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Be Aware, Take Care ! Establishing a Laboratory Safety Program.

The laboratory is an integral part of the healthcare process .However it is an area where safety is really important as the likelihood of accidents and exposures are high. The establishment of a laboratory safety program is an essential aspect of laboratory management and it is also an important component of most accreditation standards.

Some important aspects of a laboratory safety program are :

  1. To identify the Scope of the program , to include the physical boundaries of the laboratory as well as all laboratory related activities, including the pre-analytical, analytical and post analytical phases.

  2. To establish the purpose of the program ,

which is to ensure the safety and protection of the staff , the facility and the environment around it .

  1. Establishment of a  safety committee, which should include a laboratory representative, operations (housekeeping)  , nursing and medical operations, fire and maintenance. Identification of a Safety or Biosafety Officer in the premises also helps to allocate responsibility and establishes a one point contact in times of emergency and chaos where strong leadership is required.

  2. Material Safety data sheets : identification of hazardous materials used and the preparation of MSDS sheets , which are accessible to all staff .

  3. Safety Rules and guidelines : established for all staff working in the lab to mitigate chances of exposure or accidents

  4. First Aid and Rescue training, in case of fire threat, bomb threat or external calamities , in which the staff can be expected to respond . Provision should be made for the display of fire exits and no smoking signs , as well as fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, manual call points and sprinkler systems. Equipment should be checked regularly  and maintained in working condition, with records for the same.

  5. Emergency contact numbers or codes used by the organisation

  6. Biomedical waste disposal practices should be established and rigorously followed in order to maintain safety of the staff as well as social responsibility for the surrounding environment. Guidelines have been clearly established by WHO ,the United Nations Environment Program , as well the local authority bodies.

  7. Processes for  biological or chemical spills or exposures , needle stick injuries etc

  8. Provision of First Aid Kits and Spill Kits and personal protective equipments

  9. An established Cleaning and Housekeeping Protocol , with regular checks

  10. Vaccination and Immunisation records

  11. Post exposure prophylaxis

  12. Reporting of Incidents ,Accidents or exposures to organisational authorities or local bodies if required.

  13. Regular inspections and audits or mock drills, efforts made to assess risk .

  14. Audit feedback and identification of lacunae

  15. Repeated Training , to be taken as part of orientation for new staff as well as reinforced or reminder trainings

The above aspects should be backed by strong documentation to maintain accountability , responsibility as well as for the purpose of accreditation. The preparation of a laboratory safety manual   which can serve as a ready reference easily accessible  for the staff is advantageous. The use of pictorial infographic material and work table instructions is also useful.

Each laboratory , whether a standalone lab or a hospital based laboratory can establish their own safety programs and customize it to their requirements.

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