Control of Laboratory Hazards: What can we do?

David S.Y. Lo, Department of Anatomical & Cellular Pathology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Laboratory or workplace hazards cannot be avoided or eliminated and its risk level is related to the activity of working environment.   The occupational accidents recorded by the Labour Department indicated that most of the mishaps or severe accidents were due to human mistakes or lack of training or inadequate supervision.  In 1999 and 2000, the total numbers of occupational injuries were 58841 and 58092, respectively. In medical/paramedical sector the incidents were 1810 and 1980, respectively, in the same period. Further analysis, we found that the following types of accidents contribute to a considerable proportion of the total number of cases, for examples, improper manual handling (16% - 24%), slipping, trapping in workplaces (15% - 20%), contusion on immobile objects (11%), impacted by moving objects (9% - 16%) and injury due to portable tool (11% - 19%).

Workplace hazard is inborn.  We cannot get rid of it, but we can control it to an acceptable safety level. There are numerous ways to control the risk, for examples by improving individual safety awareness, promoting safety culture in the workplace and the most important is having a good occupational safety management system (OSMS) in the organization. The system has been adopted in both government and private sectors and it showed that there is a decrease of occupational injuries and bring a good responsible image to the public. In addition, it also allows both non-management and management staff to participate occupational safety and health issues in the working environment.

The components of the system include initial status review for assessing the present safety and health status of the workplace.  The information collected can be used to establish safety policy, safety organization and implementation of safety plan, which include in-house rules, evaluation of job-related hazards, personal protection programme and emergency preparedness. Periodically, measurement performance has to be conducted to evaluate whether the target of the safety plan is being met or not.  In order to ensure the system that is effective and well operated, senior management should conduct periodic reviews to access the overall performance of the safety management system and examine the results and recommendations of the safety audit or safety review etc.

The implementation of Occupation Safety and Health Ordinance (OSHO) in 1997, extended the legal protection to most of the employees working in both industrial and non-industrial sectors. The purposes of the OSHO are: 1) to ensure the safety and health of employees when they are at work, 2) to prescribe measures that will contribute to make workplaces safer and healthier, 3) to improve the safety and health standards applicable to certain hazardous processes, plants and substances used or kept in workplaces and 4) to improve the safety and health aspect of the working environment for employees. Under the OSHO, employers, employees and occupiers have their own duties to undertake, employer takes primary responsibility in safety and health protection for his employees who in turn have a duty to receive instruction, training and render full co-operation with employer shared responsibility. The Occupational Safety and Health Regulation is a subsidiary regulation of OSHO. The Regulation comes into effect by stages: the provisions concerning accident prevention, fire precautions, working environments, hygiene, first aids in work places  and manual handling operation.

The Commissioner for Labour is empowered to issue improvement notices and suspension notices against activity of workplace which may create an imminent hazard to the employees.

Copyright 2001 Hong Kong Medical Technology Association.
All rights reserved.