flush with large amounts of water.
- Mop up the spill, wring out the mop in a sink, and flush it with large amounts of water. If a pail is used to collect the spill, dispose of the chemical in the pail down the sink with large amounts of water or as directed on the Material Safety Data Sheet.
Ergonomics in Water Purification
From Type 3 water (free of ions that could create mineral buildup) used to run lab equipment to Type 2 water, used to create buffers and reagents, to ultrapure water (completely free of all organic, inorganic, bacteria, pyrogens and nucleases), used in conjunction with sensitive applications (e.g., ICP-MS, PCR, HPLC and cell culture), purified water is critical to a functioning clinical lab, noted Julie Akana, PhD, product manager, Lab Water, Thermo Fisher Scientific.
Water purification systems work to remove impurities from the feed water, using techniques such as distillation, filtration/ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, deionization, adsorption and ultraviolet oxidation.
The latest trend in water purification is to integrate ergonomic features such as a dispensing arm into the systems, Dr. Akana explained. Dispensing arms can be molded to fit comfortably into the hand, can be adjusted to bottle size, and can be turned, height-adjusted or extended towards a vessel for maximum flexibility, protecting technologists from repetitive use injury. Adjustable controllers can also be implemented to make handling more practical and provides a clear view of critical settings, Dr. Akana noted.
Kerri Hatt is on staff at ADVANCE. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.