Laboratory Equipment

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Laboratory equipment is an important part of your laboratory safety program. This equipment is considered an "engineering control". Engineering controls eliminate or reduce exposure to a biological, chemical or physical hazard through the use or substitution of engineered machinery or equipment. Examples include self-capping syringe needles, ventilation systems such as a fume hood or biosafety cabinet, sound-dampening materials to reduce noise levels, safety interlocks, and radiation shielding.

The first and best strategy is to control the hazard at its source. Engineering controls do this, unlike other controls that generally focus on the employee exposed to the hazard. The basic concept behind engineering controls is that, to the extent feasible, the work environment and the job itself should be designed to eliminate hazards or reduce exposure to hazards.

Engineering controls can be simple in some cases. They are based on the following principles:

  • If feasible, design the facility, equipment, or process to remove the hazard or substitute something that is not hazardous.
  • If removal is not feasible, enclose the hazard to prevent exposure in normal operations.
  • Where complete enclosure is not feasible, establish barriers or local ventilation to reduce exposure to the hazard in normal operations.

When substitution of hazardous chemicals or processes is simply not possible, additional measures to control employee exposure need to be taken. While personal protective equipment (PPE) such as respirators can help protect an individual from a hazardous material, engineering controls protect all workers by reducing or eliminating the hazard. For example, someone who is spray-painting can wear a respirator to avoid inhaling toxic fumes, but nearby workers without any respiratory protection will be exposed. Through the use of proper local exhaust ventilation everyone can be protected.

This does not mean that engineering and other types of controls (including PPE) are mutually exclusive. Laboratories may need to use multiple types of controls to prevent overexposures.