Laboratory Safety on Campus

Is a safety training orientation included in the first laboratory meeting of every semester on your campus?  Are your students and employees prepared in the event of an incident occurring in your laboratories?  If not, it’s too late for a student safety orientation when the incident happens.  In order to comply with OSHA’s Occupational Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1450, each campus is required to develop and maintain a Chemical Hygiene Plan.  This plan is required to ensure that the college is capable of protecting employees and students from health hazards associated with the laboratory environment.  In this newsletter we’ll examine some basic requirements for laboratory safety.

Personal Safety

Protective eye covering is required of all personnel in all laboratories. State law requires that approved safety goggles be worn in all student laboratories at all times. Appropriate protective clothing, such as gloves, lab coats, rubber aprons, etc., should be worn in the laboratory. Closed-toe shoes must be worn in laboratories. Sandals are not appropriate. Loose clothing should be avoided, unless covered by a lab coat, due to the possibility of ignition, absorption of chemicals, and entanglement in machinery. Dangling jewelry and unrestrained long hair present a safety risk for accidental ignition or entanglement and should be avoided. Tight-fitting rings and jewelry not easily removable may trap corrosive or irritating liquids next to the skin. Lab coats are recommended to protect clothing and the wearer from accidental spills and contamination.

Due to the possibility of absorption and accumulation of chemicals, lab coats should not be worn in eating areas or outside the laboratory. The laboratory supervisor has the responsibility for determining appropriate protection, and providing it to the student.

Contact lens wearers are discouraged from wearing contacts in the laboratories. If they choose to wear them, they must be informed of the risks of contact lens use in laboratories.

Safety Equipment

All emergency equipment, including fire extinguishers, first aid kits, emergency showers, eye washes, fire alarm pull stations, fire blankets, etc., must be operable.  Are students and employees aware of emergency access to electrical panels for positive disconnects of equipment?  Access to the facilities must not be blocked or hampered.  Specific fire extinguisher types are required according to the potential flammable material present.  If the fire extinguisher present in the laboratory is not adequate for the types of hazardous materials present, contact the campus safety office to obtain the proper type of extinguisher.

Eyewash fountains must be provided in the event protective measures fail and someone receives a chemical splash to the eyes.  All students and employees must familiarize themselves with the location of the closest eyewash fountain before beginning work in the laboratory. If chemical contact with the eyes occurs, the person should proceed immediately to the nearest eyewash station (with assistance if available) and flush the eyes with water for 15 to 30 minutes.  Eyewash fountains should be inspected monthly.  Inspection is the responsibility of the laboratory manager or delegated individual.  Safety showers should be inspected every six months.  Fume hoods need to be inspected at least annually for proper operation.

Copies of the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) must be available for each chemical used or stored in any particular laboratory.  State law requires that a MSDS be provided to a worker upon request within one working day.  The MSDS sheet should always be consulted before beginning to use any material or chemical.

All laboratories must be equipped with an approved first aid kit.  It must be wall mounted in a visible and accessible location.  All laboratories must have hazard signs posted at the entrance and a map with the location of all emergency and safety equipment posted near the entrance.

All telephones must be equipped with the emergency phone number sticker.  Telephones may be equipped with further emergency numbers where appropriate (e.g., Radiation Safety, Chemtrec, etc.).

General Laboratory Safety

All exits (and paths to the exits) from laboratories must be clear of obstructions and hazards and left unlocked during laboratory use.  All refrigerators containing volatile, flammable, and/or explosive chemicals must be explosion-proof or rated for flammable storage.  Hood sashes should be lowered to the “optimum sash height”.  Lowering the sash conserves energy and provides some protection in case of a fire or explosion in the hood.  No experiment should be performed without the proper safety equipment, which might include the use of a hood, appropriate venting of pump exhaust, use of a blast shield, etc. 

Flammable solvents must be stored within safe limits and in proper containers.  Storage cabinets vented to the outside provide the best protection from chemical and fire hazards.  Chemical storage in a hood is not recommended, unless no hazardous operations, including simple distillations, are performed in the hood.  All chemicals should be properly labeled and in good condition.  Any deteriorating labels should be replaced.  Leaking containers should be repackaged into a suitable replacement container or properly disposed.  If chemicals are transferred from their original container, the new container must be clearly labeled with the chemical name, specific hazards (Caustic, Flammable, Poison, Carcinogen, etc.), and if possible, the Chemical Abstracts Number (CAS No.).  All chemical containers should be dated from time of purchase and/or first use.  Time sensitive materials, particularly peroxide formers such as ethers, should be labeled with a bright orange “Time-Sensitive Material” label and dated.  All chemical containers should be sealed and in good condition with mutually reactive or unstable chemicals properly segregated.

Chemicals should be stored by hazard class, (i.e., flammable, corrosive acid, corrosive base, reactive), NOT alphabetically.  Within a specific class, chemicals may be alphabetized.  All storage shelves should be secured to prevent tipping and have a front lip, if possible, to prevent bottles from falling off the front of the shelf.  Ensure that storage locations are properly vented, dry, and free from temperature extremes.  Do not store chemicals above eye level.  If a step stool must be used, it must have wheels that lock when a weight is applied to the stool.  Properly secure all gas cylinders and keep them away from heat sources.

When transporting quantities of chemicals by hand they should be packed in a carrying container or bucket.  Before transporting, ensure that you have an assessable space prepared for the chemicals you’re moving.  Accidents frequently occur when someone tries to prepare a storage space with their hands preoccupied.  If you are using a cart to transport chemicals, insure that the cart is stable and has wheels large enough to negotiate any change in elevation or uneven surfaces.  Avoid congested areas and class changes where students are likely to be crowding hallways. Use freight elevators whenever possible to transport chemicals.  When transporting gas cylinders, use appropriate hand trucks with tie downs and ensure that the cylinders are capped.

Spill Cleanup

Spills involving hazardous chemicals should be cleaned up as quickly and as safely as possible.  Only trained and properly equipped personnel should be involved in hazardous chemicals cleanup. Custodial personnel should not be requested or expected to assist, as they have not been properly trained in hazardous chemical cleanup methods.  A spill is considered hazardous if: it is flammable or explosive; it generates harmful vapor or dust which affect the eyes or lungs; it is corrosive and attacks skin, clothing, equipment, furniture or facilities; or it is harmful by ingestion or absorption.

Spills involving hazardous materials will require different tactics depending on the magnitude of the spill, the materials toxicity, reactivity, flammability, routes of entry of the material into the body, and the promptness with which the spill can be safely managed.  An effective and prompt removal of spilled hazardous chemicals cannot be overemphasized.

Small chemical spills that usually are detected early and present no immediate danger to personnel or the environment can be safely corrected with the advice of knowledgeable laboratory or supervisory personnel.  Accidental chemical discharges that present an immediate danger to personnel and/or the environment are the responsibility of specially trained and equipped personnel.  Under these circumstances, leave the spill site immediately and request help.

Medical Emergencies

Personal injuries are not uncommon in laboratories.  These injuries may range from minor scrapes and cuts to severe injuries from electrical shock and chemical burns.  In an accident, the initial responsibility for first aid lies with the person who arrives first at the scene.  This person should respond quickly, but in a calm and assuring manner. Immediately summon medical help.  If calling by telephone to report an injury, be explicit in reporting the location, the type of injury, and the type of assistance required.  Do not move the injured person unless they are in danger of further injury.

All injuries must be reported to the supervisor, even if medical attention is not required.  Minor injuries may lead to more serious complications at a future date.  Liability and insurance matters may be handled more effectively if documentation exists.  Any time a student or employee develops signs or symptoms associated with a hazardous chemical exposure, the affected person should immediately contact supervisory personnel to initiate procedures for a medical assistance.  At any time a chemical exposure occurs, proper documentation should be immediately completed.

Records and Reports

In the event of an accident, a written accident report should be maintained as part of a safety program record.  Process the original accident report following the procedures that have been developed on your campus.

The Chemical Hygiene Plan for each laboratory should be maintained in an accessible place within that laboratory.  The CHP needs to provide general guidance with provisions for the addition of specific information regarding each individual area.  Ensure that the information and guidelines for facilities are compatible with current state and federal regulations and currently accepted laboratory procedures from an authority such as the National Research Council.

Federal regulations require that a Chemical Inventory List be maintained and updated annually. This list documents the location and quantity of chemicals located on the campus.  In the event of an emergency, such as a fire, knowledge of what chemicals are contained in each area provides essential information for emergency responders.  A copy of the Chemical Inventory List should be maintained in the appendix of the Chemical Hygiene Plan.

Information and Training

Federal and State laws require that laboratories provide various health and safety training for all employees.  The college is responsible for providing employees with information and training on hazardous chemicals in the work area at the time of initial assignment, prior to assignment involving new exposure situations, and annual refresher training. It is desirable that several individuals be certified in the areas of first aid and CPR.  All employees and students need to be aware of the availability and location of first aid equipment.

Training of employees in the use of fire extinguishers is required by OSHA 29 CFR 1910.157, “where the employer has provided portable fire extinguishers for employee use in the workplace.”  All employees must be trained in the proper methods for spill recognition and response. If respirators are required to protect the health of employees, a respiratory protection program must be established to comply with the OSHA General Industry Standard, 29 CFR 1910.134 and the Oklahoma State Statute Title 40, as administered by the State Commissioner of Labor.  Training must be conducted prior to use to insure correct and safe use of the respirators.

Training that is accomplished at the department level should be properly documented and maintained in the departmental personnel file. Follow your school’s procedures on training reporting requirements.

Waste Disposal

Chemicals no longer needed and other hazardous waste must be disposed of in an environmentally safe and legal manner.  Many chemicals are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency as hazardous materials and must be disposed of by a licensed disposal company.  Other restrictions are placed upon chemicals released into the sewer system by your municipal wastewater treatment plant, based upon the capabilities for treatment.  Waste chemicals are typically generated from sample preparations, extraction, and analytical processes.  Other waste chemicals may be generated through cleaning out of unused laboratories, change of methods, off-specification chemicals, and completion of a project.

Waste chemicals must be disposed of IAW your approved quantity generator status to reduce the hazard potential of storage and to minimize inventory tracking and updating.  A system must be developed in each laboratory to collect and segregate chemical waste during daily operations.  These chemicals should be collected in separate containers and stored separately to prevent chemical reactions in the event of spills or leaks.  When the amount collected reaches the approved storage capacity, arrange for a hazardous materials pickup.  Ensure the chemicals are properly manifested for proper disposition.

All broken glass requires special handling and disposal.  Do not use broken, chipped, or badly scratched glassware.  All broken glass in the laboratory must be disposed of in a broken glass container.  It is recommended that unbroken glass be disposed of in cardboard boxes.  Empty solvent/acid bottles and empty reagent bottles must be decontaminated or disinfected before disposal into the regular trash.

Broken glassware must never be picked up directly with the hands.  Broken glassware may be contaminated with human blood or components, products made from human blood, or other potentially infectious materials.  Spilled body fluids must not be cleaned up without appropriate protective equipment and materials specifically designated for such fluids.

Biologically contaminated needles and other contaminated sharps such as broken glass and glass that has the potential to break, including micro-scope slides, pipettes, cover slips, test tubes, or thin walled vials, must be placed in a closeable, puncture resistant, leak proof container that is labeled with a biohazard symbol prior to disposal, reprocessing, or reuse.  Contaminated needles and other contaminated sharps such as razor blades, must not be recapped, removed, sheared, or broken prior to placement in this container.  The sharps container must be mechanically or chemically sterilized before disposal.

Reference Material

For additional information on laboratory safety refer to publications such as “Safety in Academic Chemistry Laboratories” published by the American Chemical Society, “Prudent Practices in the Laboratory” published by the National Research Council, and “Laboratory Chemical Hygiene” published by the American Industrial Hygiene Association.