Lab Safety Assessment Tools by Maytal Rand

EH&S is in the process of launching a variety of new and revised tools specifically aimed at raising the bar for laboratory safety. Foremost, is the release of the Policy for Personal Protective Equipment in Research Laboratories (PPE Policy), recently announced by the Executive Vice President for Research, Dr. Michael Purdy. The PPE Policy is accompanied by the new PPE Hazard Assessment Tool, created to help laboratories identify the appropriate engineering controls (such as chemical fume hoods), administration controls (such as proper standard operating procedures), and personal protective equipment corresponding to their laboratory's activities. Although PPE is the "last line of defense" against potential laboratory hazards and should not be used as a substitute for other control measures, including appropriate product/process substitution, engineering controls and administrative controls, PPE is central to an individual's safety in the laboratory and must be clearly defined.

The prevailing OSHA standard for research laboratories, 29CFR1910.1450, Occupational exposure to hazardous chemicals in laboratories (aka the "Lab Standard"), requires that laboratories develop a Chemical Hygiene Plan. EH&S has developed the University's Chemical Hygiene Plan, however it is essential that each laboratory develop a complementary, individualized plan that identifies hazards that may be encountered in that laboratory and the appropriate control measures to prevent exposures. To assist laboratories in meeting this requirement, EH&S has developed the Lab Assessment Tool and Chemical Hygiene (LATCH) Plan, an online program to identify specific hazards, emergency equipment, PPE requirements and other important data for each laboratory. In prior years, this was accomplished on paper via Attachment I of the University's Health & Safety Manual. With the LATCH now online, a particularly helpful and convenient feature will be its ability to pull a variety of essential data from EH&S' current database (e.g., chemical fume hood and biological safety cabinet certifications, individual staff safety training compliance status, location of emergency equipment, etc.) and auto-populate this information into each laboratory's LATCH, providing significant momentum toward completion. The LATCH will incorporate the PPE Hazard Assessment Tool, allowing hazard-specific PPE determinations to be incorporated into the laboratory's individualized plan.

As part of the requirement for a Chemical Hygiene Plan, OSHA, as well as several other agencies, requires the development of laboratory chemical inventory. This is accomplished for each laboratory at Morningside via the ChemTracker program, and at Lamont-Doherty via the Chemical Hazardous Materials Database. Currently at CUMC chemical inventories must be prepared by each laboratory and submitted to EH&S's Research Safety Specialist at labsafety@columbia.edu by the end of each calendar year using the template @ http://www.ehs.columbia.edu/LaboratorySafety.html. Nevis Laboratories can also use the template used by CUMC.

Finally, an important element of the Chemical Hygiene Plan and chemical inventory requirements is the need to maintain availability and access to Safety Data Sheets (formerly referred to as Material Safety Sheets, or SDS). EH&S has purchased ChemWatch, an online program that provides immediate access to Safety Data Sheets (SDS's) and allows each laboratory to build, save and store its own electronic SDS collection directly in the program. ChemWatch also offers comprehensive chemical safety data with invaluable and lifesaving information about the safe handling and PPE requirements for a given chemical – useful information when completing the LATCH - and what to do in the event of a chemical spill or exposure. Physician guides are also provided should medical attention be required. SDS's (i.e., ChemWatch) can be accessed @ www.ehs.columbia.edu or directly @ http://jr.chemwatch.net/chemwatch.web/account/autologinbyip?X.

Fostering a safe work environment is everyone's responsibility and EH&S will continue to develop and offer useful tools to the research community to help continue to build and maintain a strong research safety culture that Columbia University can be proud of.

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