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Study reveals risk of workplace accidents in the lab

When North Carolina residents think of workplace accidents or injuries, they may think of workers involved in construction business or industrial work. They may even think of office employees who slip and fall, but they may not think of scientists suffering a workplace injury.

In a recent international survey regarding researchers' workplace attitudes and practices, approximately half of the 2,400 scientists questioned had sustained injuries, such as animal bites or chemical inhalation, and had not reported their injuries or received any hazard training for their job. The study comes as an attempt to understand the safety culture in labs after the death of a research assistant shocked many.

Researchers reported being scratched by a monkey, bitten by rattlesnakes and being sprayed in the face by sulphuric acids. The surprising aspect of these reports was that many believed these injuries were just part of the job. The overwhelming majority of those interviewed viewed their labs as safe places to work and claimed they had sufficient training to minimize injuries, and that their labs were equipped with the appropriate safety measures in case of an accident. However, more specific questions revealed that only 60 percent of those surveyed stated they had received training for the materials they worked with, and approximately half agreed that more safety regulations could be enacted.

The survey also demonstrated a divide between junior scientists and senior ones. Only 12 percent of junior scientists stated that safety was a key issue, more important than other lab regulations. They were also more likely to work alone, increasing the risks if an accident should occur.

Workplace safety is essential, whether North Carolina residents are building houses or experimenting on animals. Creating a safe culture starts with safety training and underscoring the importance of following safety procedures, even if it means more paperwork for employees and higher costs for employers.

Sustaining an injury on the job is not a necessary part of any job, and those who suffer injures should not only report their injury but they may also be able to file a workers' compensation claim in order to cover their medical expenses and any time taken off from work due to their injury.

Source: Scientific American, "Safety survey reveals lab risks," Richard van Noorden, Jan. 3, 2012

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