Sore throats, headaches and difficulty breathing drove employees of Quest Diagnostic Corp.'s Ameripath diagnostic laboratory in Shelton, Conn. to file a complaint with OSHA – an action that led to an inspection of the facility on March 6, 2016.

The inspection identified violations of OSHA's laboratory safety standard, which requires employers to protect their employees against the effects of hazardous chemicals used in laboratories. Safeguards include a complete and effective chemical hygiene plan stating the employer's policies, procedures and responsibilities for protecting employees.

OSHA found that the Shelton laboratory failed to:

  • Provide each laboratory employee who displayed signs and symptoms of exposure to hazardous chemicals the opportunity for an appropriate medical examination.
  • Inform each laboratory employee of the signs and symptoms of exposure to acetic acid, alcohols, formaldehyde, xylene and other chemicals used in the laboratory.
  • Train laboratory employees on how to detect the presence or release of hazardous chemicals.
  • Conduct a hazard assessment to determine what type of personal protective equipment laboratory employees would need and use.
  • Inform employees of the location and availability of the laboratory's chemical hygiene plan and provide them training about the plan.
  • Implement each section of the chemical hygiene plan for laboratory employees exposed to health hazards associated with xylene, acetic acids, alcohols and formaldehyde.
  • Ensure that the plan contained procedures for the safe separation and removal of incompatible chemical waste and included procedures to ensure proper and adequate performance of protective equipment.
  • Provide laboratory employees with, or post, the results of chemical exposure monitoring and sampling.

"Not a paper exercise"

"A laboratory chemical hygiene plan is not a paper exercise. It's a continuous ongoing process that is key to preventing employees from being sickened by the hazardous chemicals with which they work. Our inspection found several serious deficiencies concerning the Shelton laboratory. For the safety and health of its employees, Quest must ensure that correct and effective safeguards are in place and in use at all its laboratories," said Robert Kowalski, OSHA's area director in Bridgeport.

The Shelton laboratory also failed to:

  • Prevent construction workers working in the lab from having contact with xylene, acetic acid and alcohols and monitor or evaluate them for exposure to formaldehyde.
  • Post a summary of the laboratory's work-related illnesses or injuries for calendar year 2015.
  • Remove plastic covers from sprinkler heads and carbon monoxide detectors in newly renovated sections of the laboratory.

As a result of all these conditions, OSHA cited Quest Diagnostics for 15 serious and two other than serious violations of workplace safety standards. Proposed penalties total $152,435. The citations can be viewed here.

Quest Diagnostics Corp., based in Madison, New Jersey, describes itself as the world's leading provider of diagnostic services.