Lab Safety

While you are carrying out undergraduate research you will likely use instrumentation, materials and reagents that have the potential to harm you, your co-workers and perhaps even the environment. Consequently, it is important to spend time at the outset of your project learning the safety standards of your discipline and workplace to insure everyone's good health and safety.

Important note: the information on this website should not be viewed as a substitute for obtaining the appropriate safety training available in your department and/or institution.

References

Laboratories (U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration) Avail. URL: http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/laboratories/index.html

Articles on Lab Safety

Laboratory Safety Training

Today a formal program of safety training is a required element in chemical hygiene plans and should be completed before beginning any actual work in the laboratory. Training usually involves review of the department's chemical hygiene plan and waste disposal procedures and discussion of the significant physical and health hazards associated with the specific type of research and instruction in specific procedures that researchers should use in order to prevent and limit exposure to the health hazards in that workplace. At some institutions training may take place on-line and require the completion of some type of quiz and/or examination. Depending on the nature of the work you will be doing, you may also be expected to complete some specialty training as well. Additional safety training is normally required for individuals working with chemicals, biological materials, radioactivity, lasers, and/or heavy machinery

Safety in the Field

Research in many fields such as wildlife and marine ecology, geology, etc. involve field work. Field work presents its own unique set of safety challenges. If you are going to work in the field then the following are important safety considerations.

Good Physical Health

You should be in good physical health and able to undertake strenuous physical activity. Many field sites are remote. Access often requires hiking over rugged terrain or even rock climbing. The field station itself may be primitive. Your studies may require that you sleep in a tent and cook outdoors over an open flame. You may need to operate heavy equipment such as a chain saw. Outdoor weather is always a consideration – particularly in terms of extremes of temperature. Your work may be abroad and require that you receive immunization for potentially serious illness such as communicable disease beforehand. If you have allergies or serious medical conditions such as diabetes it is important that you bring an adequate supply of your medications with you.

Training

You should make sure that you have received the appropriate training for the environment in which you will do field work. Your work may require you to mount a safety ladder and work at elevated heights, use climbing equipment, swim, dive, fly (small planes, helicopters), operate a boat (requires a valid license), work in chest waders, know wilderness first aid/CPR, be able to use survival skills, operate a GPS, handle wild animals, and/or toxic materials (radioactivity, biohazards, chemical hazards, compressed gases).

Advance Planning

If you are involved in international research, it is important to obtain your passport and visas in order well in advance. Make sure that you have health insurance coverage. Obtain any recommended vaccinations and make sure that you are aware of any health concerns and what food is safe to eat in the country and region of the country in which you will be working. Check with the State Department so you know if there are any travel warnings or restrictions.

You need to know and understand the potential hazards presented by the area in which you will do field work. For example, there may be predatory animals (e.g., bears), venomous amphibians, or toxic plants. The dangers may also be human as the area in which you work may be an area in which there has been past/present civil or political unrest. You should make sure that you know what the precautions are for each potentially hazardous situation and that you have received the training to handle these situations. Accidents are always possible when working outdoors – cuts, sprains, falls, insect bites, sunburn, and dehydration are not uncommon. Consequently it is vital that you follow the direction of your supervisor in the field at all times. Do not engage in horseplay.

References

Chemical Hygiene Plan

Each workplace using chemicals in its work is required by law to have a written program referred to as the chemical hygiene plan (CHP) that outlines the department and institutions procedures, training plans, and the protective measures in use to protect its workers from the health hazards associated with their work. Before beginning work in your laboratory, be sure to contact your Office of Environmental Health and Safety and obtain a copy of your department's CHP and familiarize yourself with the safety program.

Prudent Practices

The following are some useful guidelines that applicable no matter what kind of project you are engaged in.

  • Never engage in horseplay or rough housing in the laboratory.
  • Do not bring any food or drink into the laboratory and do not eat, drink, or smoke there.
  • Do not smell or taste any chemicals or other lab samples for any reason.
  • Never work alone or unsupervised.
  • Do not work when you are exhausted or emotionally upset.
  • Don't perform any experiments that you haven't discussed in advance with your research advisor.
  • Never leave experiments running unattended in the laboratory.
  • Dress appropriately. This means your torso and arms should be well covered. Do not wear loose or sloppy clothing that could get caught in any equipment or come in contact with any chemicals. Long hair should be pulled back out of the way of any reagents or machinery.
  • Wear the appropriate gloves, safety glasses or goggles, and a clean lab coat when handling chemical and/or biohazardous materials.
  • Remove your gloves and wash your hands before using the keyboard associated with any instrumentation in the laboratory.
  • Never pipette by mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect all glassware, instrumentation, and lab surfaces after each experiment. Don't let sinks become filled with dirty glassware.
  • Transport solvents and other reagents in secondary containers.
  • If an accident or spill happens, be sure to notify your supervisor so that the appropriate protocols can be observed.
  • Wash your hands before you exit the laboratory and especially after handling biohazards or chemical reagents.

Protective Personal Equipment

Personal protective equipment is a general term used to describe anything you can wear and/or use in order to protect yourself when working with chemical or biological hazards. Common examples of personal protective equipment include: footwear, lab coats, gloves, safety goggles and glasses, face shields, hard hats, respirators, and fume hoods.

Footwear

Closed toe, leather shoes provide the best general protection. Sandals, sneakers, etc. do not provide adequate protection in case of spills (biological or chemical hazards), or when handling heavy objects, tools, or involved in activities where heavy objects might fall onto the feet. If you will be involved with heavy machinery, steel-reinforced safety shoes may be required. There are also safety shoes specially designed to provide protection against extreme temperatures, caustic chemicals, and/or electrical hazards. . If you will be working in a laboratory presenting any of these hazards for an extended period of time, you should contact your Office of Environmental Health and Safety to see if they will process a request for the purchase of a pair of the appropriate safety shoes.

Lab Coat

Lab coats are normally worn in the research laboratory to protect your normal clothing against biological or chemical spills and to provide some additional body protection beyond that provided by your normal clothing. Important considerations in selecting an appropriate lab coat are the types of hazards (biological, chemical, fire, cold, etc.) to which you may be exposed. To be effective, the fabric should be resistant to the materials you are using. In addition, a lab coat should fit properly (you should be able to move comfortably in it with the coat buttoned or snapped down the front), be clean, and have long sleeves. Lab coats are normally provided by one's laboratory for the duration of the project.

Gloves

When handling chemical, physical, and/or biological hazards that can enter the body through the skin, it is important to wear the proper protective gloves. Note that there is no perfect glove: There is no kind of glove that will protect you from all hazards. There are several different kinds of gloves: disposable, fabric, leather, and metal mesh.

  • Disposable - These are generally used to provide protection against biological or chemical hazards. There are two common kinds of gloves you will find in most biological and/or chemical laboratories - latex and nitrile gloves. Latex gloves provide good general protection in a biological research lab but provide no protection against common chemical hazards. Their use has decreased somewhat in recent years as some individuals have exhibited serious even life-threatening allergic reactions to latex. Nitrile gloves provide good general protection against a wide range of common solvents and chemical reagents. There are many other glove materials available which provide protection against particular chemical hazards. It is important to note that all glove materials are eventually permeated by some chemical reagent. Therefore to be maximally effective, the gloves should be changed whenever they become contaminated by the chemical reagent. The key to glove use is identifying the proper gloves for the job in question. For example, Kevlar gloves will provide good protection from extreme temperatures. Nitrile gloves provide good short term protection when handling a wide range of organic solvents and reagents. Depending on the nature of the hazards peculiar to your research project, you may find that you need several different kinds of gloves in order to be adequately protected. Best Glove Company's website is a good resource to consult when selecting the appropriate gloves for your work.
  • Fabric - Cotton gloves are often used in pilot plants to absorb moisture and provide a better grip when working with heavy machinery.
  • Leather - Leather gloves provide good protection when working with flames or when sparks may be present. They are also often worn together with insulated liners when working with electrical hazards.
  • Metal Mesh - Metal mesh gloves are preferred when working with heavy machinery and/or cutting tools.

Additional Considerations

In addition to identifying the correct kind of glove, it is also important to make sure that the gloves that you use fit properly. Most gloves are commercially available in several different sizes. If you will be wearing gloves for an extended period of time (several hours or more), you may find it useful to purchase a box of disposable cotton glove liners that you can wear underneath your disposable gloves. Glove liners absorb perspiration and help minimize skin irritation.

Eyewear

Safety Glasses and Goggles

As a general rule, safety glasses with side shields should be worn at all times in the research laboratory even if you wear prescription glasses. Safety goggles rather than safety glasses are preferred whenever a chemical splash is a potential hazard. The side shields on safety glasses are simply not as effective as goggles in protecting your eyes from small particles and liquid splatter.

Most laboratories provide safety glasses or goggles to their researchers. If you wear prescription glasses and will be working in the lab for an extended period of time, you should contact your Office of Environmental Health and Safety to see if they will process a request for prescription safety glasses (special request). If you wear contact lens underneath safety glasses be sure to consider the additional potential risk that your contact lenses may present if dust, caustic reagents or solvents get underneath your lenses and in your eyes. Removing your contact lenses in such a situation may take added time and increase your risk of injury.

Face Shields

A face shield should be worn whenever there the entire face needs protection. This means any time there is a potential that an aerosol of chemical or biological hazardous material may be created or whenever chemical or biohazards could splatter, or whenever there is the potential for flying particles or sparks (e.g., high pressure work, welding, soldering, machining, fire, explosion, etc.). A face shield should always be worn whenever handling tissue samples or animals where there is the potential for infectious transmission. Safety glasses or goggles should always be worn underneath a face shield for maximal protection.

Hard Hats

Hard hats are normally worn when in construction and/or pilot plant work when falling objects or electrical conductors are potential workplace hazards. There are two general types of top hats: Type I and Type II. The former are designed to provide protection for the top of the head while the latter provide protection for the top and off-center protection as well. An excellent introduction to hard hat safety is available on-line at: www.hardhats.4ursafety.com/

Respirators

Respirators filter contaminants, either small airborne particles or chemicals including gases, out of the air. Whenever possible you should structure your work so that it can be carried out in a hood. Selection and purchase of a suitable respirator should be carried out only in consultation with your Office of Environmental Health and Safety as it is extremely important that the respirator fit properly and that it has the correct filters to be effective when used with your particular hazards. The National Institute for Safety and Health (NIOSH) publishes a useful booklet available on-line at: www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2005-100/default.htmldiscussing the selection of respirators. If you are going to work with a respirator, be sure to obtain training prior to using this PPE. One last comment, it is important to remember that to operate properly respirators must be regularly cleaned, sanitized (if biological hazards are involved), and maintained.

Chemical Fume Hoods

Whenever you use flammable or hazardous materials that pose an airborne or explosive hazard, you should work in a fume hood. Exposure is controlled in part through the moveable glass plate, the sash, that covers the front of the hood. Maximal protection is afforded when the sash, if it moves vertically, is closed or lowered as much as possible.

There are different types of fume hoods. Two of the most common types are the constant air volume (CAV) and the variable air volume (VAV) hoods. Constant air volume hoods are designed to maintain a constant air flow that doesn’t vary when the hood sash is opened or closed. The disadvantage of these hoods is that the face velocity increases when the hood sash is lowered or decreases when the hood sash is raised as a result which can lead to either excessive turbulence and the escape of toxic materials from the hood. Variable air volume hoods are designed to maintain a constant face velocity whenever the hood sash is opened or closed minimizing air turbulence at the sash extrema and maximizing user protection.

It is important that there be good airflow to the hood exhaust. Today most hoods are equipped with an airflow meter. These measure the face velocity which is the rate at which air is pulled into the hood exhaust.

Fume hoods should be inspected annually. Dated inspection stickers should be posted conspicuously somewhere on the front of the fume hood. Do not hesitate to contact the Office of Environmental Healthy and Safety at your workplace if you cannot find a sticker or if the sticker is more than one year old.

All hoods are not the same. Depending on the hazards involved in your work, you may need to use a special kind of fume hood.

  • Biosafety cabinets should be used when dealing with biological hazards.
  • Chemical fume hoods should be used when flammable solvents and/or highly reactive reagents are involved.
  • Special fume hoods are required when working with certain radiological hazards such as iodine-125 or when working with perchlorates, which react explosively when mixed with organics.

Prudent Practices

  • Whenever possible endeavor to work with materials that are non-toxic or which present minimal health risks to you and your research group.
  • Keep all materials at least 6 inches inside the fume hood. Doing this ensures you maximal protection in terms of hood air flow and air turbulence. A useful visual method of reminding yourself to do this is to place a strip of brightly colored labeling tape 6" lengthwise inside the hood.
  • Never place beakers, pipettes, or other materials on the edge of the hood where they can be easily knocked off and where the hood provides no protective air flow.
  • Keep the sash lowered at all times. When you are working in the hood, always keep the sash of the hood below your face.
  • Regularly inspect the flow meter in your hood to ensure that the hood is functioning properly. If there isn't a flow meter contact your Office of Environmental Health and Safety. A simple, effective visual means of determining that there is hood air flow is to tape a kimwipe at the bottom edge of the hood sash. If the hood is operating properly, it should be partially pulled inside by the hood's airflow.
  • Do not put signs, or other materials that impede visual inspection of the hood's contents on the hood sash. In some organic and inorganic synthesis laboratories, it is common practice to write the chemical reaction on the face of the hood sash. If your lab does this be careful not to obscure your and others' direct view of the inside of the hood.
  • Locate electrical devices such as variacs outside the hood to avoid sparking that could ignite flammable reagents and/or solvents.
  • Remember: hoods are not a substitute for good common sense. Do not do anything in a hood that you would not do on a desktop. For example, do not heat flammable solvents in an open beaker directly on a hot plate.
  • Fume hoods should not be used to store hazardous materials. The bottles, glassware, and other materials that you place inside the fume hood can interfere with the proper airflow within the hood. Remove reagent bottles promptly when you are finished using them and replace them in their proper storage location in the laboratory.

References

Gloves
Best Glove Company has an excellent website that includes an html tool you can use to identify the appropriate glove for your research application. See: "What is the Best Glove for Me?" Avail. URL: http://www.bestglove.com/site/products/whatsthebestgloveforme.aspx

Hard Hats
"All About Head Protection." Avail. URL: http://www.hardhats.4ursafety.com/

Respirators
"NIOSH Respirator Selection Logic 2004." Avail. URL: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2005-100/default.html

Fume Hoods
"Chemical Fume Hood Handbook." (Northwestern University Office of the Vice President for Research) Avail.URL: http://www.louisville.edu/admin/dehs/lsfume.htm

Safely Using Chemical Reagents

Always carefully read:

  • the reagent label and
  • the material safety data sheet (MSDS)

before working with any new and unfamiliar chemical reagent. Issues to research and think carefully about before using a new reagent include the following:

  • Chemical compatibility - Is this reagent known to be incompatible with any other reagents with which you or others in the laboratory might be working?
  • Chemical reactivity - Is the reagent a strong oxidizer? Reductant? Does it react with moisture? Oxygen?
  • Flammability - Is this reagent flammable?
  • Volatility - Is this reagent volatile?
  • Toxicity - Is the reagent toxic? Is it a mutagen? Carcinogen? What are the symptoms of exposure?
  • Handling - What personal protective equipment should one use in working with this reagent? Gloves? What kind of gloves? Safety glasses? Should it be handled in a hood?
  • Accidents - How should this material be cleaned up in case of a spill?
  • Emergencies - What kinds of emergencies could arise from use/misuse of this chemical? Are you prepared to deal with these?

Reagent Labels
Material Safety Data Sheets
Basic Format of an MSDS
Major Sections of MSDS


Reagent Labels

Reagent labels provide an extremely useful first means of defense in identifying the potential hazards presented by use of a specific reagent. The Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) requires all manufacturers to label their products with the name of the material, any relevant hazard warnings, and their name. Always read the label before you plan to use any chemical or biological reagent. Labels can tell you a lot about a reagent: Its name, chemical formula, the name and address of the manufacturer, the reagent's physical properties, any health hazards associated with its use, and information on how to handle and store the reagent. While reagent labels do provide a lot of useful safety information, it is important to stress that they aren't intended to serve as a researcher's sole or even primary means of safety information on a chemical. They are intended to provide an immediate warning sufficient to prompt you, the user, to read more detailed information such as that provided by Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS's).

Most labels use a visual labeling system such as that developed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in order to provide a swift visual means of determining the potential hazards represented by a reagent. In brief, the NFPA system is based on a diamond composed of four color-coded squares each containing an integer ranging between 0 and 4 that represented the intensity of the hazard represented by the reagent in four different categories:

  • health (blue),
  • flammability (red) ,
  • reactivity (yellow), and
  • special hazards (white).

The higher the number the more significant the hazard represented by the chemical in that particular area. So, zero signals that the reagent poses a mimimum hazard while 4 indicates that the reagent poses a severe or potentially life-threatening hazard to the user which means that the reagent should be used only with extreme caution. It is important to stress that just because a reagent may have a zero hazard number in a specific category doesn't mean that it is harmless. Handle every reagent with due care.

There are a number of different codes used to identify special hazards. These include: ox (oxidant), ACI (acid), ALK (base), COR (corrosive), and a W with a slash through it (water reactive).

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Material Safety Data Sheets

Material Safety Data Sheets or MSDSs are intended (the key word here) to provide a comprehensive source of written information about the properties, handling, and transport of chemical reagents. All manufacturers are required to provide users with an MSDS for each reagent that they sell. All employers including academic institutions are required to provide the relevant MSDS to any employee working with that reagent upon request. Although it would be ideal to have a copy of all of the relevant MSDSs in each and every laboratory, it is not very practical. Consequently it is important for you to contact your Office of Environmental Health and Safety in order to determine where MSDSs are kept at your workplace. Also, always consult the most recent version available of an MSDS. Note that you can always call the manufacturer of any chemical you use and request a copy of the MSDS be faxed to you. Many manufacturers including Sigma-Aldrich now provide these MSDSs on their website. There are also a number of excellent websites (see the reference section) that provide a wide range of reagent MSDSs for general use. . In this way, you can obtain and maintain your own set of copies of MSDS's for the reagents with which you will work in the laboratory.

In practice there are problems with the quality of information on some MSDS's which has led to recent criticism of MSDS's by the research community (see Ritter, S.K. C&E News 2004, 83(6), 24-26. "Material Safety Data Sheets Eyed.") If you are working with hazardous materials, then you are strongly advised to obtain several MSDS's for these materials and to cross check the information on them before you use that reagent. If you find any inconsistencies or have any concerns about how to use the reagent in question safely in the lab, consult your advisor and your Office of Environmental Health and Safety for advice.

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Basic Format of an MSDS

Today most MSDS's follow a 16-section format recommended by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in the early 1990's and subsequently endorsed by OSHA.

An excellent introduction to the ANSI formatted MSDS is available on-line at:
muextension.missouri.edu/xplor/agguides/agengin/g01913.htm

Oklahoma State Office of Environmental Health and Safety has developed a good set of questions to use when examining a new MSDS that is available on-line at:
www.pp.okstate.edu/ehs/hazcom/hc-msds.htm

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The major sections of an MSDS are:

1. Reagent and Company Identification

This section provides the common chemical and trade names for the chemical reagent as well as contact information, useful in case of emergency, for the chemical supplier. This section will also provide the date on which the MSDS was prepared. Whenever possible consult the latest version of an MSDS currently available.

2. Reagent Composition

In the case of reagents that are sold as mixtures, this section provides composition information for any known health hazards that are present and which constitute more than 0.1% of the material. This section also provides information on the safe exposure limits such as the OSHA permissible exposure limit.

3. Identification of Potential Hazards

The third section of the MSDS provides information on major hazards that may be associated with use and handling of reagent such as toxicity and flammability.

4. First Aid Measures

Appropriate measures for treatment of injuries by inhalation, ingestion, and eye and/or skin contact are outlined in this section.

5. Fire Fighting Measures

This section provides information on flammability and/or explosive nature of the reagent and details the appropriate equipment and or measures to take if a fire or explosion takes place involving the reagent.

6. Accidental Release Measures

Procedures and materials that should be used in case of an accidental spill are provided in this section of the MSDS.

7. Reagent Handling and Storage

This section provides useful information regarding the proper methods to use in handling and storing the reagent in the laboratory. Chemical incompatibilities, information about the potential for the formation of peroxides (explosion hazards) upon extended storage, need for a flammable storage cabinet, etc. are detailed here.

8. Exposure Controls and Personal Protection

This section provides information on the types of personal protective equipment that may be required in order to safely handle and work with the reagent.

9. Physical and Chemical Properties

Useful fundamental data regarding the physical and chemical properties of the reagent such as the form, color, odor, melting point, boiling point, solubility in water, vapor pressure, are provided in this section. This information can be extremely helpful in determining how to properly handle and store a reagent.

10. Reagent Stability and Reactivity

If the material is or could become unstable, this section will provide information on any conditions that might produce hazardous reactions and/or decomposition of the reagent.

11. Toxicological Information

Information on the toxicity of the reagent is detailed here. Data usually provided include the LD50 (lethal dose 50; single, usually oral, dose of the reagent that results in the death of 50% of test subjects) and the LC50 (lethal concentration 50; concentration of an inhaled volume of air containing the reagent that produces death in 50% of test subjects).

12. Ecological Information

This section provides any available information concerning the effect that release of the reagent might have on plants and/or animals in the environment.

13. Disposal Considerations

Information on the appropriate methods that may be used to dispose of waste containing the reagent are described in this section of the MSDS.

14. Transport Information

This section provides information on how the reagent may be safely transported.

15. Regulatory Information

Any relevant regulatory information relevant to risks and safe use of the reagent are provided in this section.

16. Additional Information

This section may contain the name of the author of the MSDS, any references that he/she used to prepare the MSDS, and often contains legal disclaimers regarding the use of the MSDS that are intended to protect the manufacturer against liability.

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References

Emergencies

It is important to become informed concerning the appropriate emergency protocols for dealing with whatever routine hazards you may encounter while working in your lab. Do you know what to do in case of an emergency? It is critical to learn what the appropriate emergency measures are and to make sure you know how to use the available safety equipment now because when an emergency arises there simply won't be any time to do this.

Emergency Plan

Your laboratory should have a plan for evacuation in case of an emergency. Do you know what your lab's emergency plan is for each of the following types of emergency:

  • Fire
  • Medical
  • Chemical

Fire

You should only consider fighting a fire when all of the following statements are true:

  • You have called the fire department and/or pulled the fire station lever.
  • You have gotten everyone safely out of your laboratory and the building
  • You have verified that the fire extinguisher available to you is full, in good condition, and is of the appropriate class to fight the fire.
  • You have had training in the use of the fire extinguisher and are confident of your ability to use it properly.
  • The fire is small and in a confined area such as a waste paper basket or hood.
  • One or both of the fire exit doors will be located behind you when you face the fire in order to fight it with the extinguisher. If you have any doubts, exit the lab closing the door behind you and let the fire department, who are experts, do their job.

Fire exits

Where are the fire exits in your laboratory? There should be two clearly marked exits from each laboratory. These doors should not be blocked by furniture, equipment, or instrumentation.

Fire Extinguishers

Locate the fire extinguishers in your laboratory. What types of extinguishers do you have in your laboratory? Check to make sure that these extinguishers are the correct types for the kinds of hazards you are likely to face while working on your research project.

The fire extinguishers in your laboratory should be inspected on a regular basis by someone from either the Office of Environmental Health and Safety or Fire Safety at your institution. Don't make assumptions about safety equipment. Periodically check the date on the red tag and the gauge on the fire extinguisher to make sure that the extinguisher is full (gauge) and that the extinguisher is known to be in good working order (red tag). Always check these before using a fire extinguisher.

Types Of Fire Extinguishers

There are four main types of fire extinguishers: A, B, C, and D.

  • Class A fire extinguishers use water to put out paper and wood based fires.
  • Class B fire extinguishers use compressed non-flammable gases such as carbon dioxide to put out fires involving flammable materials. The gas extinguishes the fire by starving it of oxygen. Note that these fire extinguishers should not be used in small confined spaces as they have the potential to asphyxiate the user, too, in the process.
  • Class C fire extinguishers shoot a very fine non-flammable, non-conductive powder in order to extinguish electrical fires.
  • Class D fire extinguishers are for use in combating fires involving flammable metals such as magnesium and sodium. These types of fires are especially dangerous. Unless you are trained, don't try to fight these fires.

There are also multi-class fire extinguishers as well. One of the most common multi-class fire extinguishers is the carbon dioxide extinguisher which can be used for Class B and C fires.

How to Properly Use a Fire Extinguisher

Fire extinguishers can be heavy and awkward to use effectively in an emergency situation if you aren't properly trained. If you haven't used a fire extinguisher before, it is really important to obtain training first. Contact your Office of Environmental Health and Safety or your Fire Safety Officer.

PASS, which stands for pull, aim, squeeze, and sweep, is a common acronym used to summarize the general procedure for using a fire extinguisher properly:

  • Pull the pin
  • Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire
  • Squeeze the handle and
  • Sweep the spray across the base of the fire slowly back and forth until the fire is completely extinguished.

Don't walk away from the scene until you are certain that the fire has been completely extinguished.

The Hanford Fire Department has an excellent series of photographs illustrating the PASS process on their website at URL: www.hanford.gov/fire/safety/extingrs.htm#use

Be sure to inform your Office of Environmental Health and Safety and/or your Fire Safety Office as soon as possible that you have used the fire extinguisher. This is important so that the fire extinguisher can be inspected and recharged.

Medical

First attempt to ascertain the source of the problem. If the victim is unconscious, look around and make sure that electricity isn't responsible. If it is, use a non-conductive object to move the source of electricity away from the victim and seek immediate medical help.

If the victim is unconscious or does not appear to be breathing, call 911 and request medical assistance immediately. Do not move the victim unless instructed to do so by medical personnel.

Chemical

If the victim appears to have been splashed with a chemical or solvent, assist them to the nearest emergency shower and pull the handle. Help the victim remove any contaminated clothing and be prepared to provide them with a clean lab coat or other temporary covering.

Emergency Contacts

Advance planning coupled with knowledge (information) is the best offense in case of an emergency. Locate the following information, insert it into the table provided, Xerox and paste the completed table publicly at your lab bench where you can see it in case of an emergency.

  • Telephone number including area code
  • Your workplace emergency phone number
  • Your Advisor's home phone number
  • Office of Environmental Health and Safety
  • Physical Plant or Facilities (after hours)
  • Your personal physician

Equipment

Today's research laboratory is equipped with a wide range of emergency equipment that can be invaluable in mitigating the severity of an injury in case of an accidental exposure to or a fire and/or explosion involving a hazardous reagent. The equipment that should be available in your laboratory in case of emergency includes:

  • Eye wash stations
  • Showers
  • Spill kits
  • First aid kits
  • Fire blankets
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Emergency exits

Take note of the location of the aforementioned safety equipment in your laboratory now and make sure that you understand how to use each of these in case of an emergency. We will briefly discuss the purpose and proper use of each of these devices below.

Eye wash stations

Some eye wash stations consist of a mirror and a set of bottles containing saline solution that the user can remove and use to flood the injured eye with water. No matter the form, the eye wash station is intended to allow you to flood the eye with a continuous stream of water for a minimum of 15-minutes. Ideally the eye wash station should be located within 20 feet of your work space. Since you may not be able to see clearly in an emergency, it is important to locate your eye wash station now before you need it.

If you need to use the eye wash station and you have gotten something in your eye. First, remove the object. Use one hand to hold open your eyelid and activate the eye wash using your other hand. Keep the eye open. Do not blink as that prevents the water from flushing your eye. Continue flushing the affected eye for a minimum of 15-minutes. Seek prompt medical attention as soon as possible thereafter.

Showers

"Drench" showers are the most common type of emergency shower and are intended to provide on-the-spot cleansing when a chemical and/or solvent has been spilled, contacted a large portion of your head and/or body, or in a fire. The user should stand underneath the shower head, pull the handle, and immediately remove any clothing covering the affected limb(s). These showers are intended to deliver a continuous stream of water at a rate of at least 20 gallons/minute for a minimum of 15-minutes so don't pull the handle unless you mean business!
Spill kits (sections lacking, should ask pam to write more)
There are typically three kinds of reagent spill kits commonly found in the research laboratory: acid, base, and solvent.

First aid kits

If you have one of these in your lab, it is important to periodically inspect and restock your first aid kit so that it will be useful in an emergency. In general these kits are most useful for small injuries such as a cut finger.

Fire blankets

Fire blankets are not intended for use in fighting fires. Do not attempt to use them to extinguish fires. Rather they are intended to extinguish clothing fires. They are very easy to use: simply yank the blanket out of the cabinet and wrap it around the prostrate victim. Keep the victim wrapped until help arrives as victims often are in shock and the fire blanket will help keep the victim warm.

Emergency exits

Each research laboratory is required by law to have two unobstructed means of exit in case of emergency. These emergency exits are generally marked by readily visible red "Exit" signs placed immediately above the door.

First Aid

Note: The information below is not intended to serve as a substitute for formal training or professional advice and/or treatment. Always immediately seek medical assistance from a medical professional if you believe that you are in a potentially life-threatening emergency situation. Even if you don't believe a situation is life-threatening report the accident as soon as possible to your advisor and/or your Office of Environmental Health and Safety.

Minor Cuts

Wash the wound thoroughly with mild soap and water. As there is always the potential for infection, be sure to seek medical attention as soon as possible. If you are assisting someone else, be careful not to come in contact with their blood (blood borne pathogens) and if you do seek prompt medical attention.

Severe Cuts/Wounds with Heavy Bleeding

Apply direct pressure to the wound and elevate the limb to staunch the bleeding and seek immediate medical attention.

Chemicals on Skin

If you spill a hazardous chemical on your hand or arm, wash your hand and/or arm with running water at the closest sink for 15-minutes. If you spill a hazardous chemical on your face and/or a significant portion of your body, go to the nearest safety shower, pull the handle, remove any clothing covering the exposed limbs, and wash the contaminated area thoroughly with water. Seek immediate medical attention.

Chemicals in Eyes

Use the eyewash fountain to flood your eye(s) with water for 15-minutes. Seek immediate medical attention.

Special Hazards

Though the hazards in research laboratories vary widely, there are a number of types of work that present unique hazards that require special training as the hazards may present severe consequences not only to the researcher doing the work but to all those around him/her as well. Some of these hazards which are discussed on the linked webpages include:

Electricity

Due to the increasingly instrumental nature of laboratory research today, many devices and instruments are electrically powered. Some devices such as lasers, power supplies, and vacuum pumps can pose serious safety hazards even death if used improperly. Consequently, it is critical to obtain training in the proper use of these devices and instruments before you begin to use them in your research.

  • Always keep one hand at your side when working with high voltage devices such as power supplies, lasers, and electrophoresis equipment.
  • Turning the "on/off" switch off doesn't necessarily mean that an electrical device doesn't have the potential to harm you. Be sure to discharge large capacitors before you work with power supplies and other high voltage devices.
  • Wear rubber gloves when you work with high voltage devices.
  • Don't work with any electrical device using wet hands.
  • Don't use any instrumentation that has frayed or split electrical cords.
  • Make sure that you know where the electrical circuit breakers for your research laboratory in case you need to turn the electricity off for any reason.
  • Be sure that all high voltage devices are properly grounded. Generally this means using devices equipped with three prong electrical plugs. The third prong is intended to provide a path to ground. However, it is important.

Centrifuge

When operated properly, today's centrifuges are very safe and reliable devices. Some useful general guidelines regarding their proper use follow:

  • Be sure to properly balance your load in the centrifuge.
  • Lock down the cover of the centrifuge before turning it on.
  • Never leave a centrifuge unattended while it is running.
  • Don't attempt to open the centrifuge until it has completely stopped. Most modern centrifuges have interlocks preventing users from doing this.
  • Never disarm the interlock for any reason. It is there for your protection.

Autoclave

Autoclaves use very hot, pressurized steam to sterilize biological samples and materials. Consequently, they present several different potentially serious hazards to users including scalding, biohazard contamination, and explosions. Therefore, it is very important to obtain safety training before using an autoclave in your research. Useful general guidelines for use of an autoclave follow:

  • Locate and thoroughly read through the instructor's manual for the make and model of autoclave that you will use before you begin your work.
  • Wear lab glasses and/or goggles, a lab coat, and heat-resistant gloves when working with an autoclave.
  • Do not place sharps or other pointed materials freely inside an autoclave bag but instead place them in a sharps or other solid container.
  • Do not overfill autoclave bags and/or the autoclave as this may lead to incomplete decontamination of the autoclave contents.
  • Never attempt to autoclave flammable or volatile solvents as they represent a serious explosion hazard.
  • Never leave an autoclave unattended while it is in operation.
  • If an accidental release or spill takes place inside the autoclave, wait until the autoclave is cool before attempting to clean up the spill.

Glassware

  • Always inspect your glassware before beginning a new experiment for cracks.
  • Wear safety glasses and/or goggles when working with glassware as there is always the potential that it may shatter.
  • If you drop and break a piece of glassware, don't attempt to pick up the broken pieces with your bare hands. Instead use a broom to sweep the broken pieces into a dustpan and dispose of the pieces in a broken glass container.
  • If you need to cut a piece of glass tubing, place the piece of tubing on a flat surface and score it evenly and deeply using a good file or glassware cutter. Moisten the cut with water and turn the tubing over so the scored side is away from you. Place a paper towel over the tubing, place your thumbs on opposite sides of the scored section and gently tap the piece of tubing with the blunt end of the file or tubing cutter. Be sure to fire polish the ends of the tubing to remove any jagged or sharp edges.

Compressed Gas

Compressed gases are gases stored under pressure in a metal cylinder. Small cylinders are often referred to as lecture bottles. The pressure of a gas in a cylinder is typically expressed in kilopascal or pounds per square inch (psig).

There are three kinds of compressed gases:

Liquified gases are gases that become liquids at room temperature when compressed at high pressure in a cylinder. Carbon dioxide is an example of a commonly used liquefied gas.

Non-liquified gases are gases that remain gases at room temperature even at high pressure. Examples of frequently used non-liquified gases are nitrogen, argon, and oxygen.

Dissolved gases are gases that are dissolved in a volatile solvent in order to stabilize them. Acetylene is a good example of a dissolved gas. It is usually dissolved in acetone.

Compressed gases present a wide range of significant potential safety hazards. Some compressed gases such as hydrogen chloride or ammonia are highly corrosive. Others such as hydrogen or acetylene are highly reactive and/or flammable. Even inert gases such as nitrogen can be dangerous because in confined areas their rapid release may displace enough oxygen causing loss of consciousness and asphyxiation. Research and know the chemical and toxicological properties and safety precautions before working with any compressed gas. Be sure to consult your Office of Environmental Health and Safety in advance concerning the correct handling and storage procedures peculiar to the gas with which you will work.

Identification of Compressed Gases

Tanks are color coded to facilitate ready identification of gas contents. However, you should never rely on the tank color for identification as the color coding is not standardized and may vary from supplier to supplier. Always read the label on the tank before use. Do not attempt to use a gas tank which does not have a written label of identification for any reason.

Regulators

Regulators are gas specific. Be sure to use the proper regulator for the gas tank you are using. The regulator should be securely attached to the tank using a crescent wrench. The threading on the regulator should never be wrapped with Teflon tape. This is particularly important in the case of oxidizing gases due to concern regarding flammability but it is forbidden in general with any type of gas because small pieces of teflon could get caught int the regulator potentially causing a failure. Two stage regulators are commonly used in most laboratories when working with compressed gases. The gauge closest to the tank itself is the main gauge. This gauge provides a reading of the total pressure of the gas in the tank. The primary stage should be kept closed whenever the gas tank is not actually in use - never leave a gas cylinder that is use unattended. The second stage allows careful control and release of a lower constant pressure of gas. The reading on the second gauge provides an indication of the actual pressure of the gas being released from the tank. Note that when the gauge reads zero, there is still likely some gas present in the tank.

Flammable and/or Reactive Gases

Cylinders containing flammable and/or reactive gases should be stored and used in well-ventilated areas and should never be operated in the vicinity of open flames or electrical devices capable of sparking. The regulators on these cylinders should be regularly inspected for leaks using snoop or gas leak detectors.

Storage of Gas Cylinders

Cylinders and lecture bottles should always be secured using sturdy metal chains and/or straps to a wall or a cart to prevent their falling over.

Transportation of Gas Cylinders

Gas cylinders should always be transported using an appropriate wheeled gas transport cart. Gas cylinders should never be rolled, spun, twirled, or dragged. Before transportation, the gas regulator should always be removed. The main valve on the tank should be completely closed and the cap should be screwed on the tank. A minimum number of gas tanks should be transported using the cart at any one time.

Lasers

Lasers produce intense focused monochromatic beams of light in the ultraviolet, visible, or infrared spectral range. Lasers present three potential kinds of hazards: photochemical, electrical, and chemical. Unprotected laser exposure can cause serious and permanent damage to the skin and the delicate tissue of eyes. So, users should wear laser safety goggles when working with lasers. The power sources for lasers also present a significant electrical hazard. Users should use due caution when working around laser power supplies. Use one hand and make sure your hands are dry and that you are not standing in water when working around the laser power supply. Some lasers present chemical hazards to users as well. The organic dyes such as Rhodamine 6G circulated in dye lasers are carcinogenic or mutagenic and should be handled only with protective gloves.

Waste Disposal

Hazardous chemical waste including solvents, acids, and reagents should never be disposed of down sewer drains. Waste must be separated based on chemical compatibility in order to avoid violent reactions and disposed of in the proper waste containers following the practices described by the Office of Environmental Health and Safety at your academic or industrial workplace.

On the linked webpages, we will examine some of the important issues specific to waste disposal of the following types of materials/reagents:

Chemical

Chemical waste disposal is an increasingly expensive problem for all workplaces using chemical reagents. All chemical waste must be identified properly before it can be disposed. Depending on the volume, toxicity, and/or reactivity of the reagents you wish to dispose of, proper disposal may be very expensive so it is important that you make a conscious effort to order the absolute minimum amount of the reagents that you need and use the minimum amount needed in order to carry out your experiments. If practical, think about how you might reclaim by distillation and/or precipitation your reagents and solvents and thereby minimize the amount of waste you generate in your work.

Labeling

Bottles containing chemical waste must be properly labeled. Labeling should include the words "hazardous waste." The label should also include the names and relative amounts of the major chemical reagents and/or solvents and the date that the bottle was filled. Be sure to write out all chemical names - do not use chemical formula like "H2O" or abbreviations such as "ACN" or "DMF." Do not put a date on the bottle until it is completely filled and ready for pickup.

Storage

Chemical waste should be disposed of in glass or polyethylene bottles. Plastic coated glass bottles are best for this purpose. Aluminum cans which are easily corroded should not be used for waste disposal and storage. In some laboratories, workers recycle solvent bottles and use them for chemical waste storage and disposal. If your laboratory does this, be sure to completely fill and empty the solvent bottle a minimum of three times before using it for waste and be sure to completely remove or deface the bottle's label. Waste bottles that are in use should be placed in a secondary container such as a plastic tub, preferably inside the hood. This location should be clearly marked with a sign indicating that it is the "Satellite Waste Disposal Area" for your laboratory. Before adding waste to a waste bottle, inspect the waste bottle label and make sure that the materials you are adding are compatible with the bottle's contents. For example, don't mix organics and acids. If you are in doubt, start a new waste bottle. Bottles should be capped unless you are in the actual act of adding waste to the waste bottle. If you use a funnel in order to add waste the funnel must be removed when you are finished and the bottle capped.

Don't completely fill a waste bottle. Always leave at least one inch at the top of the container. As soon as a waste bottle is completely filled, be sure to put the date on the label and contact your Office of Environmental Health and Safety to schedule a chemical waste pickup. The rules regarding the scheduling of waste pickup are very rigid in most laboratories and filled waste bottles need to be removed from the research laboratory within three days of the date indicated on the waste bottle.

Biological And Medical

Regard all cultures, blood, and tissue samples, all waste products produced by biological systems, and any materials that come in contact with biological systems as potentially hazardous. Exposure to biohazards can occur by aerosol (inhalation), accidental ingestion, skin or eye contact, and by accidental puncture of the skin (needles).

Waste and any materials contaminated with biohazardous materials must be decontaminated and disposed of as regulated medical waste. This includes all tissue samples, needles, syringes, scalpels, etc. Be sure to contact your Office of Environmental Health and Safety concerning the proper practices associated with the handling and disposal of biohazardous waste.

Decontamination of Medical Waste

As appropriate, all contaminated materials and surfaces should be either autoclaved (steam sterilization) or treated with 1:10 (v/v) bleach solution to disinfect.

Disposal of Medical Waste

Disinfected needles, syringes, razor blades and other sharps should then be placed in labeled sharps containers. All other biohazardous waste should be placed in biohazard bags, and then placed inside medical waste boxes. The bags should be labeled in indelible ink with the date, name, location, and phone number of the laboratory supervisor.

Animal and Patient Waste Disposal

Waste from animals and patients should be viewed and treated as potentially infectious biohazardous waste. Animal bedding, carcasses, and human and animal tissue and waste samples should be autoclaved before disposal in the medical waste stream. Be sure to contact your Office of Environmental Health and Safety concerning the proper practices associated with the handling and disposal of biohazardous waste.