Improving Lab Safety


We all remember watching Saturday morning cartoons as a kid that featured the mad scientist, a typically larger-than-life character with little sense of risk. He wore goggles and mixed beakers of chlorine and ammonia to disastrous effect and, oftentimes, laughter from the audience.


In reality, scientists are rarely naïve about the risks of experimentation. They work in laboratories where hazards are rigorously controlled and risks are managed by entire departments devoted to safety and compliance. Establishing good lab practices, internal controls, and standards reflect a concern for reducing user error.


Laboratories are also accountable to regulatory agencies and responsible for upholding standards of industrial hygiene to ensure worker and community health and safety. The body of organizations that effectively make and enforce laboratory safety standards is vast and includes the Federal Drug Administration (FDA); Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA); and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), among others.


Far from an absence of concern for safety, the scientific community is flush with organizations dedicated to ensuring that the mad scientist remains an absurd cartoon character. User error may continue to be the most imminent threat to personal safety and responsible for 90% of laboratory accidents, but it’s wildly unreasonable to believe that these accidents result from recklessness. Poor safety training, fatigue, inattention, and haste are the main culprits.


One of the most important ways to prevent these types of laboratory accidents is to be prepared, well trained, and informed. But the reality about prevention is that it assumes hazards, which cannot always be eliminated. It is, therefore, extremely important to establish an effective safety culture and risk management systems. Risk is the difference between control and exposure. No matter how well trained, worker protection is paramount because we cannot eliminate hazards. We can only control exposure.


If effective lab ventilation systems and equipment are an employees first line of defense, then Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is an employee’s last line of defense against hazards that can cause serious injury and illness. Gloves, sleeves, lab coats, safety glasses and shoes, and respirators are common types of PPE that laboratories provide employees. Airborne hazards require additional safety precautions. Toxic fumes and powders used in laboratories where the risk to employee safety is respiratory also require filtration systems that direct potentially contaminated air away from workspaces.


Flow Sciences team of industrial engineers design workstations and enclosures that reduce product contamination and maximize protection for professionals who work with toxic substances and uncertain risks. All of our products are backed by our sophisticated design process and award-winning excellence in engineering, including 11 U.S. Government patents. We have worked with pharmaceutical companies research and development laboratories, manufacturing and production facilities for 30 years. Our task-specific designs are dynamic solutions that are adaptable to our clients’ workflow and specific needs.


If you work with airborne hazards, we can design an airflow control system to reduce your exposure risk.


Purchasing a Flow Sciences enclosure is only the first step. Whether you’re working with solutions that create toxic fumes that require a fume hood or powder APIs that can be contained with isolators and gloveboxes, we can manufacture a solution for your laboratory.


Once you receive delivery, the next step in proper containment is hiring a 3rd-party certification company to ensure that all lab systems are operating as designed, conform to applicable safety standards, and comply with relevant regulations. Certifiers check filters and airflow rates, set fan speeds and alarms, repair your systems when they are not functioning properly. They are a resource for laboratory managers who are responsible for the overall safety of employees and the workplace.


Flow Sciences works with a national network of 3rd– party certification companies who are trained on the specific operational features of our products. They can effectively install and certify your hood and provide routine maintenance so that all lab systems remain in compliance with relevant safety standards.


An efficient laboratory protects their employees by providing effective equipment in a safe environment with the knowledge that hazards cannot be eliminated. Purchasing proper equipment is only the beginning.


For practical tips on how to work with certifiers, look for our next newsletter where we will cover the certification process.




Borchardt, John K. “Running Your Lab Like a Business.” Lab Manager. July 21, 2008: 10–14.




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