ABC of Safety in the Biological Sciences





An accident has been defined as:15 an unexpected, unplanned occurrence which may involve injury'. The effects of accidents can be considerable16 (see TABLE 2)

In a number of countries there is a legal requirement for the development and implementation of a workplace accident prevention policy.17 In general terms such a policy should incorporate the following:

  • regular workplace inspections
  • the use of checklists
  • recording observations
  • review or follow up
  • accident investigation reports
  • group discussions involving all staff


Who should conduct inspections?

Every work area is different with different functions and procedures each with its own inherent hazards. The intrinsic nature of the laboratory will to a large degree dictate how frequently inspections are required and to some extent who should conduct the inspection. However in preparing a policy consider the following:

  • a joint inspection, consisting of both employer and employee
  • a regular planned inspection conducted by a team representing different departments
  • a specialist representation for specific inspections
  • a designated person on a rotation basis
  • outside specialist or authority

What should be inspected?

This will be determined largely by the nature of the laboratory, but consider the following:

  • the number of different processes or operations undertaken in the area
  • certain hazardous equipment requires regular inspection and this is often determined by legislation-check your local requirements
  • processes with a high hazard potential - for example, the disposal of carcinogens or highly toxic chemicals
  • buildings and the environment (refer also Sick Building Syndrome)

Checklists (see TABLES 3, 4, 5)

Those conducting the inspection of a laboratory or workplace require an intimate knowledge and understanding of the following:

  • the layout of the laboratory-a floor plan is helpful for preparing and recording findings
  • the potential hazards associated with any equipment, processes or methods used in the laboratory
  • information on any possible toxic or dangerous substances
  • results of previous inspections, if any
  • previous work injury and accident data
  • maintenance reports

Inspection records

Develop a form for recording your observations. This serves as a valuable reference source and can be used for safety reviews. A sample Workplace Inspection Record form is given in Fig 1.

Review or follow-up

It is important to consider carefully the findings of an inspection and, where indicated, institute corrective action. In particular, the responsible supervisor should be made aware of those hazards which pose an immediate danger so that action is taken quickly. Ultimately, identified hazards should be eliminated. A review of data collected from several inspections is useful in identifying trends, and can indicate, for example:

  • the need for training in certain areas
  • why accidents are occurring in a particular area
  • priorities for corrective action
  • means for establishing or improving safe work practices
  • areas, equipment, procedures which may require more in-depth hazard analysis

Accident investigation reports

All occurrences which fulfil the definition of an accident should be detailed in a written report. As well as providing a record of specific incidents these reports can be analysed during any review to establish trends. An example of an Accident Investigation Report is given in Fig 2.

Discussion groups

Group discussion can be a valuable means of developing a positive awareness towards occupational safety and health. Checklists are a useful aid to supervisors when leading group discussions on safety issues. Occupational health and safety should become a regular agenda item for every Departmental meeting to provide for dissemination of safety information.

It might only take one accident!



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