Lab Matters Summer 2023 | Page 28


Minimizing Risks in the Public Health Laboratory

By Stormy Chester , specialist , Biosafety and Biosecurity and Michael Marsico , manager , Biosafety and Biosecurity
APHL resources on the risk management process and risk assessments .
Public health laboratories play a critical role in scientific research , testing and discovery , but the nature of laboratory work makes it inherently risky . To minimize risks and provide a safe working environment , a risk management process should be in place to ensure hazards are identified , analyzed and mitigated . This process includes several key steps :
1 . Identify the risks . Risks can arise from various sources such as supply chain disruptions , environmental conditions , equipment malfunction , and chemical or biological agents . Some questions to consider during risk identification are : What may happen ? How may it happen ?
2 . Assess the risks . Conduct a risk assessment to determine the relative level of risk each activity possesses . This helps guide the risk mitigation decision process . An example question to consider during risk assessment is the likelihood and consequence of an incident occurring .
3 . Mitigate the risks . An example question to consider during risk mitigation is how the public health laboratory can reduce or eliminate the risks associated with hazards .
Here are three examples of different risks APHL member laboratories faced and the significance of implementing risk management in the laboratory .
Raven Foster Biosafety Officer Houston Health Department
In 2017 , Hurricane Harvey caused significant damage to the Texas Gulf Coast , forcing laboratories in its path to make risk assessments to prevent exposure and equipment loss . To mitigate these risks , the Houston Health Department implemented several measures . They stationed a contracted engineering company onsite for building maintenance needs and had two backup generators connected to major laboratory equipment in case of power outages . Select Agents were placed in an airtight container within a Ziploc bag and stored in a -80˚C freezer . In the event of a flood , they also covered equipment with plastic bags . These actions were taken to ensure laboratory operations could continue with minimal disruption during the hurricane .
Ed Kopp Virology Molecular & Cell Culture Supervisor Florida Department of Health Bureau of Public Health Laboratories-Tampa
During the COVID-19 pandemic , the Florida Department of Health Bureau of Public Health Laboratories in Tampa faced shortages of various items , including personal protective equipment ( PPE ) and laboratory consumables . These shortages affected all aspects of laboratory work , from testing processes to employee safety . After understanding the inherent risks of these shortages and to prevent future disruptions , the laboratory ordered excess quantities of consumables and disinfectants , and established a wellstocked , maintained supply of PPE and laboratory consumables that do not expire within a set threshold of time .
Dan Hammersley Laboratory Safety Officer Minnesota Department of Health
In 2014 , the Minnesota Department of Health experienced a severe equipment failure when the air handling system failed during a freeze , causing substantial damage to laboratory equipment that cost millions of dollars to repair . The investigation revealed that inadequate building commissioning was the root cause of the failure . Based on the investigation and evaluating potential risks , Minnesota now employs a third shift building engineer to monitor temperature .
These examples show how laboratory incidents can be diverse and may arise from various sources . With a comprehensive risk management process in place , laboratory workers can identify , assess and control these risks to create a safe working environment and reduce laboratory accidents and potential exposures . g
26 LAB MATTERS Summer 2023
PublicHealthLabs @ APHL APHL . org