Making Laboratory Safety as Simple as ABC

By Dan Scungio, MT (ASCP), SLS, CQA (ASQ)  bio

When it comes to safety in the laboratory, there are several rules, regulations, and guidelines to keep track of from multiple organizations. If your responsibilities for lab safety are shared with other job duties, that makes keeping track of these regulations even more difficult. If you’re having a hard time keeping up as a lab safety professional, how are you getting the necessary information to your staff?

One way to simplify these regulations is to break them down into specific safety topics and focus on the three main inspection readiness points and training for each. Breaking down the readiness pieces into ABCs can help you use the information easily for your lab.

Safety in the Physical Environment

For our first example, let’s look at the physical environment in the laboratory. The regulations for what was once known as the “environment of care” are concerned with the actual physical space. Is there adequate space for safe work to be performed in the lab? Is there adequate working space in the general lab for the medical director, charge techs, etc.? This is also where labs should consider space for staff lockers, rest rooms, and a meeting and break area. Work space is of course important as well. Is there adequate room in your lab for equipment, and storage of supplies, both room temperature and refrigerated?

To break this down, the ABCs of the lab physical environment are:

A = Arranged neatly. A culture of neatness and cleanliness is simply a better environment to work in, but it also helps most people to work in a better, orderly, safer fashion.

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B = Below 18 inches from ceiling. Some fire locales may require 24-inch clearance, and it may only be required if there is a sprinkler system in place. Check with your local fire authority as they have the ultimate say in this.

C = Clear walkways and paths to exits.

Bloodborne Pathogen Safety

Bloodborne Pathogens is an important safety topic in the laboratory, and the regulations are not always understood. OSHA requires a full safety plan for your lab which includes education and training about the Exposure Control Plan, Personal Protective Equipment, food and drink in the lab, specimen transport, and spill clean-up.

Broken down to its basic form, the ABCs are:

A = Assess PPE. Perform risk and task assessments annually and visually assess the location of PPE and its use in the lab. Make it easy for people to comply with PPE use.

B = Ban food and drink from the lab. This also includes gum, candy, throat lozenges, etc. Why? OSHA is reducing hand-to-mouth contact in the lab to reduce the possibility of lab-acquired infections.

C = Carry specimens appropriately. Train staff for packing and shipping category A and B substances where needed, train how to transport specimens in house, via courier, etc.

Chemical Safety

Chemical management is another topic that can consume the time of a lab safety professional. So many regulations affect this area, and keeping up with chemical labeling, the inventory, and Safety Data Sheets can seem daunting.

Let’s break this subject down to its simplest ABC form:

A = Account for all chemicals. Update the lab chemical inventory at least annually, classify chemicals as carcinogen, reproductive or acute toxin, and ensure proper storage of chemicals.

B = Be ready for spills. Be sure you have the right types of spill kits (i.e., neutralizers for formaldehyde), and make sure they are ready for use. Staff need training on the use of spill supplies and spill drills are always a good idea.

C = Classify all chemicals. Label all primary and secondary containers properly, make sure you have access to a Safety Data Sheet for all chemicals on site, and ensure that staff are trained on all present chemical hazards.


There are several other safety issues in the lab, such as waste management, ergonomics, fire safety, and compressed gas safety to name a few, and the regulations for safety surrounding some of these keep changing.

If you are struggling with getting your hands around safety compliance, then start with some of the basics, the ABCs in each safety category. Start there and build on your “safety alphabet,” and from there you will see the improvement in your overall lab safety culture. Focus on the process today and you will reach your goals tomorrow.

Bio: Dan Scungio, MT (ASCP), SLS, CQA (ASQ) is laboratory safety officer for Sentara Healthcare Virginia and North Carolina. As Dan the Lab Safety Man, he also serves as a laboratory safety trainer, speaker and consultant. Email:

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