The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issues guidelines to protect workers in all industries, including biological laboratories. All laboratory workers should be aware of the publications from OSHA related to biological laboratory safety including several regulations and guidance documents. OSHA also publishes Quick Facts sheets on specific pieces of equipment, such as centrifuges, which may also be of use to laboratory workers and administrators.
General Duty Clause
The General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act states that an employer “shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” This principle is the basis for all other OSHA guidance and regulation.
Occupational Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories Standard (29 CFR 1910.1450)
This standard is frequently referred to as the Laboratory Standard. It requires laboratories to appoint a Chemical Safety Officer, develop a Chemical Hygiene Plan, and to regularly verify that the plan is followed. The Chemical Hygiene Plan must be tailored to the chemicals and their uses present in the laboratory. It must include procedures for worker protection, medical treatment in the case of an exposure, and laboratory safety practices.
The Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200)
The Hazard Communication Standard requires employers to make sure workers understand what they are working with, what the dangers are, and what they need to do to protect themselves. The standard includes provisions for many aspects of hazard communication including: developing and maintaining a written hazard communication program for the workplace, labeling of containers of chemicals, distribution of material safety data sheets (MSDSs) to workers, and development of worker training programs about the hazards of chemicals and worker protection.
The Bloodborne Pathogens Standard (29 CFR 1910.1030)
One of the most important standards for biological laboratories is the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard. It covers all laboratory workers who can be “reasonably expected” to encounter blood or other potentially infectious biological materials in the laboratory. It requires workers to receive initial and yearly training on bloodborne pathogens and needle stick prevention, as well as requiring employers to have written exposure control plans in case of an accidental exposure.
Infectious Disease Rulemaking Effort (in process)
OSHA has begun the process of creating an infectious disease standard and is seeking input through a Small Business Advocacy Review Panel and through the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Information is available on the OSHA website.
The Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Standard (29 CFR 1910.132)
The Personal Protective Equipment Standard requires employers to provide and pay for any necessary equipment to protect workers from hazards in the workplace. Employers must assess workplace risks and determine the necessary protective measures. They must also train employees on protective measures and ensure employees use them appropriately.
The Hand Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.138)
The Hand Protection Standard requires employers to identify and ensure workers use hand protection when dealing with hazardous chemicals, temperatures, or objects.
The Eye and Face Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.133)
The Eye and Face Protection Standard requires employers to identify potential hazards and ensure workers use appropriate eye and face protection while working with hazardous materials of any kind, including biological materials, sparks or heated metal, and corrosive chemicals.
The Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134)
The Respiratory Protection Standard requires employers to provide appropriate respiratory protection to employees, including maintaining a respiratory protection program and training employees on hazards and the use of respirators.
The Control of Hazardous Energy Standard (29 CFR 1910.147)
This Standard, sometimes called the “lockout/tagout” standard, primarily deals with mechanical and electrical equipment. The standard is intended to prevent workers from being injured by machines that are unexpectedly started during maintenance or installation and requires a system for ensuring safety.
For more information on the standards listed above, please see the OSHA Laboratory Guidance.
OSHA also maintains a topic page on laboratories, which includes Quick Facts on many other topics relevant to biological laboratories.