This week I met with the health and safety officer of a major pharmaceutical company and we discussed the items that keep him up at night. The conversation had the typical issues regarding clean and dirty space in the lab, chemical storage and proper chemical usage, egress, ventilation requirements, but the one that caught me off guard was the use of lab personal protective equipment (PPE) and our short conversation regarding the LAB COAT.
The Standard operating procedures for this particular lab is that no coats or gloves leave the lab. So as a lab designer there is a simple way to handle – place enough coat hooks for the researchers to hang their coats up. Sounds silly and easy but how many labs have you gone into that do not have coat hooks and the researcher hangs their coat on the back of a chair or better yet the controls of the fume hood. As for the quantity you do not want the researcher to stack lab coats on top of each other. This simply transfers the potential hazards from the dirty side of the coat to the clean side that is adjacent to your clothing and body.
By talking to the EHS officer and asking his perspective on the SOP’s, I now understand some of the restrictions researchers need to abide by to do their work, “what are their pains”. Think about adjacencies and how often they need to take off their coats and put on gloves. Also can the support space, such as equipment zones with analytical equipment and chemical dispensing/ disposal, be inside the boundary of the lab thus reducing the time it takes the researcher to remove and apply gloves and lab coats.
A bit more about lab coats: something we take for granted but it provides the researcher protection from direct exposure to dangerous chemicals and infectious materials and will provide the researcher some protection form fire. This garment is not fire proof but if the lab coat catches on fire then it could be removed quickly. This was brought to light in an article in Lab Manager Magazine last month where a researched died from injuries sustained in a lab fire. She was extracting a flammable chemical from a bottle and it spilled on her clothing setting them on fire. She was not wearing her lab coat. The article continues on to list several other safety tips for the use of a lab coat, Check it out!