Laboratory work can be full of risks. From general hazards like trips, slips and falls, to more specific concerns like chemical spills and burns, labs can be dangerous places to be. These risks are amplified when employees are working on their own, especially if incidents and accidents result in serious injury or incapacitation.
If your laboratory personnel are required to work alone, it’s important to create a lone worker policy and put emergency procedures in place. Putting serious thought into lone worker safety, and providing your team with proper training and safety equipment, can help you to reduce risk and minimize injury if something does go wrong.
Understanding the Risks of Working Alone
The specific risks of working alone will depend on your lab and the surrounding environment as well as a number of other factors. Because these factors vary from lab to lab, it’s important to carry out a full risk assessment of your workplace before creating your lone worker policy.
There are some risks that are universal to people working alone in all environments. These include:
Slips, trips and falls
If your lab deals with hazardous materials, you’ll also need to add chemical spills, chemical burns and exposure to harmful substances to the list.
Providing a wireless panic button solution helps keep workers safe in the laboratory, and everywhere else in the building.
Letting People Know
It’s very important to let people know whenever you or any of your employees are working alone in the lab. This basic step will help to ensure that people are aware there is someone on the premises, something that can be very important in case of a fire, gas leak or other emergency.
Use a Buddy System
Introducing a buddy system is a good way to ensure people working alone in your lab are regularly monitored. It can be especially useful when you have a number of employees working in isolation in the same premises.
Simply pair up your employees and ask them to check-in on each other regularly throughout the day. This can help to build a culture of safety within the workplace and even help to boost employee morale.
The buddy system can also be used when employees are working in the lab by themselves. Their buddy can get in touch via their cell phone or by checking any CCTV available on the premises.
Make sure access to and from your lab is hassle-free and well-lit. If employees are regularly required to work on their own outside of normal working hours, you may need to hire security personnel, install security lighting or take other measures to keep them safe.
If you don’t currently have an access control system, you may want to consider investing in one. Asking employees to use ID cards to access the workplace, or putting a security code on your door, will help to prevent intruders and unauthorized personnel entering the space when staff are working on their own.
You may also want to restrict the access of graduate students and undergraduate students to your premises as they may not have the skills required to work safely on their own.
Traveling To and From Work
As well as access to the lab itself, it’s a good idea to think about how staff will get to and from your lab outside of normal working hours. If lone workers are required to commute to the office late at night, very early in the morning or at weekends, public transport may not be available, and employees may feel more vulnerable than normal.
Again, you could consider introducing a buddy system in which staff notify their assigned partner when they arrive safely at work and when they get home again at the end of their shift. Installing lighting and CCTV in the car park can also help to reassure your staff.
PPE and Emergency Equipment
Investing in personal protective equipment (PPE) is one of the best ways to protect your employees and enhance the safety of your lab. The PPE you require will depend on the substances your team deals with.
If they’re required to work with any flammable, corrosive or otherwise hazardous chemicals, they’ll need protective gloves, gowns or lab coats and eyewear. Masks or fume hoods may also be required in some situations. All staff should receive safety training on how to use their PPE.
If accidents do happen, your employees need to know they can get help fast. Providing emergency equipment, like a wireless panic button or fixed emergency alarm will allow a solo lab worker to get help fast if they have an accident or encounter any environmental health and safety issues.
Make sure all staff know where you keep your emergency equipment, like eye wash and first aid kit. And make regular health and safety training part of your standard operating procedures.
If all of your staff are trained in both general health and safety protocols and specific laboratory safety, they’ll know exactly what to do if an incident does occur when someone is lone working. Acting fast in the event of an emergency can minimize serious injury and prevent excess damage to your premises.
A good way to prevent future accidents is to appoint a principal investigator to look into any safety breaches in your lab. They’ll be able to scrutinize your emergency response and make safe working recommendations for your employees.
When You Shouldn't Work Alone
A big part of lab safety is knowing when not to work alone. If you’re working with particularly hazardous equipment or are carrying out research in a confined space, it’s probably a good idea to wait till a co-worker arrives.
Laboratories are full of physical hazards. Learning how to manage these hazards, minimize risks and respond to an emergency situation will help to keep you and your staff safe when working alone.
Find out more about lone worker safety procedures, and learn how panic buttons can protect your employees, by taking a look around or getting in touch with a member of our team.