ABC of Safety in the Biological Sciences




Occupational health and safety legislation in many countries1-3 require organisations to develop a policy for the management of hazardous substances. This is a critical element in successful workplace safety and is an activity in which all staff can play a role. Many factors within the workplace contribute to overall safety, including the environment, equipment, materials, methods, training and supervision. However, these factors are not the elements of hazard management. For effective management hazards need to be analysed (identified, quantified, prioritised) and controlled.

Hazard Analysis
Identification of hazards has to be developed in a systematic way. Commonsense and chance confrontation do not provide effective methods for recognising hazards in the workplace. Risks can be identified by adopting a number of work practices concurrently. These include the following:

  • receipt of complaints from staff
  • work site inspections and audits (see checklists)
  • accident investigation reports and report analysis (see accident investigation reports)
  • surveying staff opinions
  • observation of staff in performance of specific duties
  • consultation with occupational health and safety representatives and committees
  • obtaining background information on hazards associated with equipment, environment, materials and work processes
  • the implementation of regular maintenance programs

Once identified, risks need to be quantified and prioritised when more than one hazard is present at the same time because some hazards will demand immediate attention while others will be of a minor nature. The real risk can be determined by applying the following formula:

R = P + C

Where R represents the risk factor, P is the probability and C the consequences. A scale can be used for both probability and consequences (TABLE 8)

Hazard Control
Strategies for hazard control fall into three groups:
1. Can the hazard be removed or replaced with something less hazardous? This is the most effective means of control.
2. Can the hazard be isolated (by screening or separating the hazard from the person at risk).
3. Can the staff member be isolated from the hazard (by providing personal protection or shielding).


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