Article Text

Download PDFPDF
World at work: Research and testing laboratories
  1. R J Emery,
  2. G L Delclos
  1. Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, The University of Texas School of Public Health at Houston, Houston, Texas, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr R J Emery
 Associate Professor of Occupational Health, The University of Texas School of Public Health, PO Box 20186, Houston, TX 77225-0186, USA;

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

Spotlight on a diverse industry

Manufacturing facilities typically focus on the creation of a finite array of products in large volumes. Consequently, the potential hazards inherent to these workplaces are limited in scope, although they may be high in output. On the other hand, a research and testing laboratory performs testing and diagnostic evaluation of samples, a setting not typically within the production line sequence; hence, the likelihood of exposures to large volumes of potentially hazardous agents is usually much lower. However, the sophisticated analytical procedures conducted in laboratory settings often involve the use of a variety of exotic and potentially hazardous agents. It is this array of hazards, combined with differences among potentially exposed individuals, that makes the laboratory setting a unique working environment.


Laboratories are ubiquitous in today’s world, are designed to fulfil various roles, and can vary markedly in size, from that of a small closet area to multiple floors in large buildings. Commercially operated laboratories provide analytical testing services for products, such as processed food, or are involved in the research and development of new products. Governments operate laboratories for quality control purposes to ensure product integrity and performance. Governments also operate forensic laboratories for the identification of evidence in crimes or to determine cause of death. Healthcare facilities maintain medical, clinical, and/or veterinary laboratories to accommodate the processing of clinical specimens for medical diagnoses, whereas universities house laboratories directed at research endeavours. Based on data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2003 there were more than 430 000 persons employed in medical, diagnostic, veterinary, and/or testing laboratories—that is, approximately 0.3% of the civilian workforce (

Regardless of their purpose or setting, all laboratories share certain characteristic tasks. In a broad sense, the tasks inherent to laboratory work include some or all …

View Full Text