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Visiting Labs and Plants

Ken Fivizzani, Safety Expert
Ken Fivizzani, Safety Expert

In the course of your career, you will probably visit laboratories and manufacturing plants other than the facility where you work. These other facilities may be within your own organization or they may be part of another organization, possibly a collaborating organization, a client or customer. In these situations, you are now the visitor and must follow the safety policies and procedures of your host; see Visitor Safety in the 4/9/20 issue of this newsletter. Prior to your visit, check with your host for any policies regarding clothing, including shoes. 

While photographs may not technically be a safety issue, you should always get permission before taking pictures in a facility other than your own. Your photo may reveal proprietary technology or strategy. A picture of a coffee cup on a benchtop or a researcher not wearing eye protection may harm the reputation of your host. 

In laboratories, policies and procedures will most likely be similar to those in your own labs. Are side shields required on safety glasses (probably)? Are steel-toed safety shoes required (probably not)? Are you allowed to walk around by yourself? Ask if any safety training is required for visiting scientists. You may be required to sign in and sign out. 

In manufacturing or pilot plants, there are unfamiliar hazards for a lab chemist. Ask what you should do if there is an emergency, such as a fire or explosion. Steel-toed shoes and long sleeve shirts may be required. A hard hat will almost certainly be required if you will be walking through the plant. Consider bringing a hard hat from your own organization to ensure a proper fit. As soon as you climb stairs or walk among pipes, you will appreciate the value of a hard hat. Do not bend over an open tank while wearing a hard hat. A hard hat falling into a tank can create serious safety and manufacturing problems.

Most likely, you will be issued ear plugs. Wear them, especially when your host is wearing them. A common practical challenge when touring a plant is hearing others while wearing hearing protection in a noisy area. Again, you might want to consider bringing your own ear plugs. There may be marked walkways for pedestrians; stay on such walkways whenever possible. It is crucial that you do not walk around a plant unescorted. There could be hot pipes, pressure relief valves, and self-starting machinery. Watch for small vehicles like forklift trucks, electric carts, and bicycles. You may not hear them coming with the ambient noise. 

Whose safety policy is stricter? – Once you are on-site and have received any required training, you may have to make many decisions about how to act safely. What do you do when your own safety policies differ from your host’s? Always follow the stricter safety policy! If your hosts have a stricter policy, you are obligated to adhere to their standards. If your organization has stricter policies that apply to you as an individual, follow your organization’s policies. Your organization may expect that you maintain the safety standards that it has established. With respect to your hosts, you are setting a good example and may be demonstrating a safer way to do a task. You are also revealing to your hosts how important safety is to you and to your organization.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

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