Discussion created on 11/10/2010

Scientific Labs

Forum: Characteristics of Scientific Labs

Labs used for scientific research take many forms because of the differing requirements of specialists in the various fields of science. A physics lab might contain a particle accelerator or vacuum chamber, while a metallurgy lab could have apparatus for casting or refining metals or for testing their strength. A chemist or biologist might use a wet laboratory, while a psychologist lab might be a room with one-way mirrors and hidden cameras in which to observe behavior. In some laboratories, such as those commonly used by computer scientists, computers (sometimes supercomputers) are used for either simulations or the analysis of data collected elsewhere. Scientists in other fields will use still other types of laboratories. Despite the great differences among laboratories, some features are common. The use of workbenches or countertops at which the scientist may choose to either sit or stand is a common way to ensure comfortable working conditions for the researcher, who may spend a large portion of his or her working day in the laboratory. The provision of cabinets for the storage of laboratory equipment is quite common. It is traditional for a scientist to record an experiments progress in a laboratory notebook, but modern labs almost always contain at least one computer workstation for data collection and analysis.
Laboratory safety
In some laboratories, the conditions are no more dangerous than in any other room. In many labs, though, hazards are present. Laboratory hazards are as varied as the subjects of study in laboratories, and might include poisons infectious agents flammable, explosive, or radioactive materials moving machinery extreme temperatures lasers, strong magnetic fields or high voltage. In laboratories where dangerous conditions might exist, safety precautions are important. Rules exist to minimize the individuals’ risk, and safety equipment is used to protect the lab user from injury or to assist in responding to an emergency.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the United States, recognizing the unique characteristics of the laboratory workplace, have tailored a standard for occupational exposure to hazardous chemicals in laboratories. This standard is often referred to as the Laboratory Standard. Under this standard, a laboratory is required to produce a Chemical Hygiene Plan (CHP) which addresses the specific hazards found in its location, and its approach to them.
In determining the proper Chemical Hygiene Plan for a particular business or laboratory, it is necessary to understand the requirements of the standard, evaluation of your current safety, health and environmental practices and assessment of your hazards. The CHP must be reviewed annually. Many schools and businesses employ safety, health and environmental specialists, such as Chemical Hygiene Officer (CHO) to develop, manage and evaluation their CHP. Additionally, third party review is also used to provide an objective outside view which provides a fresh look at areas and problems that may be taken for granted or overlooked due to habit.
Inspections and audits should also be conducted on a regular basis to assess hazards due to chemical handling and storage, electrical equipment, biohazards, hazardous waste management, housekeeping and emergency preparedness, radiation safety, ventilation as well as respiratory testing and indoor air quality. An important element of such audits is the review of regulatory compliance and the training of individuals who have access to and/or work in the laboratory. Training is critical to the ongoing safe operation of the laboratory facility. Educators, staff and management must be engaged in working to reduce the likelihood of accidents, injuries and potential litigation. Efforts are made to ensure laboratory safety videos are both relevant and engaging.

Irfan Mahmood Mir
Agro Technician
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Kurt A. Rosentrater
Kurt A. Rosentrater
Associate Professor
  Ames, Iowa, United States
 
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