Safety is of paramount importance in the laboratory. Most accidents can be prevented with a bit of forethought and some common lab sense. That said accidents can and will happen and it is essential that you prepare for them. This document will outline some steps you should take to avoid harming yourself or others.
Knowledge is power. One of the first steps in any laboratory experiment is accessing the dangers involved with the procedure you are performing or the chemicals you are handling. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for all chemicals you may use are freely available and should be consulted before you get started.
You should never work alone in the laboratory! If you have made special arrangements to work after hours, make sure someone (preferably your mentor) knows when and where you are working.
There is no one-size fits all approach to lab gear that works for each lab. However there are a few basics.
- Eye protection must be worn anytime you are in the laboratory. This could range from safety glasses with side shields when not performing wet chemistry to goggles or face shields. While the level of acceptable eye protection may vary from lab to lab and experiment to experiment it should always be worn. In addition to assessing the experimental dangers yourself, you should consult your mentor to determine what is standard operating procedure in their labs.
- Contact Lenses present a real danger in many laboratories. Contacts can trap and concentrate volatile chemicals and in extreme cases they can fuse to your eye. If you wear contacts please consult with your mentor to determine if this is a safe practice in your laboratory.
- Lab Coats or Aprons can serve as a formidable barrier between the lab bench and you (and your clothes). Again, you should take time to assess the risks involved with your experiment and talk to your mentor to determine if these are appropriate for you.
Each and every one of us working in this building are counting on our peers to help keep us safe. This includes your bench-mate, your mentor, the janitorial staff and even the dean. Most of what follows is general common sense but is no less important.
- Label Label Label!!! Label everything that you work with. An un-labeled flask (even just water) poses a serious risk to everyone supporting the laboratory. Labels should include: contents (name and formula of compound), concentrations, your initials and a date.
- Dispose of waste correctly. Broken glass should be put in the broken glass bucked not the trashcan where it can seriously injure your lab mates or the janitorial staff. Chemical waste should be disposed of in E.P.A. approved and labeled satellite accumulation areas located throughout the building. Solid waste, such as gloves and soiled paper towels, should be disposed of in solid waste containers. Biohazards such as syringes should be disposed of in appropriate Biohazard containers. If you are confused. . . ask for help.
- Spills happen. An abandoned spill is a hazard to all. Clean them up! For large spills, spill clean up kits are available in the stockroom. If you are uncomfortable or uncertain about how to proceed, ask for help.
With any luck you will never have to use any of the information below. That said it is better to be prepared. Before getting started, take some time and locate the following:
- Fire Extinguisher
- Safety Shower
- Eye Wash Station
If an emergency should arise, stay as calm as you can. Let someone know what’s up and begin taking appropriate action. You don’t need to be a hero to be a HERO. If an emergency is beyond what you are comfortable with, get help.
- Fire: If there is a small controllable fire consider getting help and using a fire extinguisher. For any fire that is not small or controlled get out and get help. If your clothing catches on fire DO NOT RUN!!! Stop drop and roll or use a fire blanket.
- Chemical Spill: If you have a chemical spill on your person let someone know and get to a safety shower immediately. This is not a time for modesty, but should the need arise there is a more private safety shower that you can move to in the Safety Room S-471 (between Lecture Rooms S-465 and S-473).
- Chemicals in Your Eye: If chemicals are splashed into your eyes let someone know and get your eyes under the eye wash station immediately.
Students should make sure these numbers are posted either on the door of the lab or next to a phone if present.