Students must understand that all laboratory research has risks.
Students can do their best to minimize risks by using appropriate protective measures, but research often involves working in areas where one does not have previous experience, and incidents can happen. Using the best protective measures will likely reduce the risks of incidents, but it will not eliminate the risks completely.
To manage risk, graduate students should be able to identify how the risk level can be lowered by using appropriate:
- Engineering controls (equipment such as hoods, ventilation systems, and safety interlocks)
- Administrative controls (training, methods, procedures, and processes)
- Personal protective equipment (PPE).
They should be able to extrapolate from known compounds and processes to new experimental situations where the compounds and processes being proposed have never before existed.
Risks of hazards can be minimized by using appropriate equipment, methods, and procedures to protect the researcher and others during laboratory work. These measures should include equipment, procedures, and protection designed to minimize exposures to hazardous chemicals, such as:
- Laboratory hoods
- Standard operating procedures (SOPs)
Students should be able to explain the basics of these protective measures and the advantages and disadvantages of different measures through personal inquiry or discussion with their research principal investigator and their research group.
Students should know that PPE is not the primary method for protection—rather, engineering controls, equipment, administrative controls, and laboratory procedures are always considered first and are supplemented with necessary use of PPE.
Some institutions may have laboratory manuals and technique-specific SOPs, which should be critically reviewed on a regular basis. Students should also know the limitations or shortcomings of these measures.
This combination of recognizing hazards, assessing the risks of those hazards, and identifying ways to minimize the risks of hazards is called “risk analysis” or “process hazard analysis”. It should be routinely practiced by every graduate student.
Students should be able to explain the most relevant hazard rating systems and hazard analysis techniques. They should know common and specific methods to minimize hazards, and should also know the limitations of those protective measures.