6 Energy Efficiency Tips for a Lab Environment

Due to the large amount of equipment they contain, laboratories often use a lot of energy. Cold storage, air conditioning, fume cupboards and lighting all contribute to higher bills and a high energy footprint.

As awareness grows around energy efficiency, it’s important that workplaces stay up to date. These six steps will help you to create achievable, energy-conscious procedures for laboratories that can save you money in the long run.

Turn off equipment when not in use

The first and perhaps most obvious step in how to reduce energy footprint in the lab is to turn off equipment when it’s not in use. Consider implementing timers or sensors on overhead lights so that they’re not switched on more than they must be: lab users can also utilise task lighting if necessary.

When washing hands or rinsing equipment, it’s important to not run taps at full blast unless necessary and be sure to turn them off (and check they’re not dripping) when they’re not in use.

Shut sashes on fume cupboards

Most fume cupboards that are used in laboratories operate on a constant air volume (CAV) or variable air volume (VAV) basis. When using a fume cupboard, pull the sash to a lesser height so that you can comfortably use your hands inside. Keeping the sash height low will allow you to maintain an air volume easily and keep you from wasting energy.

As an aside, fume cupboards should only be used for tasks where they are required and shouldn’t be used as bench space or to store chemicals. When not in use, fume cupboards should be manually switched off.

Cold storage

Maintaining cold storage is necessary in a lab environment where specimens and samples are involved, and fridges and freezers should be regularly checked for temperature in order to ensure this.

Removing frost in cold storage is important as it reduces energy consumption, so make sure that a member of staff performs regular defrosts and at the same time, take the opportunity to remove samples that are unaccounted for.

Consider your HVAC system

A HVAC system manages the heating, ventilation and air conditioning for your lab. It’s true that a safe lab needs clean air, so because of this, the HVAC system might be one of your building’s largest outgoing costs. To ensure a good circulation of air, make sure that furniture is away from the air supply.

For the comfort of lab users, consider opening and closing internal doors before touching the heating setting. Windows should be opened as a last resort, as outside air could upset the equilibrium inside.

Educate staff and lab users about best practice

The most important way to save energy in the lab is by educating lab users about best practice to save energy. Training packs and employee handbooks could be updated to include a section on environmental best practice, so that staff are aware from the beginning of their employment about the importance of saving energy at work.

If you work in a large facility, you should consider introducing benchmarks between labs to encourage staff to save energy.

Assess energy output from older equipment

Old equipment could be costing the lab more money, so during the next equipment check, consider whether an initial outlay on new equipment could save money in the long term. Newer models are likely to be designed with energy efficiency in mind, and therefore have the potential to lower your outgoing costs.

 

An Overview of COSHH Principles & Guidelines

COSHH Regulations

The Control Of Substances Hazardous To Health (COSHH) regulations are the guidelines that require laboratory workers to control exposure to hazardous substances to prevent ill health. COSHH applies to all workplaces and covers a range of substances.

COSHH regulations can appear complicated, but it’s important that they are understood by everybody that works in a lab. In order to ensure that your lab is operating safely, be sure to include a copy of COSHH regulations in with your staff handbook, and make sure that there is an easily accessible copy for staff to peruse at their leisure.

This post will give you a brief overview of the principles and guidelines that make up COSHH regulations, so that you can make sure that you’re protected.

A COSHH Risk Assessment

Before any work is started in a laboratory, the potential for risk needs to be assessed. A risk assessment will mainly cover the likelihood of exposure to hazardous substances, as well as looking at what could cause risks to occur.

Taking the time to write a risk assessment shouldn’t just be considered because it’s a legal requirement, it’s also a chance to reflect on the procedures and processes that can make your laboratory safer. The staff members responsible for writing it will also have a greater level of awareness of the potential risks in the lab environment, which can only be a good thing.

A laboratory risk assessment entails a careful examination of what in the laboratory could cause harm to people’s health. It should take into consideration electrical safety, safety from harmful substances, safety from machines and equipment, and personal protective equipment, amongst other factors.

A risk assessment should also take account of vulnerable individuals such as: expectant or breastfeeding mothers, individuals with disabilities or illnesses such as epilepsy. It should consider general dangers in the workplace, such as slips and trips, as well as risks including chemicals and other hazardous substances.

Writing a risk assessment involves assessing health risks in the workplace and evaluating the necessary steps to control a hazardous outcome involving chemical or biological substances. A risk assessment should answer four questions:

  • What adverse health effects could occur if an individual were to be exposed to hazards?
  • How much of the substance is in use, and how could people be exposed to it?
  • Who could be exposed to the risk, what is the magnitude of the risk, and how often are they in danger of being exposed?
  • What needs to be done to prevent or control the risk?

Risk assessments should be reviewed if:

  • An accident has occurred
  • There has been significant change to the work, personnel, or circumstances to which the assessment relates
  • There is reason to suspect that the previous risk assessment is no longer valid
  • None of the above has happened but a pre-determined time interval has passed since the last risk assessment

Emergency Washing Stations

The Principles of Good Control Practice:

These eight principles define the best practice that should be implemented into any workplace to obtain effective control. The principles overlap slightly, but each is as important as the last.

  • Control exposure at the source in order to minimise emission and spread
  • Consider all the ways in which people can be exposed to a hazardous substance: inhalation, ingestion, or skin
  • Control risk by the most effective measures proportionate to the health risk posed – what could the consequences be?
  • Supply and use workers with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when control cannot be maintained by other means
  • Provide information and training to staff members on the risks of the workplace, and work towards minimising the risks together
  • Ensure that control measures do not increase the overall risk to health and safety
  • Provide arrangements for safe handling, storage, use, transportation and disposal of hazardous substances and waste materials
  • Reduce the level and duration of exposure to hazardous substances, minimise the number of people exposed to it and any quantities stored in the workplace

 

To find out further information regarding the COSHH regulations, please visit HSE or download a guide.

Health and Safety in the School Lab

school science laboratory safety

School labs are an integral part of any secondary school or higher education institution. The lab provides essential hands on learning, allowing students to experiment and discover science in a whole new way.

However, labs can be dangerous environments. It is therefore vital that students understand what is required of them in order to stay safe, ensuring experiments and practical activities go safely and according to plan.

If health and safety in schools and universities are of concern to you, read on to learn some of the key elements to consider for creating a safe environment in the science classroom.

Health and Safety Laboratory Preparations

Prepare the laboratory…

In school or university laboratories, students will be relatively new to the environment, so making sure the laboratory has been designed with even the most basic of safety features explained is important.

Before using the laboratory for the first time…

Before students are permitted to use any of the lab’s facilities, they should be given both verbal and written information about the risks involved, which chemicals they should be extra careful with when handling, and how to respond if they or a fellow student are involved in or witness a chemical spill. We strongly advice the use of an eyewash that irrigates the eye continually via a soft flow of water. One of our popular models – the 3120 eyewash – sits either by the teachers desk or by a sink. We strongly advise that you do not use a hose attached to tap because this can detach the retina and you have no way of ensuring that there aren’t any chemicals in the hose from previous experiments.

Make students aware of safety equipment such as emergency eye washes available to them by going through every aspect of how and when they are supposed to be used. Also show students where they are located in the laboratory and where they should go in case of an evacuation.

Explain to students how they should prepare themselves before using the laboratory, by using the appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE). Anyone with long hair should tie it up to avoid it becoming a fire hazard. Students should wear safety glasses, lab coats and closed shoes at all times, and enough PPE for each student using the facilities should be supplied.

Before carrying out the first experiment…

Run through the whole experiment before it starts, so students can have an oversight of the entire process. This will help minimise disruptions and aid in the experiment running smoothly. This will also give students the opportunity to ask any questions they may have before the experiment starts.

As well as giving a verbal overview of the experiment, give written or illustrated examples so students are clear about what is expected of them.

Make sure students are aware of the risks and hazards involved in that experiment and how they can best respond if something goes wrong.

During the experiment…

Explain to students that they should avoid touching their faces, each other, or any other parts of their bodies, as chemicals can cause burns and other irritations. Thorough hand washing in between different activities is also recommended, to avoid cross-contamination and to keep hands clean.

Students should also abstain from consuming food or drink in the laboratory as this puts them in danger of ingesting hazardous chemicals.

Stay focused…

Advise students to remain focused during the entire experiment. Eliminate any distractions by asking students to leave their phones and bags in a cloakroom and to never leave equipment unattended.

Types Of Emergency Shower

emergency showers

If you are in the process of making a commercial, industrial or educational workplace safe for the individuals who work or study there, learning about emergency showers is important.

Chances are, if substances hazardous to human and environmental health are used in these places, you’ll have heard of COSHH and their requirements to have emergency showers and eye washes in place in case of a chemical spill or accident involving a worker.

We’re here to offer an overview of the types of emergency showers out there and how they work.

What is an emergency shower?

Emergency showers provide on the spot decontamination for anyone who has been involved in an accident that has resulted in any part of their body coming into contact with hazardous chemicals.

According to COSSH, the government’s health and safety regulations, emergency showers are essential equipment for labs, construction sites, factories, chemical plants and anywhere where hazardous substances are used.

Emergency showers are designed to wash the individual’s head and body with large volumes of water, flushing the chemicals away from the body, thereby mitigating the effects of damage caused by exposure to these substances

How to use an emergency shower

From the moment a corrosive chemical meets skin, it causes tissue damage that gets more serious with every second that passes. That’s why getting to the shower ASAP should be every individual’s main priority.

Step 1 Make your way to the safety shower as quickly and safely as possible and enter immediately.

 

Step 2 Pull the lever and go under the stream of water, even if it isn’t running clear yet.

 

Step 3 Remove all clothing and jewellery as you wash. Whether you are surrounded by strangers and colleagues or not, removing all items is essential for ensuring that there is nothing for the substance to cling on to.

 

Step 4 Stay under the stream of water for at least 15 minutes or until medical help arrives.

 

 

Where should an emergency shower be installed?

In broad terms, emergency showers should be in places that are visible and easy to reach. More specifically, they should be reachable within 10 seconds and directly adjacent from areas where corrosive chemicals are being handled.

Types of emergency showers

Ceiling mounted shower

Ceiling mounted showers operate with a pull rod and should be installed at a height between 210cm and 230cm above where the user will stand. One of the benefits of a ceiling mounted shower is that it is space saving.

Floor mounted shower

Floor mounted showers are ideal for outdoor use, they operate with a foot paddle and can be manufactured with or without an eyewash.

Platform operated shower

Platform operated showers are ideally used in workplaces where floors are dirty or slippery. Platforms are made of galvanised steel and designed with grip in mind. The platform operated shower can be available with or without an eyewash and its greatest feature is that it turns on automatically as the user steps onto the platform.

Wall mounted shower

Wall mounted showers, like ceiling mounted showers, are space saving and operate with a pull handle. Unlike a ceiling mounted shower, they can be mounted on a wall both indoors and outdoors.

Platform Operated Booth

The platform operated decontamination booth is the most effective of its kind, thanks to its 14 spray heads placed to provide full body coverage. Like the platform operated shower, the platform operated booth also turns on as the user steps onto the platform. This is also the most time effective shower in case of an emergency.

How To Respond To A Chemical Spill In A Laboratory

water tank

Handled properly, a chemical spill can be no more than an inconvenience. However, if a spill is handled poorly, it can cause disruption or serious injury. It is imperative that laboratory workers are well informed about company chemical spill procedure in order to deal with them safely and effectively. After receiving training and best practice guidelines, it is every member of staff’s responsibility to know and understand the spill response best practice guidelines that are set by the company, in order to lessen the chances of injury and disruption.

Most laboratory spills happen in small quantities and can be classified as a simple spill. When dangerous chemicals and large spills take place, they are classified as complex spills, and should be dealt with by outside professionals.

What are the potential hazards in laboratory spills?

Different chemicals can pose different threats to people and the environment. You should be aware of:

Flammability

Chemicals that can be ignited by heat, sparks or flames.

Reactivity to Air or Water

Chemicals that may oxidise, decompose or react violently to air or moisture.

Corrosion

Corrosive chemicals can cause burns to skin or eyes or ignite combustible chemicals.

High Toxicity

Chemicals that can cause severe illness or fatality.

 

read label on hazardous chemical product

 

How to deal with a chemical spill in a laboratory

A thorough spill response procedure has the potential to save lives in the workplace. The procedure should include: staff responsibilities, communication methods, instructions on using lab safety equipment, spill clean-up and residue disposal. It should also include how to assess a spill and how staff should know whether to attempt clean up themselves or seek professional help.

An out of date best practice isn’t worth anything in a time of crisis, so check and update the spill response procedure regularly. Holding regular training days that cover company procedure should help staff to feel safe at work, whilst ensuring that they know the guidelines to follow should a chemical spill occur. Crucially, this means ensuring that materials and equipment are fully stocked and kept in easy-access places – consider writing a checklist that can be signed off on each week.

When a spill occurs, you should:

Evaluate the risks

Determine whether the spill is simple or complex. A simple spill will not spread rapidly, will not endanger people or property except by direct contact, and does not endanger the environment. If it is a simple spill, you can initiate clean up procedure. If an immediate threat is posed, the spill site should be evacuated immediately and the emergency services should be contacted

Communicate

Colleagues should inform everybody about the spill. Alert them to any danger and decide what the best clean up procedure should be.

Effects on human health

Complex spills are spills that have the potential to spread rapidly, enter the body, or cause an explosion. They come in the form of volatile vapours, water reactive or air reactive chemicals, ignition sources, oxidisers and large quantities of combustible materials. In the case of a complex spill, avoid exposure to the chemicals by evacuating the area, and seek outside assistance.

Effects on property

If a chemical has the potential to damage property, it can also damage human health. Avoid exposure and seek immediate outside assistance.

Effects on environment

If the spill has the potential to harm the environment, it should be regarded as a complex spill and the relevant authorities should be notified. These chemicals tend to be released in large quantities, and so if the chemical is not dangerous to human health, you may be expected to block the spill’s spread.

Quantities of the spill

The quantity of the chemical spill will be a factor in determining whether it can be controlled by trained laboratory personnel or whether staff should seek outside assistance. Colleagues should be trained on how to recognise whether the spill should be dealt-with immediately or whether back up is required.

Potential overall impact

It is vital to minimise the spread of any chemical spill in order to mitigate the risk. If laboratory users are aware of the potential consequences of any spill, the risk can be significantly reduced. Consider environmental factors, ignition sources, flammable materials and ventilation. In any case, a prompt response is absolutely necessary in order to ensure that the spill is dealt with quickly and efficiently.