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Physical and Other Hazards

Other General Laboratory Hazards
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Besides exposure to chemicals and biological agents, laboratory workers can also be exposed to a number of physical hazards. Some of the common physical hazards that they may encounter include the following:

Ergonomic Hazards

Laboratory workers are at risk for repetitive motion injuries during routine laboratory procedures such as pipetting, working at microscopes, operating microtomes, using cell counters and keyboarding at computer workstations.

Repetitive motion injuries develop over time and occur when muscles and joints are stressed, tendons are inflamed, nerves are pinched and the flow of blood is restricted.

Standing and working in awkward positions in front of laboratory hoods/biological safety cabinets can also present ergonomic problems.

By becoming familiar with how to control laboratory ergonomics-related risk factors, employers can reduce chances for occupational injuries while improving worker comfort, productivity, and job satisfaction.

In addition to the general ergonomic guidance, laboratory employers are reminded of some simple adjustments that can be made at the workplace. While there is currently no specific OSHA standard relating to ergonomics in the laboratory, it is recommended that employers provide information and training on the importance of ergonomics best practices.

For more information on ergonomics, be sure to enroll in OSHAcademy Courses 711, Introduction to Ergonomics and/or 722, Ergonomics Program Management.

1. Which ergonomic injury develops over time and occurs when muscles and joints are stressed, tendons are inflamed, nerves are pinched, and the flow of blood is restricted?

a. Back injury
b. Strain and sprain
c. Repetitive motion injury
d. Injury due to awkward posture

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Ionizing Radiation

Electromagnetic Spectrum
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OSHA’s Ionizing Radiation Standard sets forth the limitations on exposure to radiation from atomic particles. Ionizing radiation sources are found in a wide range of occupational settings, including laboratories.

There are three main kinds of ionizing radiation:

  1. Alpha particles, which include two protons and two neutrons
  2. Beta particles, which are essentially electrons
  3. Gamma rays and x-rays, which are pure energy (photons).

These radiation sources can pose a considerable health risk to affected workers if not properly controlled.

Any laboratory possessing or using radioactive isotopes must be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and/or by a state agency that has been approved by the NRC, 10 CFR 31.11 and 10 CFR 35.12.

The fundamental objectives of radiation protection measures are:

  • to limit entry of radionuclides into the human body (via ingestion, inhalation, absorption, or through open wounds) to quantities as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA) and always within the established limits; and
  • to limit exposure to external radiation to levels that are within established dose limits and as far below these limits as is reasonably achievable.
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All areas in which radioactive materials are used or stored in the laboratory must conspicuously display the symbol for radiation hazards and restrict access to authorized personnel.

The OSHA Ionizing Radiation Standard requires precautionary measures and personnel monitoring for workers who are likely to be exposed to radiation hazards. Personnel monitoring devices (film badges, thermoluminescent dosimeters (TLD), pocket dosimeters, etc.) must be supplied and used if required to measure an individual’s radiation exposure from gamma, neutron, energetic beta, and X-ray sources. The standard monitoring device is a clip-on badge or ring badge bearing the individual assignee’s name, date of the monitoring period and a unique identification number.

For more information on ionizing radiation, see the OSHA Ionizing Radiation Webpage.

2. All areas in which radioactive materials are used or stored in the laboratory must conspicuously display the symbol for radiation hazards and _____.

a. restrict entry to non-essential workers
b. ensure all workers are properly inoculated
c. restrict access to authorized personnel
d. all personnel located behind lead shielding

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Non-ionizing Radiation

Non-ionizing radiation

Non-ionizing radiation is described as a series of energy waves composed of oscillating electrical and magnetic fields traveling at the speed of light.

Non-ionizing radiation includes the spectrum of ultraviolet (UV), visible light, infrared (IR), microwave (MW), radio frequency (RF), and extremely low frequency (ELF). Lasers commonly operate in the UV, visible, and IR frequencies. Non-ionizing radiation is found in a wide range of occupational settings and can pose a considerable health risk to potentially exposed workers if not properly controlled.

Extremely Low Frequency Radiation (ELF). Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) radiation at 60 HZ (a frequency of 60 cycles per second) is produced by power lines, electrical wiring, and electrical equipment. Common sources of intense exposure include ELF induction furnaces and high-voltage power lines.

Radiofrequency and Microwave Radiation. Microwave radiation (MW) is absorbed near the skin, while radiofrequency (RF) radiation may be absorbed throughout the body. At high enough intensities both will damage tissue through heating. Sources of RF and MW radiation include radio emitters and cell phones.

Infrared Radiation (IR). The skin and eyes absorb infrared radiation (IR) as heat. Workers normally notice excessive exposure through heat sensation and pain. Sources of IR radiation include heat lamps and IR lasers.

Visible Light Radiation. The different visible frequencies of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum are "seen" by our eyes as different colors. Good lighting is conducive to increased production, and may help prevent incidents related to poor lighting conditions. Excessive visible radiation can damage the eyes and skin.

Ultraviolet Radiation (UV). Ultraviolet radiation (UV) has a high photon energy range and is particularly hazardous because there are usually no immediate symptoms of excessive exposure. Sources of UV radiation in the laboratory include black lights and UV lasers.

LASER. LASER is an acronym which stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Lasers typically emit optical (UV, visible light, IR) radiations and are primarily an eye and skin hazard. The use of lasers in laboratories is expanding rapidly, especially in research laboratories. Labs using lasers should develop a written laser safety program and appoint a Laser Safety Officer (LSO) who is responsible for managing risk and has authority to make sure lab workers comply with policies and standards.

For more information on laser hazards in the laboratory, see OSHA’s Technical Manual, Section III: Chapter 6, Laser Hazards.

The OSHA Safety and Health Topics webpage provides links to technical and regulatory information on the control of occupational hazards from non-ionizing radiation.

3. Labs using lasers should develop a written laser safety program and ______.

a. appoint a Laser Safety Officer (LSO)
b. submit it to OSHA for approval
c. receive program approval from unions
d. ensure only Class I lasers are used in a laboratory

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sound levels
Sound Levels
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Employers must implement a Hearing Conservation Program where laboratory workers are exposed to a time weighted average noise level of 85 dBA or higher over an 8 hour work shift.

Hearing Conservation Programs require employers to measure noise levels, provide free annual hearing exams and free hearing protection, provide training, and conduct evaluations of the adequacy of the hearing protectors in use unless changes to tools, equipment and schedules are made so that they are less noisy and worker exposure to noise is less than the 85 dBA.

To learn more about time-weighted averages and other hearing protection topics, review OSHAcademy Course 751, Hearing Conservation Program Management.

The monitoring program must include the following components:

  • All continuous, intermittent, and impulsive sound levels from 80-130 dBA must be included in noise measurements;
  • Instruments used to measure worker noise exposure must be calibrated to ensure measurement accuracy; and
  • Monitoring must be repeated whenever a change in production, process, equipment, or controls increases noise exposures.

4. Employers must implement a Hearing Conservation Program where laboratory workers are exposed to a time weighted average noise level of_____.

a. 45 dBA or higher over an 4 hour period
b. 70 dBA or higher over an 6 hour work shift
c. 75 dBA or higher over an 8 hour period
d. 85 dBA or higher over an 8 hour work shift

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Noise - Sources of Exposure

lab workers

Laboratory workers are exposed to noise from a variety of sources. Operation of large analyzers (e.g., chemistry analyzer), fume hoods, biological safety cabinets, incubators, centrifuges (especially ultracentrifuges), cell washers, sonicators, and stirrer motors, all contribute to the noise level in laboratories.

Further sources of noise in laboratories include fans and compressors for cryostats, refrigerators, refrigerated centrifuges, and freezers. As an example, a high-speed refrigerated centrifuge alone can generate noise levels as high as 65 dBA. If noise levels exceed 80 dBA, people must speak very loudly to be heard, while at noise levels of 85 to 90 dBA, people have to shout. For more examples, be sure to visit the NIOSH Noise Meter web page.

In order to determine if the noise levels in the laboratory are above the threshold level that damages hearing, the employer must conduct a noise exposure assessment using an approved sound level monitoring device, such as a dosimeter, and measure an 8-hour TWA exposure. If the noise levels are found to exceed the threshold level, the employer must provide hearing protection at no cost to the workers and train them in the proper use of the protectors.

The potential dangers of miscommunicating instructions or laboratory results are obvious, and efforts should be made to improve the design of clinical laboratories and to evaluate new instrumentation with regard to the impact of these factors on worker noise exposure. The employer should evaluate the possibility of relocating equipment to another area or using engineering controls to reduce the noise level below an 8-hour TWA of 85 dBA in order to comply with OSHA’s Occupational Noise Exposure Standard.

5. Operating large analyzers, cell washers, sonicators, and stirrer motors, contribute to the _____ in laboratories.

a. ergonomics hazards
b. cuts and scratches
c. noise level
d. eye hazards

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Noise - Health Effects

Exposure to continuous noise may lead to the following stress-related symptoms:

  • depression
  • irritability
  • decreased concentration in the workplace
  • reduced efficiency and decreased productivity
  • noise-induced hearing loss
  • tinnitus (i.e., ringing in the ears)
  • increased errors in laboratory work

There are several steps that employers can take to minimize the noise in the laboratory, including:

  • Moving noise-producing equipment (e.g., freezers, refrigerators, incubators and centrifuges) from the laboratory to an equipment room;
  • Locating compressors for controlled-temperature rooms remotely; and
  • Providing acoustical treatment on ceilings and walls.

6. Exposure to continuous noise is NOT associated with or likely to cause _____.

a. depression
b. irritability
c. muscle weakness
d. increased errors

Check your Work

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