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7 Critical Pieces of Chemistry Lab Safety Equipment

Posted by Kris Richards on Dec 14, 2023 12:37:38 PM

Imagine you're in a chemistry lab, surrounded by beakers with chemicals, Bunsen burners, and high-pressure equipment. You’re conducting a series of experiments and feeling stressed because the deadline is today. Suddenly, a chemical reaction goes awry, and the mixture starts to overflow and spew bubbles and vapors. How do you respond? The steps taken pre- and post- accident are extremely important to avoid getting injured.

Chemistry labs are places of innovation and discovery, but are also where accidents, injuries and fatalities occur if proper safety precautions are not taken. To control risks, lab employees must rely on engineering controls like a fume hood, administrative controls like procedures and training, and protective equipment. The presence of hazardous chemicals and equipment necessitates the need for safety equipment in laboratories!

  1. The Importance of Safety Equipment in Chemistry Labs

Safety equipment protects both people and the overall laboratory environment, and is critical in chemistry labs, by lowering the likelihood of an accident happening or lowering the severity of a consequence after an accident. Requirements set forth by regulatory bodies (e.g., OSHA1) and guidance set by other non-regulatory bodies (e.g., NIOSH2, ANSI/ISEA3) indicate the use of specific safety equipment in chemistry labs. These requirements and guidelines aim to protect against injuries and illnesses that may arise from exposure to hazardous substances or improper handling of chemicals and equipment.

  1. Common Laboratory Hazards and Risks

Chemical laboratories include a variety of hazards such as chemical and physical. The presence of chemicals could result in exposure to hazardous substances, chemical burns, and fire/explosions. Equipment with physical hazards could result in slips, trips, falls, pinch points, and exposure to extreme temperatures, radiation, noise, electricity, and pressure. Some of these consequences from chemical and physical hazards are described below:

  • Punctures, Cuts or Lacerations: Labs are full of glassware. Working with glassware can lead to cuts and lacerations if damaged glassware is used, proper handling techniques are not followed, or personal protective equipment (PPE) is not used. Punctures may occur with the use of needles.
  • Chemical Inhalation: Chemicals can be in the form of gasses or can emit harmful vapors when mixed or under heat. Exposure to harmful gasses, vapors, fumes, and mists could occur during routine and non-routine processes involving chemicals. Exposure can cause respiratory problems, ranging from mild irritation to severe damage to the lungs or other internal organs.
  • Chemical Burns: Chemical burns occur when there is contact between a caustic or acidic chemical and the skin, eyes or mucous membranes. Contact could be due to a splash or spill, inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE), equipment failure, or improper chemical handling.  
  • Sensitization: Sensitization occurs when someone becomes more reactive to a particular substance after repeated exposures. It’s a type of allergic response that leads to reactions, even at lower concentrations.
  • Eye injuries: Eye injuries happen in the laboratory due to the hazardous properties of chemicals or impact. Chemical processes can emit aerosolized particulates, or create splashes and spills which can reach your eyes. Ultraviolet light, pressurized equipment, and projectiles could also result in eye injuries. These hazards can severely injure the eyes, potentially leading to vision loss.
  • Fires: Fires occur in laboratories due to the presence of flammable chemicals, heat sources, combustible materials, and sometimes electrical hazards.
  1. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Wearing PPE in a laboratory serves as a crucial last line of defense against potential hazards and risks associated with various laboratory activities. Certain PPE should be rated according to recognized standards such as ANSI/ISEA. Verify the rating with the PPE manufacturer before you purchase it. The following are PPE that should be used in the laboratory.

  • Goggles: These are tight-fitting eye protection that completely covers the eyes and protects against chemical splashes, dust, and impact. They should be worn whenever handling chemicals where there may be a splash (e.g., transferring liquid nitrogen into a Dewar or pouring hydrochloric acid). Goggles should be ANSI/ISEA Z87.1 rated. Goggles that meet the ANSI/ISEA Z87.1 requirement for splash and dust protection will be marked with a code that begins with the letter “D”.
    • Goggles coded as “D3” provide protection from droplets and splashes.
    • Goggles coded as “D4” provide dust protection.
    • Goggles coded as “D5” provide fine dust protection.
  • Safety Glasses: These provide eye protection from moderate impact and particles associated with broken glass and minor chemical splashes. They have shatter-resistant lenses commonly made of polycarbonate. Safety glasses should also be ANSI/ISEA Z87.1 rated.
  • Gloves: Gloves provide a barrier between the skin and hazardous chemicals, preventing direct contact and minimizing the risk of burns, absorption, and irritation. Different types of gloves offer protection against specific chemicals. Contact the glove manufacturer or supplier and inform them of the chemicals you’ll be handling. They’ll recommend a specific glove type. You can also review the OSHA Chemical Resistance Selection Chart for Protective Gloves to determine which gloves you need. Consider the task and hand/finger dexterity required to complete the task before purchasing gloves.
  • Respirators: Respirators filter harmful gasses, vapors, fumes, dusts and mists from the air, protecting the respiratory system against irritation or chronic issues. Work with highly toxic or volatile chemicals may require the use of a full-face air purifying respirator or powered air purifying respirator (PAPR). The type of respirator and filter cartridges to use will depend on the specific chemicals being handled and their concentrations. Dust masks or filtering facepiece respirators such as the N-95, surgical masks and cloth masks, which became well known during the COVID-19 pandemic, do not protect against gasses and vapors! Be sure to understand the limitations of respirators prior to use. Only NIOSH-certified respirators should be used when selecting a respirator for work with chemicals. You can’t wear a respirator without clearance! Employees that are required to wear a respirator must be medically cleared and pass a fit test.
  • Lab coats: Lab coats shield clothing and skin from spills, splashes, and particulates. They should be worn whenever working with chemicals or conducting experiments. It’s important to launder lab coats on a regular basis. Your lab should organize a laundry service for the lab coats.
  • Boot or Shoe Covers: Boot or shoe covers prevent the spread of chemicals from the lab to other areas. They should be worn when entering and leaving the lab, especially if there is a risk of contamination.
  1. Eyewash Stations

Eyewash stations are necessary for immediate flushing of chemicals from the eyes in case of an accident. They should be readily accessible in areas where chemicals are being used and should provide a continuous flow of clean water for at least 15 minutes. Keep obstructions clear from the path to the eyewash station and in the immediate surrounding area. Eyewash stations should align with the guidelines in ANSI/ISEA Z358.1.

  1. Safety Showers

Safety showers provide a quick and effective means of decontamination in case of a chemical spill or splash. They are crucial in preventing serious injuries after a chemical incident. Similar to the eyewash stations, they should be located in close proximity to areas where chemicals are handled. Safety showers should also align with ANSI/ISEA Z358.1.

  1. Chemical Fume Hoods

Chemical fume hoods are designed to capture, contain and draw away hazardous gasses, vapors, dusts and mists generated from chemical processes, preventing their accumulation in the lab environment and protecting lab personnel. The fume hood ventilation system draws air into the hood which captures and removes airborne contaminants through a series of ducts. The fume hood also acts as a physical barrier between the lab employee and any potential spills or splashes during chemical processes. Chemical fume hoods must be certified and tested to verify they are functioning properly. For example, face velocity is tested and should be 100 feet per minute (fpm) at minimum to ensure capture of air contaminants.

  1. Fire Extinguishers

Fire extinguishers are crucial for suppressing small fires before they escalate. Fire extinguishers need to be regularly inspected and maintained. Employees should be trained on fire extinguishers usage if they are expected to use them during small fire emergencies. Different types of fire extinguishers are designed to control specific types of fires:

  • Class A fire extinguishers are effective against ordinary combustibles, such as paper, wood, and textiles.
  • Class B fire extinguishers are used for flammable liquids and gasses, such as gasoline, oil, and propane.
  • Class C fire extinguishers are used to extinguish electrical fires.
  • Class D fire extinguishers are used for combustible metals and alloys.
  1. Lab-Safe Refrigerators and Freezers

Lab-safe refrigerators and freezers are used to store flammable or volatile chemicals, and they’re designed to minimize and control the impact from an explosion or fire. Refrigerators and freezers rated for the storage of flammable materials will be clearly identified by the manufacturer.

  1. Fire Blankets

Fire blankets are useful for smothering small, incipient fires, preventing their spread and protecting surrounding areas. They should be readily available in areas where chemicals are handled and where there is a risk of fire. It’s important to understand the limitations of your controls. Fire blankets should not be used for large or rapidly spreading fires. Contact the manufacturer to understand which types of fires the blanket is suitable for. Your Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan and training should clarify when employees are expected to fight fires.

Conclusion

Safety equipment plays a vital role in ensuring the safety of chemistry labs and protecting individuals from a wide range of hazards. From the essential last line of defense of PPE to the strategic placement of emergency showers and eyewash stations, each element plays a pivotal role in maintaining the well-being of laboratory personnel. By identifying hazards/risks, using the appropriate safety equipment, and following proper safety procedures, chemistry labs can be places of scientific discovery and safeguarded against injury and illness.

Scishield enables laboratories to automate their chemical inventory management and lab safety training.

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1 Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)

2 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

3 American National Standards Institute, International Safety Equipment Association (ANSI/ISEA)

 

References:

ANSI/ISEA Z358.1

ANSI/ISEA Z87.1

OSHA Chemical Resistance Selection Chart for Protective Gloves