Physician Practice

A discussion about the range of chemical risk

Medical Environment Update, December 1, 2017

This is an excerpt from a member only article. To read the article in its entirety, please login or subscribe to Medical Environment Update.

Think twice before you or your employees handle hazardous substances in your facility

Editor’s note: In this guest column, Dan Scungio, MT(ASCP), SLS, laboratory safety officer for Sentara Healthcare in Virginia and otherwise known as “Dan, the Lab Safety Man,” discusses the important issues that affect your job every day.

The first time you pick up a bottle of hydrochloric acid—if you’ve been properly educated about the dangers—can be scary. You handle the bottle carefully, and you’re sure not to spill at all. But the next few times, your confidence is high since you’ve had no accidents, and you’ll probably handle the chemical with less care.

Similarly, when you’re new to the histology laboratory, you notice the strong fumes of the formaldehyde. You worry about your exposure, and you ask about ventilation. As time goes by, you stop noticing the smell, and since nothing has happened, your respect for the carcinogen lessens.

In these situations, the perceived risk goes down, but the actual risk doesn’t change. Unfortunately, this perception can happen to anyone who works with hazardous chemicals for a long time and has experienced no known negative effects. It’s a hidden danger for all areas of lab safety, and that’s why continued awareness is so important.

Some regular occurrences can remind staff of the hazards incurred when handling chemicals. When chemical fume hoods are inspected each year, and when staff participate in vapor badge monitors, employees may be reminded that the chemicals they use each day are not without dangers. But these reminders are not enough.

OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard states that laboratories should create and maintain a chemical inventory—a list of all hazardous chemicals stored and used. That inventory should be updated at least annually in addition to whenever new chemicals are introduced to the department. Be sure to involve staff in this process. Having them help provide the information can increase their chemical hazard awareness. The College of American Pathologists also requires labs to perform a chemical risk assessment to determine which chemicals are carcinogenic or reproductively and acutely toxic. This assessment can also be done by staff as a means to promote chemical safety. Looking at safety data sheets for information can be very educational.

This is an excerpt from a member only article. To read the article in its entirety, please login or subscribe to Medical Environment Update.

Most Popular