What are some electrical hazards in the laboratory and how can I minimise them to maintain electrical safety?

What are some electrical hazards in the laboratory and how can I minimise them to maintain electrical safety?

Electricity. It's something we tend to take for granted and expect to always be there when we need it. In our highly developed society, many of us would likely find it extremely difficult to live without it, should it be cut off tomorrow, and we tend to grumble every time there is a blip in supply caused by severe weather events or scheduled maintenance.

With increasing electrification in many industries, it is no surprise that we are relying more on electricity to power everything in the home and workplace. With huge developments in electric transportation, more electricity is being consumed, with more on-grid generation needed.  

Electrical safety in the lab

Electricity, just like any other form of energy, when not properly controlled or used, can result in serious danger to those who use it or come into contact with it. The amount of electricity required by laboratories is not exactly small, whether it be for everyday essentials such as computers and lighting, or specialised, hi-tech devices and equipment. With its uses spanning a variety of items, electricity can easily become hazardous if not used correctly.  

It is easy to forget that overloaded circuits, faulty equipment or old wiring can be extremely dangerous and present serious safety risks if ignored. While the likelihood of electrical incidents or failures may be low, depending on the age and condition of the building or equipment, there could be serious implications if something does go wrong. To help ensure your laboratory or workplace is free from electrical hazards, staff need to be fully aware of the potential dangers and take appropriate precautions to protect themselves and others around them.  

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What are some examples of common electrical hazards?

  • Electric shock/burns from contact with live wires, or lack of protective clothing/equipment.
  • Fires resulting from faulty wiring.
  • Overloaded circuits.
  • Leaving electrical parts exposed.
  • Fires or explosions from electrical contact with flammable substances.  
  • Electrical exposure to water.  
  • Contact with overhead power lines.  

What are some electrical safety risks in a laboratory?

Health and safety practices are paramount for most organisations, particularly in labs and factories. Staff should never attempt to fix or alter wiring or electrical aspects of the building or machinery themselves. Doing so could result in exposure to unknown dangers that could escalate and cause bigger problems - not to mention potential injury or death. It is always safest to report the fault or issue immediately so that a qualified electrical professional can thoroughly inspect and remedy it.

Some safety risks in the lab to note include ground faults - these can occur when the path of current from a tool or system is broken. This means the current will try to travel through another means (the user) to reach the ground.  

Arc flashes can be caused by electrical faults and if powerful enough, can cause serious harm. Extreme care should be taken to minimise the occurrence of arc flashes. Of course, another risk is the contact between electricity and flammable liquids. Should these two come into contact, the results can be catastrophic, with fast spreading fire and the potential for explosions.  

Prevention of electrical hazards in the laboratory

Prevention is always key in terms of keeping people and properties safe. If you are in a lab, ensure you and all your team members know what the processes or procedures are with relation to electrical devices or equipment. Businesses should conduct regular risk assessments to ensure workplaces are safe and that all systems and equipment are of a safe and suitable standard, helping to minimise any potential situations that may occur. In line with these measures, if anyone should spot any fixtures that are old, faulty or potentially dangerous, or equipment and machinery that appears faulty, they should report it immediately so a qualified electrical professional can deal with the issue as soon as possible.  

Building electric motors

Just like building or manufacturing any electrically powered appliance or machine, the manufacturing of electric motors comes with its share of dangers. As with any other workplace, strict health and safety procedures and practices must be adhered to, including those relating to all forms of electrical work. Each organisation will have its own procedures in place, to ensure the safety of its staff and anyone else on site.  

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Electricity in the lab is generally safe, provided all safety precautions and standards are met, and any faults are reported and remedied promptly. Regular reviews should be conducted to ensure labs are as safe as they can be, and staff are fully aware of electrical policies and procedures. However, there is always a pre-eminent danger that exists with any electrical device or component, and one should never become complacent. Electric shocks, burns and other injuries can obviously have the potential to be extremely serious or even deadly, so the utmost caution is always advised.  


Rob Keating

Rob is a content creator and copywriter for Fisher & Paykel Technologies. His work includes the Knowledge Hub, email, website and social media copy, along with customer communications.
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October 10, 2022
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