Before laboratory operations are begun or changed, the risks are to be assessed. This applies above all to work where hazardous chemical products, biological contagions, GMM, sources of radiation and inflammable goods are handled, but also where machines, apparatus, or tools (e.g. sprayers) are used. One basic rule is to pay extra attention to something that, upon exposure, can give rise to injury via inhalation, skin contact, spray (in the eyes), ingestion (via the mouth), or if the substances being used are flammable, inflammable, reactive or if it can destroy materials.
The risk assessment must be documented, and preventive protection measures must be taken. It is the job of an operations manager to inform the employees of the outcome of the risk assessment. For employers, carrying out risk assessments themselves before new or modified task elements is an assurance.
In a risk assessment, the entire task element/laboratory experiment should have the risks assessed, not only the handling of a separate material. Danger, hygienic limit values and applicable special rules must be indicated. The risk assessment must also cover the amounts or concentrations in which the substance is found and how the substance is being used (laboratory elements). If carcinogenic, mutagenic, or reprotoxic (CMR) substances are being handled, an investigation into substituting the substance must always be included in the risk assessment.
Hygienic limit values exist for approximately 450 compounds; their levels in inhaled air must be acceptable based on the values indicated in the AFS on hygienic limit values. The acceptability of the air in the workplace can be assessed:
- with the help of supplier information;
- by using exposure models;
- by hiring an expert to make the assessment; or
- by letting an exposure measurement be made.
If it cannot be ascertained or established with other methods that inhaled air is acceptable, the content of the relevant substance must be measured and the results presented in a measurement report.
There are also requirements for periodic measurements of the quality of the air in the workplace, if there is a risk that the breathing zone contains lead or inorganic lead compounds, ethylene oxide, cadmium or inorganic cadmium compounds, or styrene, vinyl toluene, or other reactive monomeres that are formed in the manufacture of ester plastics (exception if the work is < 2 months/year or a negligible amount).
Incident preparedness is something the risk assessment should also cover – that is, assess which incidents could occur, how these can be prevented and what must be done when an incident still occurs.
Risks can be limited by:
- selecting less hazardous chemicals, gases, biological agents, or sources of radiation that minimise the risks during handling;
- adapting working methods, premises, work equipment, location, point in time (e.g. through performing the work in a closed system using process ventilation, planning the work for a time or place when only the staff involved are on site, or by using personal protective equipment); or
- minimising or limiting the amount of each substance or product, and so on.
Knowing how to provide first aid is important if something goes wrong anyway, so that you can help take care of injured colleagues. If an accident or damage occurs, it must be reported to your manager, and to the Swedish social insurance agency if it concerns an occupational injury.