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Lab workers at unique work-related risk of injury and illness

We frequently discuss the work-related hazards that employees of the construction industry face on a regular basis. Construction, like the forestry, fishing and trucking industries is inherently dangerous. However, work-related injuries and illnesses can occur in every American industry. For example, medical personnel are at greater risk for needle-stick injuries and falls, while office workers suffer significant rates of repetitive stress injuries.

One industry that the public may not recognize as particularly hazardous is that of scientific laboratory operations. However, lab researchers and technical workers regularly come in contact with truly hazardous substances that leave them at risk for occupational illness contraction and serious injury.

Unfortunately, scientists and support staff may not be fully aware of how dangerous their industry truly is. The results of a recent international survey indicate that these workers may have an uninformed sense of security when it comes to their workplace safety status. Though studies suggest that roughly half of these workers will be affected by occupational injury or illness, more than 85 percent of the workers surveyed believe that the laboratories they research in are safe work spaces.

The head of environmental health and safety at UCLA responded to these results quite correctly when he noted recently that "Understanding this disparity will be key to positively changing safety culture." Failure to understand the unique risks that these workers are exposed to each day will likely result in continued high rates of injury within the industry. However, highlighting this problem may inspire much needed changes within labs nationwide.

Source: Nature, "Safety survey reveals lab risks," Richard Van Noorden, Jan. 2, 2013

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