Use of chemicals in clinical laboratory


Chemical safety topics that are widely applicable in clinical laboratory practice are reviewed, with emphasis on flammable, corrosive, poisonous and pressurized chemical hazards. The United Nations hazards classes are discussed, and precautionary labeling that should be used to identify these classes and their members is described. Fire, fire safety, corrosives, prevention of chemical burns of eyes and skin, protection from and detection of poisons, the hazards of compressed gases and cryogenic liquids, safe storage of incompatible chemicals, and management and disposal of hazardous and chemical wastes in compliance with emergent enforcement of the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) are among the topics discussed. Selected references that have been used in teaching chemical safety in the chemical industry and allied products and processes industries are also included.

When it comes to the management of chemicals in today’s laboratories, there are two main sets of regulations to consider, both of which have been set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). These rules for handling chemicals are sometimes complicated, and they don’t always provide clear answers for some of the issues you might run into during the course of day-to-day laboratory management. There are ways to make the interpretation of the regulations easier, however, there may be other resources to consider when making decisions about chemical handling and storage.

The first standard that applies to laboratories using chemicals is the Hazard Communication (HazCom) Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200). These regulations apply to any employer that manufactures, distributes, or receives hazardous chemicals. The HazCom directives require that these chemicals are properly labeled, that Safety Data Sheets are available, and that employees are made aware of the hazards associated with the inventory of chemicals maintained and used on-site. The HazCom standard was originally promulgated in 1987, but a major revision in 2012 (to align with the Globally Harmonized System (GHS)) affected how every chemical must be classified and labeled.

The conversion to a new chemical labeling convention that came with the advent of the GHS in 2012 created a fairly clear path for chemical manufacturers. All primary chemical containers needed new specific label elements such as a signal word, a hazard statement, and appropriate pictograms. These updated labels were required by a specific deadline, which was difficult for some chemical manufacturers, but the direction was clear.

Standardized chemical hazard classification was another goal of the updated HazCom standard. The use of the newly introduced pictograms became an easy way for users to know whether or not a chemical was hazardous, and which types of hazards were present. New standardized Safety Data Sheets (SDS) were another tool laboratories had that would help provide information regarding chemical risk, and the pictograms appear on chemical labels and on the SDS. But again, these changes brought some uncertainty.

Media Contact: 
Allison Grey 
Journal Manager 
Journal of Clinical chemistry and Laboratory Medicne