Lab Symbols Every Technician Should Know

Posted by Clarion Safety Systems on 2nd Sep 2021

In any lab setting, the highest priority must always be safety. Of course, it’s no secret that lab workers often are faced with dangerous tasks and the handling of lethal substances. Therefore, maintaining high precautionary standards is essential to keeping personnel safe at all times. At Clarion Safety, we understand that clear, concise, and compliant safety signs are the key to building a culture of safety in the lab.

Lab Safety in Focus
Ensuring each worker’s familiarity with their lab’s safety symbols is critical to daily operations, everyday safety and even cost efficiency. Volatile chemicals, flammable/combustible materials, hazardous tools and lethal specimens are just a few of the dangerous things that countless labs can be housing at any time.

The most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to laboratories is that the message you are trying to convey is easily understood, which is why we’re providing a breakdown of some of the most common and useful lab safety symbols and signs.

#1: General Danger
This is the most common safety symbol that can be found in countless labs around the world. The general danger symbol is essentially a way to alert any personnel, clients, vendors, or visitors of potential hazards in the area. These warning symbols can be placed on doors, walls, cupboards, and above doorways.

Whenever one sees this symbol, it should be considered as a reminder to proceed cautiously and conscientiously. Maintain vigilance, remain observant to your surroundings and respect the potential danger of the room as well as everyone’s safety.

#2: Biohazard
The biological hazard warning symbol is an indication that the lab and instruments within have had contact with biohazard specimens. Therefore, there’s a risk of contamination. Lab biosafety levels will also be in place to indicate the level of risk associated with the lab.

Make sure anyone in the lab is always wearing the right personal protective equipment (PPE). Depending on the biosafety level, this can mean gloves, goggles, or even a full protective suit. Always be sure to clean, disinfect and decontaminate the instruments. Also, make sure there are specific rules in place to prevent contamination and keep workers safe.

#3: Eyewash Station
The eyewash station safety symbol – an image of an eye above running water coming out of a shower head, along with a first aid cross – indicates the location of an eyewash station. Eye wash stations provide a continuous, low-pressure stream of aerated water in laboratories in which chemical or biological agents are used or stored and in facilities where nonhuman primates are handled. The eyewash station should be easily accessible from any part of the laboratory and, if possible, located near the safety shower so that, if necessary, the eyes can be washed while the body is showered.

#4: Explosive Materials
Obviously, every lab symbol should never be taken lightly. However, should you ever spot this one, consider it of severe importance. The explosive materials warning symbol indicates that there are chemicals or other agents with explosive properties present within the lab. In addition, this may include dangerous chemical reactions from unstable explosives or combustibles.

Each and every lab worker should memorize the respective safety protocol, and be sure to implement stringent policies with specific reference to fire and explosion safety. Incorporate mandatory, routine storage verification – keeping everyone accountable for storing all chemicals safely and securely.

#5: Flammable Materials
When a lab adheres this symbol to their door, walls, or storage areas, it means they’re regularly handling flammable materials.

Be sure that employees store each substance in a location with stable temperatures under constant control. In addition, check that each one has correct, legible labels. Common flammable materials in lab workspaces are solvents or even cleaning materials with harsher or more abrasive ingredients. Keep all of these substances away from extreme heat, open flame or any other agent that may cause them to ignite.

#6: Oxidant Materials
The symbol for oxidant materials warns of the presence of chemicals that readily give off oxygen or other oxidizing substances, and the need to take care when in the vicinity. Oxidizing materials may intensify fires and cause explosions, and also may be toxic or corrosive. Although air is the usual source of oxygen for burning, oxidizing materials can support a fire even in the absence of air. Some common oxidizing liquids and solids found in laboratories are bromine, chlorates, nitrates, perchloric acid, and peroxides.

#7: Toxic Materials
This warning symbol means to take care to avoid coming into contact with nearby toxic, potentially lethal substances. They can harm you if ingested, inhaled, or even if they make direct contact with skin.

Each agent’s toxicity varies depending on what it is. Also, it depends on precisely where it makes contact and its concentration. Naturally, anyone in the lab should always have the appropriate gear within reach when handling these substances. Whether it’s gloves, goggles or respirators, staff should always have the necessary PPE and have safety protocol memorized.

#8: Non-Ionizing Radiation
The non-ionizing radiation warning symbol is an indication that the lab regularly utilizes non-ionizing radiation, and that exposure needs to be avoided. Essentially, this includes ultraviolet light, infrared, microwave, and radio frequency.

If any of these apply to your lab, be sure to have all sources properly marked. Biological safety cabinets, PPE, and environmental controls can limit exposure.

#9: Low Temperature
This warning symbol is a clear indication of the presence and need to avoid exposure to extreme low temperatures, freezing conditions, or cryogenic hazards. Specific equipment, like ultra low freezer temperatures is well below freezing point. This kind of equipment employs liquid nitrogen to reach their extremely low temperatures. Nowadays, with COVID-19 and the rapid development of vaccines, critically low-temperatures are present in more labs and clinics than ever before. The COVID-19 vaccination requires extremely low storage temperatures that only ultra-low temperature freezers are capable of. In the event of failure, the vaccines and anything else requiring these temperatures will lose their efficacy and are, essentially, worthless.

When it comes to handling extremely low temperatures, personal protective equipment is a must. Wear thick rubber gloves that extend to the elbows, closed-toe footwear, rubber aprons and face shields.

#10: Implanted Cardiac Devices
This prohibition symbol – which uses a heart shape and representation of a pulse generator – is used to warn lab staff or visitors that they need to avoid entering certain areas if they have an active implanted cardiac device or pacemaker. This is due to a strong magnetic field hazard, caused by lab instruments that use superconducting magnets such as nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers (NMR). Staff with implanted cardiac devices can’t work in such areas of the lab. Additionally, in these conditions, care must be taken to remove metal objects such as jewelry, watches, loose change, etc. before entering these areas, in order to prevent injuries.

Experience That Matters
When it comes to your laboratory workplace safety measures, consider the efficacy of your warnings by making sure to use best practice signs – ones that employ the use of the latest, standardized symbols and that consider sign material (in line with the environment at hand to ensure legibility and durability.) Reach out to us here at Clarion Safety Systems for more laboratory and equipment safety insight – including how we can help create custom labels, signs and tags in line with your injury and illness prevention program. Keep in mind that we offer a variety of signs and labels specific to the healthcare industry, as well as customization related to symbols and site-specific signage, including custom lab door signs