Chapter 5 Health and Safety in the Laboratory

While an extensive array of chemicals will not be used in EESA01 laboratories, you will be in contact with some chemicals and other possible hazards from which you can protect yourself by carefully adhering to the following advice. What follows are several important rules and guidelines to be read thoroughly before you begin working in the lab

5.1 Eye Protection

You must provide yourself with adequate safety glasses with both top and side shield protection. These must be worn at all times while in the lab. If you wear prescription lenses, you MUST provide yourself with goggles or a safety shield that fits over your own glasses. If you forget your own glasses on any day, the laboratory has a limited supply of glasses and goggles to borrow for that day only. Although safety goggles will greatly reduce the likelihood of a chemical coming in contact with your eyes, accidents can still happen. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the location and operation of the eyewash station.

5.2 Personal Protection

In addition to eye protection, the following rules must also be followed in order to maximize your personal safety:

  • If you have long hair, tie it back
  • Wear a lab coat at all times while in the lab
  • Wear closed-toe shoes (they should cover your entire foot!)
  • Your legs should be completely covered

Safety equipment, such as eye protection and lab coats, will be available for purchase from EPSA at the beginning of the term. For some experiments, you will be required to wear nitrile gloves to protect your skin from exposure to chemical contact. While wearing gloves, it is imperative that you follow these two rules:

1.Never touch common surfaces while wearing gloves (this includes door knobs, phones, taps, pens, keyboards etc.) Doing so may contaminate the surface and inadvertently expose other individuals to any chemicals on your gloves. When you are using equipment that involves touching a lot of surfaces, it is good practice to glove only one hand and to use that hand to touch the chemicals, leaving your other hand free to touch the common surfaces. 2.Do not assume you are immortal just because you are wearing gloves! Gloves provide an extra barrier to your skin, but they are not impermeable. Many chemicals can pass right through, reaching your skin in just seconds. If you spill a hazardous chemical on your glove, immediately remove the glove and thoroughly wash your hands. If no chemicals have soiled your gloves, you may use them many times over.

Regardless of whether or not you’ve been wearing gloves, it is extremely important that you wash your hands with soap and water before leaving the lab.

5.3 Fire Safety

If using chemicals, read chemical labels and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs)! Know which substances being used in the lab are flammable. Keep open vessels of solvent away from sources of heat. Do not use any open flames (unless otherwise instructed). Dispose of solvents in the appropriately labeled solvent waste container in the fume hood. Immediately add to the label the name of the solvent you just added (if it is not already listed). Familiarize yourself with the location of fire exits and fire extinguishers, including which fires they are used for.

The major concern in the event of a fire is the safety of the persons in the vicinity. Therefore, only after it is established that all persons are safe, should attention be given to extinguishing any fire. Small fires in beakers can be extinguished by covering them with a watch glass or larger beaker, thereby removing the oxygen. If a person’s clothing is on fire, it is important for him or her not to run, but rather to lie on the floor and smother the flames. Usually, in such a case, help is required to smother the flames with a coat, fire blanket, towel, or whatever is available.

When a person accidentally starts a fire, he or she is frequently too stunned to act quickly. Consequently, it is largely the responsibility of those nearest to, but not involved in the fire, to attend to the safety of those directly involved, and subsequently, to extinguish the flames.

If the fire alarm rings, the lab must be evacuated immediately. Leave the building by the closest stairwell exit to your lab. Familiarize yourself with the location of this exit on the first laboratory day.

5.4 Toxicities

There are three ways by which a toxic chemical can enter your body: inhalation, ingestion and skin absorption (including through the eyes). Provided that no one is eating or drinking in the lab, and that volatile chemicals are kept in the fume hoods, the most likely route of exposure in the undergraduate lab is through skin/eye absorption.

If your skin comes into direct contact with a chemical, follow the first-aid procedures listed in the MSDS for that chemical. Typically, the recommended action is to wash the affected area for 10 minutes with cold water. Similarly, if your skin starts to feel hot, turns red or starts to itch, wash it with cold water for 10 minutes—even if you are not aware of having come into contact with a chemical. Notify your teaching assistant, a technician or the lab instructor.

If a chemical is splashed into your eyes, proceed immediately to the eye wash station and rinse the affected eye(s) with water for at least 15 minutes. If you are unable to get yourself to the eyewash station, call out for someone to help escort you. Notify your demonstrator and lab instructor.

Depending on the experiment, there may be hazards associated with some of the chemicals that will re- quire specific precautions and/or actions in the event of exposure. To make sure that you know what to do (and what not to do), it is important that you know the properties of the chemicals you’re working with. There is a set of Material Safety Data Sheets in a marked binder in your laboratory. The binder contains one sheet for each chemical that will be used in EESA01 this year. Familiarize yourself with its location and feel free to use these pages as references to the possible toxicity, precautions for handling, and safe means of disposal for all the chemicals that you will use this year in the course.

One of the best ways to avoid accidental exposure to a chemical is to maintain a clean workspace. This includes both your own personal workspace (bench) as well as the common areas. It is the responsibility of each student to leave his/her space clean at the end of the period. If chemicals have been spilled, clean them up immediately according to the procedures noted in the MSDS. Ask your demonstrator for help if you’re not sure.

Special care should be taken around balances. Inside and around the balances should be kept clean at all times. If a spill occurs, clean it up. Attached to each balance is a small brush that can be used to sweep dry spills into the solid waste containers. When leaving the balance, ensure that it is clean and its doors are closed.

5.5 Waste Disposal

All chemicals must be disposed of in an appropriate manner to avoid injury to personnel and to the environment. Absolutely no chemicals are to be poured down the drain or placed in the paper garbage or glass garbage containers.

Solids must be placed in solid waste beakers, the location of which your TA will show you.

5.6 Glassware Handling

To avoid cuts, always handle glassware gently; protect your hands when assembling pieces of glass equipment and do not force joints together. If you break a piece of glassware, use one of the brooms and dustpans located in the lab and clean up the pieces as completely as possible. This applies to broken glassware on the floor or in the sink! Broken glassware is to be disposed of in the broken glass disposal bins (your TA will show your where). Be sure to report any broken glassware to your demonstrator.

5.7 General Rules


If you feel faint, sit down immediately and put your head down. Tell someone how you feel. Wear old clothes to the lab — or at least ones you don’t care about. Cell phones, MP3 players, laptops etc. can be distracting. Since you need to be attentive to what you are doing in the lab, you will not be allowed to use these items in the laboratory, with the exception of laptops only during times allowed for by your TA (when they are needed for an assignment). On the next page are the safety regulations. Please read them carefully and when you feel that you understand them all, print off one copy of the page, sign it and give it to your TA/demonstrator at the very start of your first lab.