Conduct periodic, unannounced laboratory inspections to identify and correct hazardous conditions and unsafe practices. Involve students and employees in simulated OSHA inspections.
Inspections get people involved in thinking about hazards and unsafe practices in the workplace. These should be done at least four times a year (monthly is better). Perhaps, one of these can be done by people from outside your institution or company. This brings in fresh eyes to see the things you've grown accustomed to. Let everyone have a chance on some rotating basis to help conduct the inspection.
At Dow, we did it every month! It would be a good idea to consider having at least one inspection each year done by outsiders. Ask the people from another department, another of your locations, another institution or a consultant to conduct an inspection.
Inspections are an integral part of a good safety program. This is your time to step back a little from your day-to-day involvement and look for problems and opportunities for improvement as well as things that are well done. Don't hesitate to praise good work, safe practice, improvements and good ideas.
People need to feel that the inspections are being done to make the working and learning environment safer and healthier for all. They are not to blame or to get someone. At the same time, it may be necessary to note some unsafe practices.
Keep a written record of the inspection. Share the results with the department members. Let each person be responsible for making the necessary changes in their area except where outside assistance is needed. Use the inspection report as a check list to see that the situations are corrected in a reasonable period of time.
Regular inspections are one of the cornerstones of a good safety program. They are a great opportunity to take a good hard look at your working/learning environment to try to spot potential problems.
Take a Close Look
You need to be sure emergency equipment is in place, unobstructed, properly designated with signs and properly functioning. Check electrical receptacles for correct wiring with a ground monitor. Check the hoods for proper air flow. Check the stockroom for security and overcrowding. See that benches and aisles are kept clear and free of materials that should have been put away.
As you conduct your inspection, make a written list of those opportunities that you identify for improving lab safety. When you're done, prioritize the list to identify the more serious issues. Give copies of the list to department members, the maintenance department, and the management and administrators. Now you need to work diligently at trying to make those improvements that are within your ability and resources. Seek assistance for the rest.
Having everyone participate in the inspection process is a great way to get them involved in the safety program and to teach them about hazards and how to recognize them. If, for example, the inspection team has three members, one member is replaced each month. In the third month, you are responsible for preparing the report. With a group of 50 employees, it would take about four years to involve everyone.
Lastly, make lab inspections part of the college and university curriculum. Have the faculty member and his or her students do the inspection during a regular lab period. If more than one class uses the lab, the responsibility can be rotated among the various classes. Students who plan to work in labs after graduation should learn how to and appreciate the need to have regular lab inspections.
Dr. Kaufman is president and CEO, Laboratory Safety Institute (LSI), a non-profit educational organization for safety in science and science education; and author The Laboratory Safety Guidelines. Visit www.labsafetyinstitute.org or call 508-647-1900 for more information.
- A five-page "Laboratory Safety Inspection Checklist: Is Your Lab A Safe Place To Work" is available from LSI for $5.00. LSI also performs facilities inspections and audits facilities, safety programs and regulatory compliance. Training program are available in all these areas.
- The American Chemical Society has a free booklet: Safety Audit/Inspection Manual, 38 pages of laboratory inspection ideas and information. Call 800-227-5558 to request a copy.
- LSI also provides a free "OSHA Lab Inspection Checklist." This checklist provides the citations for the OSHA standards that would be violated. Send me an e-mail request (JamesKaufman@labsafety.org) to receive the checklist as a PDF attachment.