What are electrical safety risks in a lab?

When working in a laboratory environment most people don’t give much thought to the electrical systems that are present. While electricity is certainly used in almost all areas of a lab, there aren’t usually wires run all over, or even high-voltage signs displayed like you would find in many other environments. That being said, however, there are still some very serious electrical risks that everyone needs to be aware of.

Electricity and Flammable Liquids

There are often flammable liquids used in laboratories. If there is any type of electrical shock near these liquids, it can cause a fire very quickly. Depending on how much of the liquid there is, it could even cause an explosion. Electrical shocks can come from wires, electrical outlets, capacitors, and a variety of other sources, which is why it is so important to ensure all electrical systems are kept in good working order and always used properly.

Misunderstanding the Danger of Electricity

Another danger is the fact that many people in laboratory situations don’t fully understand the dangers associated with common electricity. While everyone knows that major power lines and other high-voltage systems can be deadly, even much lower level systems can cause serious burns and other problems. It only takes between 9 and 30 milliamps of current to cause someone’s muscles to freeze up, making it impossible for them to let go of the source of the shock. If the circuit doesn’t break, this can cause serious problems.

Extension Cords

When a lab technician needs electricity in an area that isn’t near a plug, they will often run an extension cord to that location. While this is fine, it does present some new hazards. Of course, tripping over the cord can be quite dangerous. In addition, extension cords can become frayed or otherwise damaged, which increases the risk of electrocution for those in the area.

Improper Ground Fault

In most lab environments it is typically best to use the ground fault current interrupter (GFCI) outlets. This is because there are often liquids in the area that can cause a short circuit if spilled. Unfortunately, many labs don’t install GFCIs unless the outlet is right next to a sink or other water source. While this is fine in residential environments, labs often bring liquids to locations throughout the area, which will increase the hazard.


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