By Paul Stokely, Guest Writer
When working in any laboratory or animal facility, you must wear a lab coat, protective eyewear, appropriate gloves, and closed-toe shoes, unless you are performing purely administrative tasks.
That is the new policy for personal protective equipment (PPE) in laboratories at all NCI campus at Frederick facilities. Noting an increase in hand and eye injuries, Randall Morin, Dr. PH, as director of Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS), was tasked with reviewing the root causes of such accidents and updating the current policy. He and his team found that most, if not all, of the eye and hand injuries were preventable with the appropriate PPE.
David Heimbrook, Ph.D., chief executive officer (CEO) of SAIC-Frederick, has made a priority of making the safety policy more easily understood by laboratory staff members and their supervisors. “A safe workplace is something that we owe ourselves and our coworkers,” Heimbrook said. “After discussions with both contractor and government leadership, I felt that the former personal protective equipment policy was a little ambiguous. By requiring all personnel to wear appropriate PPE any time when they are doing lab work of any sort, we plan to achieve at least a 50 percent reduction in the number of accidents or injuries in which the absence of PPE is cited as a specific cause or contributory factor. I fully expect all personnel to assist in meeting this target by ensuring that appropriate PPE is available to our employees, and by adhering to this policy.”
Previously, the responsibility of selecting appropriate laboratory PPE was placed on supervisors, with assistance from EHS as requested. This led to an array of policies, many of which did not sufficiently protect workers from eye splashes or finger injuries—the two most commonly reported injuries. The new policy sets a threshold level of PPE for all laboratory and animal facility staff. Additional PPE such as respirators, face shields, or steel-toed boots may be required for specific activities.
“A safe workplace is something that we owe ourselves and our coworkers.” – CEO Dave Heimbrook
EHS is training all supervisors to understand and enforce the new PPE policy. This training has also been added to New Employee Orientation for all newly hired laboratory, animal care, and GMP production supervisors.
The new policy has the support of both contractor and government management and will be enforced through management channels with assistance from EHS, according to Morin.
Please contact EHS with questions or concerns at 301-846-1451.
For more information about the new policy, go to the Chemical Hygiene Plan, at http://home.ncifcrf.gov/ehs/uploadedFiles/C-1_Chemical_Hygiene_Plan.pdf, and Personal Protective Equipment program, at http://home.ncifcrf.gov/ehs/uploadedFiles/C-11%20Personal%20Protective%20Equip(2).pdf
Tragedy at UCLA
One incident in particular has focused attention on the use of PPE in laboratories.* In 2008, a 23-year-old University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), research associate, manipulating a highly reactive pyorophoric reagent, was killed when her clothes caught fire and she suffered extensive burns.
At the recommendation of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, the Los Angeles County District Attorney charged the supervisor in late 2011 and he was arraigned in September 2012. Preliminary hearings on the case continued through January 2012. Charges against the laboratory supervisor included failure to provide safety training for employees, failure to correct unsafe conditions quickly, and failure to require employees to wear PPE.
This was the first time a supervising scientist was singled out for prosecution as a result of a laboratory death. Although the laboratories at the NCI campus at Frederick do not use this particular reagent often, a similar incident occurred here in August 2012, but the outcome was much less serious and resulted in only minor injuries, according to Morin.