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Laboratory Support – Safety in the Lab

Welcome to the first entry in our new series of Laboratory Support posts where we will be discussing issues pertinent to your lab and sharing how we at CellPath fit in. We welcome your feedback and suggestions of topics you would like us to cover later in the series or if you would like to contribute a post- please get in touch with us: marketing@cellpath.com.

The production of our first post was well underway when the global outbreak of novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 began to affect all of our lives, making this piece more relevant than ever. Inspired by professional discussion forums, here we discuss the topic of safety in the lab.

Working in a laboratory means you are well accustomed to managing your own safety. In a job surrounded by equipment designed to slice through tissue and chemicals with some extremely powerful properties, not to mention the potential pathogens the tissue may be carrying, you are probably more aware than most other professionals of the dangers that your daily routine may present.

The risks you encounter in your line of work can be mitigated in a number of ways. Some risks may be managed by you at an individual level and others may require a policy or infrastructure development to keep you safe at work.

In the event of a global viral outbreak, it is understandable that more attention than usual may be shown towards managing the health and safety of laboratory staff, but it is important to remember that life in the lab always has some risks and measures do exist to manage these- for example, universal precautions.

 

Universal precautions

Universal precautions is a term used to describe the measures that are in place, or should be in place, at all times. These measures allow for the potentially dangerous work of a laboratory professional to be carried out as safely as possible under normal circumstances.

The intention of universal precautions is to treat all tissue as though it is contaminated with a transmissible infectious disease and to wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) as a consequence. The equipment an individual could wear includes rubber gloves (sometimes two pairs of rubber gloves), eye protection, cap, gown, mask, plastic apron, sleeve covers, and shoe covers. Of course, this amount of PPE may not be available or required for every individual in the lab but by following your workplace safety policies you can remain safe at work.

At CellPath, we help to support the implementation of universal precautions by providing all the essential and specialist equipment needed to make your lab safe. For example, at CellPath you will find many components of the PPE necessary to protect yourself against infection from tissue. Our commitment to your safety goes beyond PPE and we are happy to also offer equipment such as the FumeBuddy, designed to remove harmful vapours from your working area. In the unfortunate event of a formalin spill it is best to be prepared and our formalin granules help to quickly neutralise the formalin allowing for easy disposal. Throughout your activities you may wish to know the background levels of formalin or xylene you are exposed to. Badges can be purchased from CellPath which are worn clipped to the individual and then sent for measurement. Routine good hygiene and cleaning practises are always important in the lab but even more so in the presence of a novel coronavirus. Regular cleaning with products proven to be effective at denaturing enveloped viruses such as SARS-Cov-2, like the General Surface Sanitiser available from CellPath, will only add to the protection you and your colleagues experience.

 

Managing risk

Within the lab it is routine practice to dispose safely of medical waste according to local regulations. This includes sharps, PPE (which can be considered infectious waste) and anatomical waste. Each waste category should be safely disposed of in the most appropriate way. At CellPath, we supply a range of BioBins. Available in multiple sizes to suit your needs, the BioBin can store either anatomical or infectious waste for incineration. During the coronavirus outbreak you may find yourself with more waste than usual. This could be due to the increased amount of PPE your workplace may require you to wear or due to temporary policies introduced to reduce the lifetime of disposable items which have been in contact with infected tissue like cutting blades or knives. Though disposal practice remains the same, you may wish to consider introducing additional collections or increasing the size of your bin if the waste becomes unmanageable.

Whilst adequate for managing the known risks of laboratory work, do you think that universal precautions are suitable for managing the situation many find themselves in when confronted with a global viral outbreak? When the hospital lab suddenly begins to receive more attention than usual, it is natural to be more aware of your own safety. Are you able to follow government guidelines for your area whilst still delivering the best possible service to your patients?

COVID-19 is admittedly an unknown entity with several factors which are not yet clearly understood. However, there are many areas of laboratory work where you may already be required to handle the unknown. Depending on your specialism, you may be doing this on a daily basis. Facing the unknown shouldn’t have to mean you encounter additional safety worries.

Some laboratory professionals have expressed concerns for their safety and the best treatment of infected tissue from patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. For the most part, laboratory management teams have devised systems to protect their staff. This may include alteration to shift patterns or an increased distance between individuals working in the same area. You may be provided with additional PPE or sanitisation facilities. Colleagues who are pregnant, elderly or vulnerable may be required to work elsewhere, or even conduct different tasks from home for a while.

 

Safety at CellPath

Here at CellPath, we have also changed our working practises to protect our staff, and the customers we serve. Wherever possible our employees now conduct their work from home. This includes the majority of our office-based staff and helps to minimise the number of people our essential onsite team must be in contact with.
For those who must remain onsite we have reinforced our social distancing measures and produced hand sanitiser using our own chemical production facilities. Hearing of the continuing need for sanitising supplies locally we increased our production capacity and have supplied free of charge hand sanitiser to several local businesses conducting essential work for the community during this time. So far, this has included social care homes, funeral parlous and local hospitals.
The measures we have introduced are designed to keep our precious employees as safe as possible whilst being able to supply the goods you critically need for your work.

Every individual will experience their own unique combination of health factors and personal circumstances which deserve proper consideration by management teams to ensure you are not only kept safe, but also that you feel safe. Protecting your mental wellbeing is a crucial factor in being able to continue to perform your role in these exceptional times.

These additional protective measures are critical steps in ensuring your safety and wellbeing and I hope that wherever you work, you feel suitably protected.

Your comments on this or future articles are always welcome. Please let us know if there are any topics that deserve their time in the spotlight or whether you would like to contribute your own thoughts to our series.

 

Resources

1. https://snip.ly/ygf1zf
2. https://www.labmanager.com/lab-health-and-safety/leading-lab-safety-in-thecovid-19-era-22089
3. https://safety.olemiss.edu/safety-programs/biological-safety/universal-precautions/
4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3927343
5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_precautions
6. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1711526-overview

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