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Safety in the Laboratory

Key Concepts

Safety in the Laboratory is the reponsibility of everyone in the laboratory.
This includes teachers, students, lab technicians (assistants) and visitors to the lab.

Before undertaking any practical work (experiments) in the laboratory, you should ask yourself the following 5 questions:

    Question 1: Do I know the safety rules for working in this laboratory?

    Question 2: Do I know where the safety equipment is located in this laboratory?

    Question 3: What are the possible hazards (dangers) during this experiment?

    Question 4: What are the possible consequences (risks) of these hazards?

    Question 5: For this experiment, is it possible to:

(i) eliminate the risk
                        Is it necessary to use this chemical?
                        Is it necessary to undertake this dangerous process?

(ii) substitute a safer alternative?

(iii) guard against the risk?
                        Will using particular safety equipment minimise the hazard?

If you are performing an experiment using the materials and method provided by your teacher, you will need to concentrate on thinking about how to guard against the possible risks.

If you are designing and carrying out your own experiments, you will need to confer with your teacher during the design process in order to determine whether the potential risks can be eliminated, substituted, and/or guarded against.

This tutorial will help you identify hazards and risks, and, help you understand the safety precautions you should take.

Safety Rules

Different laboratories will have different safety rules depending on the type of experiments conducted in them.

Below is a list of general rules that would apply to most chemistry laboratories.

Safety Rules for a Chemistry Laboratory
the DO NOT listthe DO list
  • DO NOT eat or drink in the laboratory.

  • DO NOT drink or eat from science glassware.

  • DO NOT place scientific equipment in your mouth.

  • DO NOT store chemical substances in food containers such as bottles or jars.

  • DO NOT return decanted substances to the original container as they may be contaminated.

  • DO NOT put paper in the sink.
    (put waste paper in the bin)

  • DO NOT put broken glass in the sink or bin.
    (use the sealed "sharps" container provided)

  • DO NOT put heavy metals down the sink
    (use the receptacle provided).

  • DO NOT pour organic solvents down the sink
    (use the sealed receptacle provided).

  • DO NOT leave experiments unattended while in progress.

  • DO NOT run in the laboratory.
  • DO listen carefully and follow all intructions given by your teacher.

  • DO wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

  • DO wash hands thoroughly after using chemicals.

  • DO label all substances correctly in accordance with labelling guidelines.

  • DO clean and keep tidy all surfaces where substances are used.

  • DO clean glassware and other containers thoroughly after use.

  • DO clean up mercury spills using the mercury spill kit or mercury decontaminant powder.

  • DO clean up other spills using the appropriate materials available to you.

  • DO dispose of all waste appropriately.
    Excess acids and alkalis can be neutralised then flushed down the sink.
    Non-hazardous solid waste, litmus paper, filter papers, matches, etc, go in the bin.
    Broken glass goes in the "sharps" container.
    Organic solvents go in the organic waste container.
    Heavy metals go in the heavy metal container, except mercury waste which has a separate container.
    (Your lab may also separate waste containing precious metals such as silver)
DO NOT panic if there is an emergency! DO tell your teacher IMMEDIATELY if an emergency arises!

Safety Equipment

Different laboratories will have different safety equipment depending on the type of experiments conducted in them.

You should not handle any safety equipment unless you have been given instructions about the correct use of the equipment.
Incorrect use of safety equipment can be dangerous!

Your teacher should be told immediately about any dangerous situation or emergency that arises during your work in the lab.

If you have not been given a sketch of the layout of the laboratory which includes the location of the safety equipment and emergency exits, you should draw a sketch yourself and include the locations of each of the following:

Equipment in Fixed PositionsEquipment in Non-fixed Positions
  • Emergency Exits
    (look for a backlit EXIT sign above the door)

  • Sand bucket
    (usually near an exit door)

  • Fire blanket
    (usually near an exit door)

  • Fire extinguishers
    (usually near an exit door)

  • First aid station
    (usually attached to a wall near an exit door and a first aid poster)

  • Eyewash facilities near first aid station
    If eye washing facilities are not available, run low pressure water over the eyeball
    (high pressure water can damage the eye)

  • Fume hood (fume cupboard)
    Used when handling substances that generate harmful gases, mists or dust

  • Pipette bulbs (pi-pumps)
    Only use dry pipette bulbs.

  • Labels (and/or marking pens)
    Correctly and legibly label all containers used to store substances

  • Mercury absorption materials
    Clean up mercury spills immediately and place residues in the sealed container provided.

  • Spillage absorption materials
    Clean up other hazardous liquid chemical spills using chemical absorbing agents and dispose of residues appropriately.

  • Safety shield or screen
    Used as a barrier to protect people from vigorous chemical reactions

  • Trolleys
    Used to transport heavy equipment including gas cylinders around the lab

  • Winchester bottle carrier
    Used to transport winchester bottles

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Safety equipment designed to protect a single person (just you) from injury is known as personal protective equipment (abbreviated as PPE). Personal protective equipment includes wearing the appropriate clothing, shoes and accessories.

The personal protective equipment you should use in the chemistry laboratory is given below:

Personal Protective EquipmentReason
Laboratory Coats
or aprons
Protects your clothes, and, provides an additional layer of protection for your skin.
(So do not roll up the sleeves of your lab coat.)

Eye ProtectionGlasses or goggles with side shields to prevent substances entering your eyes.

Closed in shoes Protect the skin of your feet (no sandals, thongs or flip-flops).

Hair ties
(hair nets)
Long and/or loose hair must be secured to prevent it coming into contact with hazardous substances, and to prevent it getting jammed in machinery and endangering your life. Similarly, loose or large jewellery should be removed while working in the lab.

Gloves Protect your hands when necessary.
PVC or Nitrile gloves are used when handling toxic or corrosive substances.
Leather gloves are used to protect your skin from burns when using very hot, or very cold, substances.

Gauze masks Prevent hazardous dust entering your mouth and lungs and are used when necessary.

Possible Hazards

Some hazards are general hazards, such as skidding on a wet floor, or tripping over your own feet when running. These hazards are present everywhere. It is important to be aware that these hazards are even more dangerous in the chemistry laboratory and you should take care to minimise the risk of injury due to these general hazards.

For example, Electrical equipment, found in your home and in the laboratory, can be dangerous. To ensure you use electrical equipment safely, you should:

  • keep electrical equipment away from water sources.

  • prevent electrical cords being coiled as the build up of heat may cause a fire or damage the external (protective) casing.

  • position electrical cords so that they do not pose a trip hazard.

  • not use any equipment, power socket or power board which has a "Do Not Use" sign or label on it.

In the Chemistry lab there are other hazards, chemical hazards, that you may not find in other places, or, which become even more dangerous, even life-threatening in the context of the lab.

Hazardous chemical substances are labelled so that we can

  • quickly identify the kind of risk or hazard associated with the substance

  • take precautions to protect ourselves, and others, from the risk

The label on a container of a chemical reagent contains information about the risks or hazards associated with its use in the form of a

  • pictogram (a picture representing the risk or hazard)

  • word (to describe the risk or hazard)

The pictogram and/or the word on the label of a hazardous substance summarises the risk involved in using the substance.

Suitable precautions should then be taken to minimize the risk when working with the substance.

The table below summarises the meaning of common pictograms and gives the typical safety precautions required to work with the substance.

Pictogram Substance is Risk/hazard is Examples Typical Safety Precautions
corrosive Substance will eat away at your skin and flesh. Acids
(eg hydrochloric acid)

Alkalis
(eg sodium hydroxide)

Some gases
(eg chlorine, ammonia)

Batteries containing acid.

Wear gloves to prevent skin contact with the substance through your hands.
Wear a long-sleeved lab coat to protect your arms and torso.
Wear eye protection (glasses or goggles) to prevent substance entering your eyes.
Wear closed in shoes to protect the skin of your feet.

explosive Substance will react quickly to produce huge amounts of gas in an explosion. Gunpowder

TNT

Gelignite

Picric acid

Perform any experiment behind an explosion-proof barrier (closed fume hood or fume cupboard may be adequate in some cases).
Wear eye protection (glasses or goggles).
Wear suitable clothing, eg lab coat, closed in shoes, and gloves, to protect your skin.

flammable Substance will burn in the presence of oxygen and a heat source. Methane gas

Liquid alcohols

Solid phosphorus

Keep the substance away from naked flames, for example, use a water bath or an oil bath to heat the substance safely.

infectious Substance contains a virus or bacteria that can cause you serious health problems, even death. Vaccines

Hepatitis

Wear suitable clothing such as lab coat, closed in shoes, eye protection (glasses or goggles), gloves, to prevent contact through your skin.
Use a fume hood or fume cupboard to prevent breathing in the hazardous material.

radioactive Substance gives off radiation which can destroy your cells, cause burns, and could lead to cancer. Uranium oxide

Radiopharmaceuticals used to treat cancer

Any radioactive substance you will use in School will come in special packaging.
Do not remove a radioactive substance from its packaging.
Radioactive sources should be handled with tongs or forceps and kept at least 30 cm from any person.
Minimize the length of time you are exposed to the radiation by keeping the radioactive source in a lead lined container when you are not using it.

toxic Substance will cause sickness or death if it enters your body. Cyanides

Lead acetate

Arsenic compounds

Pesticides

Wear gloves, lab coat and closed in shoes to prevent the substance being absorbed through your skin.
Use a fume hood (fume cupboard) to prevent breathing any toxic fumes (gases).

Example : Heating a solid

In a typical thermal decomposition experiment, a small amount of calcium carbonate is placed in a test tube and heated in a bunsen burner flame to produce carbon dioxide gas and calcium oxide.

What safety precautions should be taken during this experiment?

Question 1: Do you know the safety rules for working in this laboratory?

Read through the Safety Rules before you go to the lab to familiarise yourself with the rules.

Question 2: Do you know where the safety equipment is located in this laboratory?

Take a look at the sketch map of the lab and make sure you know where safety equipment is located.

Make sure that you are wearing appropriate clothing before you go to the lab.

Question 3: What are the possible hazards?

Hazard
Heat source

Hot materials

Explosion (if any gas is produced quickly in a confined space an explosion is possible)

Corrosive product (calcium oxide produces an alkali when it comes into contact with water)

Question 4: What are the possible consequences of these hazards (the risks)?

Hazard Consequence
(risks)
Heat source burns

Hot materials burns

Explosion skin, eye and hearing damage

Corrosive product skin and eye damage

Question 5(i): Is it possible to eliminate the risk?

Hazard Consequence
(risks)
Eliminate Risk?
Heat source burns No. Heat source is required.

Hot materials burns No. Materials must be heated.

Explosion skin, eye and hearing damage Yes.
(i) Heat gently (slowly move test tube in and out of flame).
(ii) Use an open-mouthed test tube (do not restrict the opening)

Corrosive product skin and eye damage No. Calcium oxide will be produced in air which contains water.

Question 5(ii): Is it possible to substitute for a safer alternative?

Hazard Consequence
(risks)
Eliminate Risk? Substitute?
Heat source burns No No. Heat source is required.

Hot materials burns No No. Materials must be heated.

Explosion skin, eye and hearing damage Yes.
(i) Heat gently (slowly move test tube in and out of flame).
(ii) Use an open-mouthed test tube (do not restrict the opening)

Corrosive product skin and eye damage No No. Experiment requires calcium oxide be produced.

Question 5(iii): Is it possible to guard against, that is, to minimise, the risk?

Hazard Consequence
(risks)
Eliminate Risk? Substitute? Minimise Risk?
Heat source burns No No Yes.
(i) Convert blue bunsen burner flame to a luminous (yellow) flame when not in use, or, turn it off.
(ii) Do not set bunsen burner up near edge of bench or close to another experiment.
(iii) Do not place equipment, including pens or lab book, near the bunsen burner.
(iv) Do not leave lit bunsen burner unattended.

Hot materials burns No No Yes
(i) Wear a lab coat.
(ii) Wear eye protection.
(iii) Wear closed in shoes.
(iv) Use tongs or test tube holder to hold test tube while heating.
(v) Slant open mouth of the test tube away from your body or other people while heating.
(vi) Place hot test tube in test tube rack to cool it before disposing of waste.
(vii) Allow bunsen burner to cool before storing it away.

Explosion skin, eye and hearing damage Yes.
(i) Heat gently (slowly move test tube in and out of flame).
(ii) Use an open-mouthed test tube (do not restrict the opening)

Corrosive product skin and eye damage No No Yes
(i) Do not touch the substances.
(ii) Add some dilute acid to the calcium oxide to neutralise it before pouring it down the sink.
(iii) Wash your hands after you finish cleaning up the experiment.
(iv) Wear a lab coat.
(v) Wear eye protection.
(vi) Tie back loose/long hair
(vii) Remove loose/long jewellery or other accessories.


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