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Medical Lab Safety Issues


Ruth, a.k.a. Elayne Kongaika, was raised in the orchard town of Orem, Utah. She married a Polynesian and has had amazing travel experiences.


I mentioned in an earlier hub that I used to work as a diener in a Laboratory. In response to that hub, a fellow hubber, Mentalist acer, requested that I write a hub about safety precautions in a morgue and clinical lab. This hub is in answer to that. It came at the same time as our Health hubs as a weekly hub topic, so here goes.

photo by myownlittlecorner

photo by myownlittlecorner

Clinical laboratories where bodily fluids are tested can be hazardous to the technicians who carry out the procedures.

Many people have entered laboratories to give urine, blood, stool or other bodily fluid specimens. Not so many people have actually been in the room where they do autopsies on those who died from many different causes - the morgue.

Most laboratories have a room designated as the morgue. If family members want to know why their loved one died, an autopsy can be person. This is usually done by a Pathologist. If there is a questionable death, or suspicion of foul play, a medical examiner may be called in to do the autopsy.

Morgues can be like a dirty toilet bowel. Filthy conditions can result from the transient traffic of decomposing bodies, together with potentially dangerous chemicals, lack of adequate ventilation and crowded quarters. I imagine in days gone by, morgues lived up to their horror story scenarios. They looked like something between a medieval torture chamber and a meat locker.

Back when I was a diener it was not that bad, but it was quite crowded and only one body could fit in there at a time, except for perhaps a small baby or two kept in the refrigerator (sorry, I do not mean to offend - that is how it was). I think there were not too many safeguards in place in the 70s, but now there are many regulations for those who work in a laboratory or morgue.

You may have watched Dr. G. Medical Examiner on television (one of my favorites), and seen her performing autopsies. I have noticed that she does not wear much protective clothing or cover on her face or hair. Maybe it is all staged, which would explain it. They don't want to cover her pretty face and hair, but come on - get real.

Old-style morgue

Old-style morgue

Morgue Basic Requirements

  • Hot/cold running water
  • Restrooms
  • Electricity
  • HVAC
  • Drainage
  • Parking
  • Communications
  • Secure
  • • 5000-8000 sq ft

In recent years, walk-in refrigerators with double storage space for bodies are being put in the morgues, so twice as many autopsies can be completed at one time. With the potential for disasters, and other situations where increased body storage is needed, morgues will be more able to handle them.

One of the most marked changes lately in some morgues is an observation room, that allows police or students to view an autopsy. Prior to that, the person performing the autopsy was often disrupted by observers asking questions, or by students fainting from the odors.

Improved air systems have been designed to control the spread of infectious diseases and odors in morgues and clinical laboratories.

Most laboratories appoint an employee to be the laboratory safetyofficer. A safety committee and incident review committee are formed which analyze accidents and maintain procedures. They have mandatory ongoing safety training for laboratory staff. They also post signs in prominent places so all are aware of the potential dangers.

OSHA Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the United States is the governmental body that regulates laboratory safety. Other areas of the government that cooperate with OSHA including EPA, RRCA, NRC, DOT, US Postal Service, CDC, NIOSH, NIH and DHS. Amazing how many are involved, and I am sure there are even more.

A laboratory can at any time be exposed to carcinogens, teratogens, mutagens, sensitizers, irritants, hepatotoxins, nephrotoxins and neurotoxins (lots of poisons).

As an example of what can happen in a laboratory, a 22-year-old science student working in the clinical laboratory acquired Salmonella typhi which caused an intestinal abscess. Not only did he need antibiotic therapy, but he required two surgeries for drainage and the creation of an ileostomy.

At another facility, students were hired to clean out a closed lab. The students were given minimal instructions. They were to move equipment and dispose of chemical and biological wastes. One of the students left chemicals out on the bench top at room temperature (a no no) while they went to lunch. Shortly after, the chemicals exploded and a terrible odor forced the evacuation of the entire building. The students had not been using any protective gear.

Before 1976, sodium azide was used as a preservative in the laboratories. It was disposed of down ordinary plumbing. Lead and copper pipes cause the formation of metal azides which are actually more explosive than nitroglycerin. Serious explosions resulted and injured several people until it was banned from the laboratory.

So, if you are thinking about pursuing a career as a medical technologist, pathologist, hematologist and a host of other jobs, you will be glad to know that laboratories are much safer now than just a few years ago.

One example of the guidelines for autopsypersonnelis the PPE (Personal protective equipment).

Those who transfer the remains from a mortuary stretcher to the autopsy table should wear gowns and gloves. Personnel who perform or assist with the autopsy should wear a surgical scrub suit, surgical cap, full sleeve impervious gown, eye and face protection (face shield), shoe covers and surgical gloves (double) with an interposed layer of synthetic mesh cut-proof gloves.

For those who use oscillating saws (to open the skull), it is recommended that they wear an air-purifying respirator.

All protective clothes must be removed when leaving the autopsy area. Hands should be washed well after removing gloves.

All surfaces where an autopsy was performed must be disinfected with high level disinfectant. All equipment should also be cleaned and disinfected.


© 2010 Elayne


Elayne (author) from Rocky Mountains on November 28, 2011:

Thanks for your comments treyhussey. Glad that you found it interesting. It is good to be aware of safety issues wherever you work or play.

treyhussey from Sarasota, Fl on November 28, 2011:

Althought the topic is morbid, I found this hub very interesting. I've worked in the safety industry for many years and I'm always interested in learning about safety within industries I have little experience.

Elayne (author) from Rocky Mountains on May 02, 2011:

I agree with you ProSafety Supplies. Your comments are appreciated.

ProSafety Supplies on May 02, 2011:

Wow, this is very interesting, I think we would be less afraid of topics like this if we talked about them more. THanks for the information.

Elayne (author) from Rocky Mountains on August 07, 2010:

So sorry to hear about your brother. That must have been hard for you. My brother is a couple of years older than I, and so far he is doing alright. Take care.

pmccray from Utah on August 06, 2010:

I found this hub very interesting. I felt the same as you regarding shows like the CSI and Dr G shows. How can you protect the chain of evidence with your boobs and hair hanging out all over?

My brother died two years ago this coming October 27th at my home. Your hub takes the mystery out of what happen at the mortuary afterward. There was no autopsy, he died of complications due to diabetes.

Thanks for the valuable information.

Elayne (author) from Rocky Mountains on July 29, 2010:

Thanks LianaK. I guess you would know more about it than I do, but I am enjoying learning.

LianaK on July 29, 2010:

What a very interesting hub! Wonderfully researched and organized. Definitely not a profession that I would go into but so grateful for those who perform these very necessary services to us all. Thank you for the enlightenment.

Elayne (author) from Rocky Mountains on July 29, 2010:

@drbj - actually the reason I was a diener in the lab for a while because they could not find any one else. I guess at that time I had a very strong stomach and constitution. Not sure I could still do it. I do remember the smells were really strong and not pretty.

@Mentalist acer - so glad that you approved of my hub since you are the one who asked for it. It sounds like you have had personal experience with lots of chemicals. As far as AIDs goes, I imagine that the virus stays with the body and can be very contagious for some time after they die. Same as hepatitis and other diseases. I personally knew someone who died of AIDs and he had withered away to look just like a skeleton - it was very sad.

@G L Strout- gee, you can think of food after reading that? I knew some Pathologists who would stop in the middle of the autopsy and have a snack or lunch and get right back into it. That was not one of my strong points. I have a super sense of smell.

@Hello, hello - thanks again for your visiting my hub. Yes, sometimes we like to go to the morbid side - I still like watching doctor shows - never left me.

@MartieCoetser - yes, you are right that special people work in the laboratories. They are doing a great service doing something that most people do not want to, but it needs to be done.

@Pamela99 - I guess you see many interesting things in your job as an RN too. My daughter is also an RN and she really enjoys it.

@dallas93444 - I do not think I could be a garbage man. I guess I would rather work in the morgue. Each to their own. Thanks for commenting.

Dallas W Thompson from Bakersfield, CA on July 29, 2010:

I think I would rather be a garbage man.. I am glad and appreciate people who can and do this kind of activity. I enjoy my "rose colored glasses." Life is good. Thanks for an informative, eye-opener hub.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 29, 2010:

Even though I am an RN, I was surprised by the amount of material you covered in this hub. It is very interesting and you realize how important those difficult jobs are. Rated up!

Martie Coetser from South Africa on July 29, 2010:

Though horrifying, it is an interesting hub, Elayne. I guess people working in morgues are blessed with very special qualities and talents.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on July 29, 2010:

Thank you for a real interesting hub about a topic we don't normally think about it.

G L Strout from Ohio, USA on July 29, 2010:

A lot of food for thought here. Very interesting, thanks.

Mentalist acer from A Voice in your Mind! on July 29, 2010:

As a person who followed stringent safty guidelines using hasardous materials to create industrial solvents,using hydrochloric,sulphuric and caustic acids and bases the precaution ideology always is a way I understand another person's description of their job as you've done excelantly Elayne!!;)

When a person dies with Aids does the virus expire quickly in that person?

drbj and sherry from south Florida on July 29, 2010:

Interesting hub, Elayne, but I would imagine that applicants do not stand in line for the opportunity to become a diener.