Laboratory Safety Overview

Histology laboratories contain dangers to laboratory personnel in the form of hazardous chemicals, biohazards and physical hazards.  These dangers are minimized by identifying the sources and educating laboratory employees with regard to these sources and the protective equipment and procedures used to minimize and eliminate the dangers.

Engineering Controls

The first line of safety in the histology laboratory is the use of engineering controls.  The histology laboratory should contain at least two fully functional, distinct air handling systems.  The first provides heated/cooled conditioned air to maintain a constant range of temperature and humidity for employees and equipment to optimally function.  The second system is an exhaust ventilation unit, consisting of an exhaust fan located on the roof of the building.  This fan should operate continuously 24 hours, 7 days a week. It is attached via ductwork to all ventilated workstations and chemical fume hoods located in the laboratory space.  Employees are instructed to use ventilated work stations when working with hazardous chemicals and biohazardous specimens.  Additionally, there may be laminar flow hoods in the laboratory for use with biohazardous specimens.

Personal Protective Equipment 

All laboratory personnel must be instructed in the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE).  This equipment includes, but is not limited to: safety glasses, safety goggles, face shields, non-latex gloves (i.e. nitrile), lab coats and/or impervious protective gowns and N95 respirators.  The exact PPE required for each task is to be described via placard in each appropriate work station in the laboratory, as well as providing direct instruction to each laboratory employee.  Each specific task in the laboratory must be assessed for potential safety impact, resulting in the specification of PPE for that task.  All employees must comply by utilizing the specific PPE, which must be provided by the employer at no cost to the employee.

Safety Training

All laboratory employees must be given safety training upon initial assignment and annually thereafter.  All employees are then required to review the laboratory safety manual annually.  The laboratory safety manual must be available in the work area at all times.  The laboratory safety manual should include sections on General Safety Policies, Fire Prevention/Disaster Plans, Chemical Hygiene Plan/Hazardous Materials/Formaldehyde Standard, Biohazard Policy/Bloodborne Pathogens, Accident First Aid/Reporting, Ergonomics, and Equipment Safety, at a minimum.

Safety Corner

There should be a source of everyday safety information and it is suggested to have a “Safety Corner” located in the laboratory.  Pertinent safety information is posted for all employees and includes:

  • Fire extinguisher operation – PASS

[Pull the safety pin / Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire / Squeeze the handle / Sweep the base of the fire.]

  • Fire Discovery procedure – RACE

[Rescue / Activate Alarm / Confine the Fire / Evacuate, Extinguish]

  • Evacuation map
  • Disaster evacuation directions
  • Chemical spill procedure
  • MSDS binders / access to online MSDS
  • OSHA 300A log
  • List of emergency contact numbers

General Safety Rules and Instructions

While all safety procedures are contained in the laboratory safety manual which all employees have access to, the following general safety rules are universally adopted and should be included in any and all safety instruction.  All laboratory personnel are expected to be familiar with the following safety concepts.

  1. There is no smoking in the laboratory or building.
  2. There is no eating or drinking in the laboratory.
  3. Every task in the laboratory has specific PPE designated to be used.
  4. Any and all waste must be deposited in one of the following waste streams:
  • Chemical waste: waste drums are provided.
  • Biohazardous waste: double red bag biohazard containers are provided.  All gloves are to be disposed of here.
  • Sharps waste: hard plastic sharps containers are provided.
  • Sanitary waste: regular trash barrels are provided.
  1. All waste is properly manifested for legal disposal by licensed companies.
  2. Proper closed toe, rubber soled footwear must be worn in the laboratory.
  3. Ventilated workstations must be used when handling chemicals and/or biohazardous materials.

In summary, it is the responsibility of the employer to provide safety training and PPE to laboratory personnel, and it is the laboratory employees’ responsibility to use proper PPE and follow all safety procedures.  This is the only way to guarantee everyone’s safety while working in the laboratory.