New signs improve campus hazard communication
University employees and visitors will soon have more detailed information about hazardous materials contained in the nearly 1,000 Health Science Center laboratories located throughout the medical center and the city.
Already beginning to appear on the walls near the entry doors to the labs are new color signs detailing potential hazards from radioactive materials, flammable items, chemicals and biological agents. The labeling is part of a comprehensive move by the Institutional Safety department to evaluate every lab at the university and keep employees and premises safe and compliant with the Texas Hazard Communication Act and other legislation designed to prevent injuries.
"We're evaluating about 42 labs per month right now," reports Brian Moroney, chemical and biological safety manager. "On each evaluation, we check 60 different items for compliance." In addition to the signs, laboratories are required to have on file Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for each hazardous substance or mixture containing one percent or greater of any hazardous substance. The percentage is lower for mixtures containing highly toxic or carcinogenic substances. The MSDS provides "one-stop shopping" for everything you need to know about a chemical's hazards and what you can do to work with it safely. The forms are available from the safety office, ext. 7-2955, or from the Web at http://msds.uthscsa.edu:7171/.
Yet another level of protection is personal protective equipment such as gloves, aprons, masks and so forth. "Even seemingly harmless items such as marker pens have the potentially hazardous chemical xylene in them, but 'articles' such as pens, correction fluid and other office supplies don't normally require an MSDS when used as intended," he says.
Personnel from the safety department speak every week at the new employee orientation given by Human Resources. They cover hazard communication, personal protective equipment, ergonomics, fire and life safety, emergency response, and injury prevention and reporting.
The department also offers courses on demand, including one on biosafety and blood borne pathogens, radiation safety, and a non-technical bloodborne pathogens course which they recently taught for housekeeping personnel. Safety employees also will begin offering courses on laboratory waste management and laboratory safety in the near future.
Asked for the one most important reminder he would offer employees, Moroney said, "Think about what you're doing before you do it, especially before you go home at night. Is everything put away properly? Is anything going to leak? Is everything turned off properly? A lot of the calls we get to check on problems come at night after the lab workers have gone home."