ehs logo
Emergency Response

Fire Safety in the Laboratory
Hazardous Chemical Spills/Releases
What should Lab Personnel do in the event of a Hazardous Chemical Spill/Release?
What should lab personnel do in case of contact with hazardous chemicals?

When a hazardous chemical is accidentally released, immediately call EH&S at 305-6780 (CUMC) or 854-8749 (MS).  If anyone has been injured and medical attention is necessary, call Security at 305-7979 (CUMC) or 854-5555 (MS) before calling EH&S to report the spill.  After normal work hours and on weekends and University holidays, report the incident to Security.  Security will then notify a member of EH&S.  When reporting a spill or leak, please give as much detailed information as possible (location, chemical name, how much was spilled, etc.).  It is particularly important to report the exact name of the chemical involved - spelling it out, if necessary.

Do not attempt to clean up a hazardous chemical spill yourself! You could be risking serious injury.  Laboratory personnel often do not have the proper personal protective equipment (i.e., respirator) to clean up a spill.  In addition, it is a violation of Federal law to combat a chemical spill without the proper emergency response training mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  When a hazardous chemical is spilled, leave the area, close all doors to the spill area, and report the incident to EH&S or Security.

If laboratory personnel are accidentally splashed with hazardous chemicals, it must be immediately removed from contact in order to minimize injury.  The only way to minimize or prevent personal injury from chemical contact is to immediately remove the chemical by drenching with massive amounts of water using the emergency shower, located near the entrance of the lab.  Drenching must continue for at least 15 minutes.  If you have been splashed with chemicals, remove the chemical from contact first.  Then notify EH&S or Security, or have someone else in the lab notify them.  After chemical contact, medical attention may also be necessary.

Go to Top

Fire Safety in the Laboratory

Large quantities of flammable liquids, solids, and gases, unstable/reactive materials, together with energetic chemical reactions - make research laboratories uniquely hazardous in terms of potential for fire. However, historically, occurrence of laboratory fires has been extremely rare, limited to a few small incidents that did not involve negligence on the part of laboratory personnel.

In order to reduce/eliminate the potential for fire, observe and enforce all FDNY regulations within your own laboratory. Pay particular attention to the flammable storage limits for the different laboratory types. Flammable storage limits are based on laboratory type, which is based on fire rating/fire suppression of the lab. Flammable storage limits are listed in the table below.

Lab type
fire rating
fire protection
flammable liquids
flammable solids
oxidizing materials
unstable reactive

I

2 hours

Sprinklers

30 gallons

15 lbs

50 lbs

12 lbs

II

1 hour

Sprinklers

25 gallons

10 lbs

40 lbs

6 lbs

III

2 hours

No sprinklers

20 gallons

6 lbs

30 lbs

3 lbs

IV

1 hour

No sprinklers

15 gallons

3 lbs

20 lbs

2 lbs

At the entrance to each laboratory, the annual FDNY permit is posted and the flammable limits for the lab type are listed. Please do not exceed these storage/use limits. Fires can spread outside a lab if the available fuel can sustain a fire longer than the fire rating for the lab.

If a fire should ignite in your lab, and only if you feel comfortable fighting a fire, you may attempt to put out a small fire yourself. Know the locations of the fire extinguishers in your lab. They are always highly visible and usually located inside the entrance to the lab, at the ends of the benches, and near the window ledges. If you are regularly working with flammable metals, you may request a class D extinguisher for your lab.

Go to Top

When using a fire extinguisher, remember the word PASS:

Pull the pin
Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire
Squeeze the handle to release the extinguishing agent
Sweep the base of the fire from side to side

If you attempt to fight the fire yourself, place yourself between the fire and the exit so that you have a clear escape. DISCHARGE ONLY ONE EXTINGUISHER. If the fire cannot be extinguished using one extinguisher, do not search for another. Leave the room, closing the (fire rated) door behind you.

Hazardous Chemical Spills/Releases

Laboratory personnel are not required to clean up spills of hazardous chemicals. Indeed, EH&S strongly discourages lab personnel from attempting to clean up chemical spills. Remediation of chemical spills often requires the use of personal protective equipment (respirators, protective suits) that is never available to lab personnel.

Never work alone in a laboratory, especially during times that are outside of “normal working hours” (i.e., Monday – Friday, 9am – 5pm). If you are accidentally splashed with chemicals, or if there is a spill in your lab, you may require the immediate assistance of a laboratory coworker.

Go to Top

What should Lab Personnel do in the event of a Hazardous Chemical Spill/Release?

  • During regular working hours (i.e., 9am – 5pm, Monday – Friday): call EH&S immediately at 305-6780 (CUMC) or 854-8749(MS). Give as much information as possible: exact location of spill, chemical name, and the amount spilled. Evacuate all lab personnel from the room if the spill occurred outside of a fume hood and close the door.
  • At all other times: call Security at 305-7979 (CUMC) or 854-5555 (MS), again, give as much information as possible (exact location, chemical name, amount of chemical spilled). Spell out chemical names. Security will then coordinate the response with EH&S personnel.
What should lab personnel do in case of contact with hazardous chemicals?
  • For skin or eye contact: immediately remove the chemical from contact by flooding the area of contact with copious amounts of water from the emergency shower or eyewash for at least 15 minutes. RAPID REMOVAL FROM CONTACT IS ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL TO MINIMIZING/PREVENTING CHEMICAL INJURY!
  • If chemical has been inhaled, move to fresh air.
  • If chemical contact is minor (i.e., short duration of contact, small quantity, small area of contact, and involving a low-hazard chemical), seek medical attention at:
    • MS: CU Health Services. Walk in (3 rd floor, John Jay Hall) or call ahead (x4-2284). Give the name of the chemical involved and bring along a Safety Data Sheet for the chemical.
    • CUMC: CPC Occupational Health Services (OHS) located on Harkness Pavilion one South (212)305-7580. Give the name of the chemical involved and bring along a Safety Data Sheet for the chemical.
  • If chemical contact is severe (i.e., involving a high-hazard chemical; short duration, small quantity, small area of contact – these factors do not reliably predict severity when a high-hazard chemical is involved), and is likely to result in more serious health effects (whether immediate-onset or delayed), contact Security at 305-7979 (CUMC) or 854-5555 (MS) to be transported by ambulance to the New York Presbyterian Hospital Emergency room at CUMC or St. Luke’s – Roosevelt Hospital Emergency Room at Morningside. Remember, emergency medical attention occurs after flooding the area of contact with water from the emergency shower or eyewash for at least 15 minutes. Ideally, another lab member should call for medical assistance.

 Prevention of Hazardous Chemical Spills/Releases.

  • Always work with chemicals inside a fume hood. In the event of a spill (or, even during normal use), chemical vapors will be contained.
  • Store glass reagent containers in cabinets or on shelves, never on the floor (reagent containers are almost never plastic-coated by the manufacturer).
  • Wherever practical, purchase reagents in smaller, less unwieldy, quantities.
  • Use secondary containment when transporting chemicals on the elevator/dumbwaiter or through the hallways.

Go to Top