Texas Tech University
Scholarly Messenger
JHAs, PHAs, and SOPs: I Just Want to do Research and Teach
By Paul Cotter

Since Jan. 7, 2010, research work at Texas Tech has changed. Everyone who was at the university at that time has seen or read about the laboratory accident, and those who have been at the university since that time have heard about it and been impacted by the increase in lab safety. Minimum requirements have been established for personal protective equipment when working in the labs and principal investigators (PI) and graduate students have put together formalized standard operating procedures (SOP) to insure the proper amounts of chemical are used and appropriate procedures are followed. Putting these steps in place is the basis of a research safety program that will help the university as it moves forward in its goal to obtain Tier 1 status.

In order to further improve the safety culture at Texas Tech, principal investigators need to look at additional procedures that will help raise the safety bar. Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) and Process Hazard Analysis (PHA) are two analytical tools that have been used by safety professionals in various manufacturing and chemical production industries for a number of years. Before you say that this is just another roadblock in that will cost research time in the lab, let’s examine these tools and see what they bring to the table.

Right now most PIs have completed or are working on standard operating procedures for research projects currently underway. Having an SOP in place is important because it communicates the method the PI wants used for each procedure and it standardizes the operation each time it is conducted. In effect, a SOP gives lab workers a recipe to follow. The SOP usually starts with the assumption that the minimum safety requirements, such as personal protective equipment, will be used. However, SOPs often does not identify the critical points in the process, such as what to do if something begins to go wrong. SOPs also may not provide specific instructions when additional safety steps are required.

In the food industry, the need for control at critical points in food preparation has been recognized. In response the hazard analysis critical control points (HACCP) program was developed. The critical points in the process such as handling, ingredients, or temperature, are identified and closely monitored and recorded, and “what if” contingencies are described. This process is applicable for all types of food processors, from the largest manufacturer to the smallest drive-through. OSHA has also recognized the need for process control and for this reason implemented and strongly enforces process safety management (PSM) in chemical industries, refineries, and industrial labs.

The PHA is typically used when dealing with chemicals and/or forces and includes the equipment used. The heart of a HACCP program and a PSM is the Process Hazard Analysis. The objective of the PHA is to look at each step of the project and identify the hazards involved. The PHA can be conducted using various methodologies, including:
  • the "what if" checklist
  • failure modes and effects
  • interface hazard analysis
The key to each method is a team evaluation of the process. The assembled team reviews the project steps to identify and rank potential hazards and consequences. For example, if a flammable hazard is involved, it may be necessary to modify the procedure to reflect the use of a face shield in addition to the required lab safety glasses, and the SOP should be modified accordingly.

A JHA is typically used to identity physical hazards associated with a job. Some of the hazards involved could be:
  • electrical
  • falls
  • trips
  • punctures
The principle is to review the various tasks required to complete a given job and examine the hazards associated with each. Once the hazards are identified safer solutions can be prescribed. For example, if the task involves water and electricity, then a ground fault circuit interrupter and additional PPE could be a safety solution. The SOP could then be modified to reflect the change.

SOPs, JHAs, and PHAs can each contribute to an enhanced safety culture.

Paul Cotter is a unit manager in the Texas Tech Department of Environmental Health and Safety