Expert Report

Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Management of Chemical Hazards, Revised Edition (2011)

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Reflecting recent scientific developments and new regulations, this report updates National Research Council guidelines that have served as an authoritative reference for the safe use of hazardous chemicals in laboratories for almost thirty years. The guidelines are used by laboratory personnel as well as regulatory agencies worldwide concerned with safety in the workplace and environmental protection. New topics covered in this update include: emergency planning, laboratory security, green chemistry, compatible chemical storage, and the handling of nanomaterials. Moreover, there is an expanded discussion of environmental health and safety systems.

Key Messages

  • A key focus of Prudent Practices is the importance of establishing and nurturing a "culture of safety" -- an environment in which safe laboratory practice is standard. Since the last edition of the guidelines, significant progress toward this goal has been made.
  • This edition of Prudent Practices includes a new section on emergency planning to provide guidance on managing emergencies ranging from power outages to floods or intentional malicious acts.
  • Prudent Practices provides advice on four phases of emergency preparations to ensure the laboratory is ready for an emergency event. These are mitigation -- efforts to minimize the likelihood that an incident will occur and to limit the effects of an incident that does occur; preparedness -- the process of developing plans for managing an emergency and taking action to ensure that the laboratory is ready to handle an emergency; and response -- efforts to manage the emergency as it occurs; and recovery -- actions taken to restore the laboratory and affected areas so that the laboratory may function safely.
  • This edition of Prudent Practices includes the first discussion of laboratory security, offering several security plans and advice for training laboratory members. A laboratory security system helps to mitigate risks including the theft of chemicals which could be sold, or used to manufacture weapons or illicit substances; threats from activist groups; or the accidental release of or exposure to hazardous materials.
  • Principles of green chemistry -- the philosophy of designing experiments, products, and processes to reduce or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances, and minimize accidents, injuries, and exposures to personnel -- are considered for the first time in this update to Prudent Practices.
  • Prudent Practices provides a list of general storage considerations, such as storing volatile toxic or odoriferous chemicals in ventilated cabinets and ensuring shelves have a lip to prevent containers from sliding off. In addition, this update to Prudent Practices provides a detailed classification system for the storage of chemicals to help laboratory personnel easily identify which chemicals can be safely stored near each other.
  • This update to Prudent Practices provides guidelines for working with nanoparticles, reflecting the growing use of these materials in chemical research, including information on planning and assessing the hazards of nanomaterial work, grading the risk of working with nanomaterials, and suggestions to make sure the working environment protects laboratory personnel from exposure to nanoparticles.
  • Prudent Practices includes an expanded section on improving environmental health and safety performance by providing guidance on integrating environmental health and safety management within an overall laboratory management system to control health and safety risks in a systematic, proactive manner.