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SGDAM Safety Inspection, April 2003

SGDAM Safety Inspection, April 2003

April 2003 - Volume 5 - Number 2

Standards and Guidelines

Guidance Document for Implementing Health and Safety Programs in DNA Laboratories

Scientific Working Group on DNA Analysis Methods (SWGDAM)

Revised July 2002

Introduction | General Safety | Chemical Safety | Biological Safety | Radiation Safety | Resources


A variety of hazards exist in forensic laboratories. The risks associated with these hazards are greatly reduced or eliminated if proper precautions, practices, and procedures are observed in the laboratory. The documentation of, and adherence to, practices and procedures in a laboratory safety manual is an essential requirement of an effective laboratory safety program.

The following supplemental guideline and associated health and safety criteria have been developed to assist forensic laboratories that perform DNA analysis in establishing the minimum requirements of an environmental health and safety program. This guideline, based on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard for Occupational Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories [Chemical Hygiene] - 29 CFR 1910.1450, is not intended to incorporate all relevant federal and state environmental and occupational safety and health regulatory standards that may apply to a laboratory environment. Its goal is to identify those key elements, which would constitute the minimum health and safety requirements that a laboratory should strive to meet and serve as a basic guide to evaluate current laboratory health and safety practices1.

In addition to the information provided in this document, additional health and safety resources are provided at the end of the document.

General Safety


  • Does the laboratory have an effective health and safety program documented in a manual? At minimum, the manual should include a written bloodborne pathogen, chemical hygiene, and waste management program.

Review laboratory safety manual for minimum requirements.


  • Does the laboratory provide and document health and safety awareness training to its personnel, which includes at minimum bloodborne pathogen and chemical hygiene?


    Review the laboratory training records.

  • Is an individual designated as the health and safety manager?


    Identify individual.


  • Is the health and safety program monitored regularly and reviewed annually to ensure that its requirements are being met?


    Check for record of an annual internal review or inspection.


  • Does the laboratory have procedures in place to document, investigate, and take appropriate corrective action when an employee has been injured or exposed to a hazardous material, including blood or other potentially infectious material?


    Verify procedure(s).


  • Does the laboratory have an emergency and fire protection plan to ensure safety in the event of an emergency?


    Identify and review emergency and fire protection plan. Do the employees know what to do in case of an emergency?


  • Does the laboratory have a clearly written policy establishing designated areas for eating, drinking, and storage of food and beverages?


    During inspection, look for signs of eating/drinking (empty plates/cups) in laboratory work areas.


  • Does the laboratory have available and encourage the use of personal protective equipment and safety devices, particularly those required by its health and safety manual?

    Verify by observation and discussion with laboratory personnel.


  • Are sufficient first-aid kits available and strategically located?


    Verify that kits are stored with appropriate supplies.


  • Does the laboratory have safety shower and eyewash equipment in appropriate locations and in good working condition?


    Check locations of eyewashes and showers. Are emergency eyewashes and showers unobstructed and in good working condition?


  • Are the emergency exits from the laboratory adequate for safe exit in the event of an emergency?

    Check to see if evacuation routes are posted in laboratories. Ask laboratory personnel to identify evacuation routes and exits. Are aisles and passageways leading to emergency exits within the unit clearly marked and kept unobstructed?


  • Is there general cleanliness and apparent good housekeeping in the laboratory?


    Inspect for wires or extension cords under carpets or rugs, through doorways, or placed in other traffic areas.

Chemical Safety


  • Does the laboratory provide a documented training program for chemical hygiene/hazard communication?


    Review the training records.


  • Do laboratory personnel have access to up-to-date Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for the chemicals used in the laboratory?


    Look for location of MSDS files. Ask laboratory staff if they are aware of the location of the MSDS files. 

  • Does the laboratory maintain a current chemical inventory?


  • Does the laboratory have proper equipment and material readily accessible for the handling of carcinogenic, toxic, and/or other dangerous material spills?

    Identify location of spill kits supplies. Do the employees know the location of the spill kits and are they readily accessible? Are the spill kits appropriate for the hazards present?

  • Have personnel been instructed on how to respond in the event of a chemical spill?


    Have laboratory personnel discuss the laboratory’s spill response procedures.


  • Is appropriate space provided for safe storage of volatile, flammable, explosive, and other hazardous materials?

    Verify that flammable storage cabinets are available for bulk storage of flammable materials. Verify that flammable materials requiring refrigeration are stored in “explosion-proof” refrigerators.


  • Are incompatible chemicals segregated in storage?

    Check chemical storage areas.


  • Are secondary containers used to store hazardous chemicals labeled to identify contents and associated hazards?


    Verify labeling of secondary containers during inspection. Hazard warning labels may be in the form of words, pictures, symbols, or a combination thereof.


  • Are sufficient exhaust hoods available to maintain a safe work environment?


    Survey area during inspection and discuss with laboratory personnel to determine if hoods are checked regularly to ensure proper operation.


  • Are chemical fume hoods free from excessive storage, which increase risk of hazards and reduce efficiency?


    Note difference between “in-use” materials and “storage”.


  • Are procedures in place and followed for the management and disposal of chemical and biological waste?


    Review laboratory’s policy/procedures for waste management and compare to current practices. Check to see that waste contents are identified.

Biological Safety


  • Have personnel who work with blood or other potentially infectious materials received the necessary training for its safe handling, use, and disposal and has the training been documented?


    Verify by checking training records and through discussions with laboratory personnel.


  • Are universal precautions observed when handling blood or other potentially infectious materials?


    During inspection process, observe laboratory operations involving blood and other potentially infectious materials. Verify that personnel follow universal precautions including the use of engineering controls (sharp containers, biosafety cabinets, biohazard bags), work practice controls (afe handling and disposal of sharps), personal protective equipment, and housekeeping.


  • Are laminar flow hoods, biological safety cabinets, or equivalent engineering controls available and functioning?


    Verify during laboratory inspection.


  • Are biohazard-warning labels used as required?


    Biohazard labels should be attached to containers of regulated medical waste, including sharp disposal containers, refrigerators and freezers containing blood, or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM) and containers used to store or transport blood or OPIM.


  • Has the hepatitis B vaccine and vaccine series been made available to all employees who have a potential occupational exposure to blood or other potentially infectious materials?


    Verify through discussions with laboratory personnel.

Radiation Safety


  • If the laboratory uses procedures and/or instrumentation involving ionizing radiation, have precautionary procedures, personal monitoring (dosimeters) labeling, and disposal requirements been established?


    Have the laboratory provide a copy of the radiation safety plan.


1These guidelines are not intended to cover all applicable elements of a health and safety program but rather to serve as a guide to the laboratory manager the DNA auditor during an inspection. Additional state and federal environmental and occupational health and safety elements may be necessary to ensure compliance.


In addition to the information provided in the guidelines, further laboratory safety standards, practices, and procedures, as well as chemical safety information, may be obtained from the following Internet resources:


  • Code of Federal Regulations available at http://www.access.gpo.gov/ecfr 
  • College and University Health and Safety Site (links to more than 200 health and safety sites) available at http://www.uky.edu/Fiscal/Environmental/otherehs.html
  • Environmental Protection Agency available at www.epa.gov 
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration available at www.osha.gov