Environmental Health & Safety (EHS)

Chemical Sensitivities in Lab Employees

Safety Partners’ is about to release our 5th version of Incidents, Accidents, and Near Misses in Laboratory Research which includes a real-life story of a lab employee who developed a chemical sensitivity to a commonly used lab chemical. She experienced allergy-like symptoms when exposed at exposures below established Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs) for this chemical, while her colleagues exposed to the same levels exhibited no adverse effects. It should be noted however, that OELs, including OSHA PELs and ACGIH TLVs, have been established for the protection of the average healthy worker and may not be protective of more sensitive populations including those with chemical sensitivities.

What is Chemical Sensitivity?

Chemical sensitivity is a physiological response that occurs in an individual following exposure to a chemical at levels that would not affect the vast majority of people.  Often chemical sensitivity can present as allergic type reactions including scratchy throat, watery eyes, and runny nose. In other instances, headache, rashes, […]

New OSHA Guidance on Returning to Work

On June 18th, OSHA issued Guidance on Returning to Work to assist employers reopening non-essential businesses and their employees returning to work during the Coronavirus pandemic. The guidance supplements OSHA’s previously published Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19. The guidelines are consistent with the requirements outlined in the Massachusetts Mandatory Safety Standards for Workplaces and recommend that employers continue to focus on strategies for basic hygiene, social distancing, identification and isolation of sick employees, workplace controls and flexibilities, and employee training.

OSHA’s Guidance on Returning to Work includes a section on Employer Frequently Asked Questions. Some of the questions asked have been coming up at our clients, so I thought it would be helpful to share a few. The responses below are summaries, and the OSHA guidance document should be referred to for the full responses.

Can employers conduct work site SARS‑CoV-2 testing?

Yes. Employers may consider implementing strategies to reduce risks to the safety and […]

Massachusetts Safety Standards for Office Spaces During the COVID-19 Reopening Period

On May 18, Governor Baker announced the State’s Plan to safely reopen the Massachusetts economy, while minimizing the health impacts of COVID-19. The guidance includes mandatory sector-specific standards and recommended best practices for sectors that are eligible to open in Phase 1. In my May 20th blog, I discussed the Safety Standards for Laboratories. Since that blog was posted, the State has clarified that offices associated with laboratories must comply with The Safety Standards for Office Spaces. Like the Safety Standards for Laboratories, these standards are organized around four categories: social distancing, hygiene protocols, cleaning and disinfecting, and staffing and operations.

Social Distancing

Social distancing requirements for offices include limiting occupancy within the office space to no more than 25% of the maximum occupancy limit specified in the certificate of occupancy, or the typical occupancy as of March 1, 2020. Any business or other organization that has been operating as a “COVID-19 Essential […]

Airflow in the Laboratory

General airflow through the laboratory space is a design element that safety is often asked to comment on.  With the growing awareness of energy conservation for both sustainability efforts and costs savings, labs are being asked “how low can you go” when it comes to air changes per hour (ACH).  The general heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) controls for the laboratory space can often be manipulated for efficient air supply that provides both occupant comfort and some degree of safety.  When determining what the proper air flow should be, several factors must be considered in conjunction with ACH.

In offices, a percentage of the air supplied to the space can be recirculated from the same space, which saves on heating and cooling costs.  All laboratory air is single pass, which means that it is 100% supplied fresh air from the outside.  This is good news for lab occupants, as the air circulating in the space is all fresh, but not good news for […]

Massachusetts Safety Standards for Laboratories During the COVID-19 Reopening Period

On Monday Governor Baker announced the State’s Plan to safely reopen the Massachusetts economy, while minimizing the health impacts of COVID-19. The guidance includes mandatory sector-specific standards and recommended best practices for sectors that are eligible to open in Phase 1, including laboratories that were not already considered essential. The Safety Standards for Laboratories are applicable to all laboratories (essential and non-essential) and are organized around four categories: social distancing, hygiene protocols, staffing and operations, and cleaning and disinfecting.

Social Distancing

Social distancing requirements include ensuring separation of six feet or more between individuals, unless this distance is unsafe due to the nature of the work or configuration of the workspace. This may require closing or reconfiguring worker common and high-density areas such as eating areas, and redesigning workstations including the use of physical partitions (must be taller than a standing worker). In addition, designated work areas must be assigned to limit movement throughout […]

Are Workplace-Related COVID-19 Cases Recordable and Reportable?

On April 10, 2020, OSHA published interim guidance regarding the enforcement of employers’ obligation to record and report employees’ COVID-19 cases.

The OSHA guidance recognizes that determining whether an employee contracted COVID-19 at work will often be difficult, and because of this, relaxed COVID-19-related recordkeeping obligations for many employers.

However, for employers of workers in the healthcare industry, emergency response organizations (e.g., emergency medical, firefighting, law enforcement services), and correctional institutions, COVID-19 is a recordable illness.

These employers are responsible for recording cases of COVID-19, if:

  • The case is a confirmed case of COVID-19, as defined by theCDC
  • The case is work-related as defined by the OSHA standard on recording and reporting occupational injuries and illnesses 29 CFR 1904.5 and
  • The case involves one or more of the general recording criteria: death, days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid, or loss of consciousness.

For other employers, including […]

SARS-CoV-2: Determining Your Employees’ Exposure Risk Level

OSHA recently issued a guidance document on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 that focuses on determining employees’ risk of occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2 in order to identify the appropriate control measures that can be put in place to protect employees from exposure.

OSHA has divided job tasks into four risk exposure levels:

Very high exposure risk

Jobs with high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of COVID-19 during specific medical, postmortem, or laboratory procedures. Workers in this category include healthcare workers (e.g., doctors, nurses, EMTs) performing aerosol generating procedures (e.g., intubation, cough induction procedures, invasive specimen collection); healthcare or laboratory personnel collecting or handling specimens from known or suspected COVID-19 patients; and morgue workers performing autopsies on people known or suspected of having COVID-19.

 High exposure risk

Jobs with high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of COVID-19. Workers in this category include healthcare and support staff (e.g., doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff who […]

COVID-19: Hands-on, Customized Guidance for a Safe Return to Full-scale Operations

Safety Partners support during the Coronavirus Pandemic

The Baker-Polito Administration has issued a comprehensive plan to safely reopen the Massachusetts economy, get people back to work, and ease social restrictions while minimizing the health impacts of COVID-19.  As part of this plan, all businesses must develop a written control plan outlining how its workplace will comply with the mandatory safety standards (see the full announcement at www.mass.gov).

Safety Partners can guide you through the process of developing and/or finalizing your plan, with emphasis on the areas highlighted by the Governor:

  • Social Distancing
  • Hygiene Protocols
  • Staffing and Operations
  • Cleaning and Disinfecting

In addition to following the new state guidelines, CDC, WHO, OSHA, and local guidance, let us guide you through the process of developing your customized policy that fits your corporate culture and timeline for returning to full-scale operations by examining issues including:

• Tiered Staffing
• General Health Checks and Guidance for Sick Employees
• Office Cleanliness
• Use of Shared Lab Equipment
• Working Alone
• Enhanced Cleaning Procedures
• Glove, […]

Risk Assessments: The Key to Working Safely with COVID-19 Positive Samples

We have been getting many questions from clients on appropriate precautions to take when working with COVID-19 positive samples in the lab. The World Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), and the American Biological Safety Association (ABSA)  have all published extremely informative guidance on this topic:

WHO: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Technical Guidance: Laboratory Testing for 2019-nCoV in Humans

CDC: Information for Laboratories

PHAC: SARS-CoV-2 (Severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus 2)

ABSA: COVID-19 Toolbox

The information is consistent among these agencies and all stress the importance of starting with a risk assessment. This includes a site and protocol-specific assessment of the procedures to be performed, the identification of the hazards of the processes and procedures, an evaluation of the laboratory facility and equipment, as well as an assessment of available resources including personal protective equipment (PPE).

Coronaviruses generally infect the upper or lower respiratory tract, therefore work with respiratory specimens poses the highest risk. […]

New Watertown Regulation: Biotechnology and the Use of Recombinant DNA Molecule Technology

Watertown announced yesterday that due to the COVID-19 emergency they will be ​postponing the effective date of their new regulation (Biotechnology and the Use of Recombinant DNA Molecule Technology) from May 1 until July 1, 2020. Existing facilities located in Watertown​ will have one year from the effective date to come into compliance.

Overall, the new regulation is similar to other cities and towns in the area. One difference is that Watertown will be regulating non-recombinant DNA (rDNA) research involving biologic agents at Biosafety Level 2 (BSL-2) and Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3). (BSL-4 work is prohibited in Watertown.) Examples of agents at BSL-2 include non-recombinant work with Salmonella entericaStaphylococcus aureus, Hepatitis B, and Herpes Simplex Virus. BSL-2 agents can also include toxins of biological origin requiring BSL-2.  In comparison, Cambridge, Lexington, and Boston only regulate biologic agents at BSL-3.

The Watertown regulations do not apply to finished products which contain rDNA molecules and which have been approved by other government regulatory […]