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Laboratory Inspections

Laboratories are inspected annually by EH&S personnel and by New York City Fire Department (FDNY) personnel.  Serious laboratory accidents or major chemical spills will cause OSHA or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to inspect the laboratories.  When an unsafe condition is discovered in a lab, the Principal Investigator is notified of the problem and given a period of time to correct the problem.

FDNY Permits

A permit is required to maintain a chemical storage room or area in which any of the following: flammable gases, solids and liquids; explosives materials, oxidizing materials, or reactive materials are used in testing, research, experimental work. This permit will be issued by the Fire commissioner after the location has been inspected and approved as acceptable for such practices. The Certificate of Fitness (CoF) holder is responsible for the determining the required permits for his/her facility and for making sure that they are secured and posted in a visible location.

Fire Department Inspections

Fire department inspectors will conduct periodic inspections of the premises under the supervision of Laboratory Safety Officer (Dept. EH&S) to make sure that all Fire Department regulations are obeyed. Enforcement actions may be taken against the Principal investigator (CoF holder) when Fire Department regulation are not obeyed. All Violation Orders (specific to the lab) are sent to the Principal Investigator after a report is drawn up by the Fire Inspector.

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Fire Department Regulations

The Certificate of Fitness holder must understand the characteristics of each flammable and combustible liquid used under his or her supervision. He or she must make sure that these liquids are handled and stored in a manner that is consistent with all Fire Department regulations. When these regulations are not obeyed, a violation may be issued against the Principal Investigator (CoF holder)

Storage

Flammable and combustible liquid containers must be stored in Fire Department approved storage areas only. The storage of flammable and combustible liquids is prohibited in a building’s basement or other subgrade areas. Where more than five gallons of corrosive acids or five gallons of flammable liquids are stored or used, suitable facilities for the quick drenching of the body (i.e. fixed over head or flexible hand held showers), shall be provided within 25 feet of the entrance to the area. Lab personnel must make sure that the drenching facilities are kept unobstructed and accessible at all times.

Signage

Signs indicating that open flames and smoking are prohibited must be posted inside storage areas as well as outside the entrances to these areas.

All bottles, containers and cabinets containing flammables/combustible liquids must be properly labeled to indicate their exact contents. These labels should indicate special conditions under which the materials should be stored. Certificate of Fitness holder must periodically check labels to make sure that they are still legible. When the label on the container is not legible and its contents cannot be identified, lab personnel must treat its content as hazardous. Lab personnel must then make arrangements to have the contents of the container disposed of in a safe and legal manner. Waste Pick up form: www.ehrs.columbia.edu/ChemicalWastePickupForm.html.

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Handling and Dispending

All flammable liquids must be stored in Fire Department and USDOT approved containers, except for flammable liquids stored in glass containers with less that one-gallon capacity. These glass containers require Fire Department approval only. Drums must be equipped with a flame arrestor and a drip proof, self-closing, faucet or a flame arrestor and safety pump. A flame arrestor is designed to rapidly dissipate heat to prevent fire form reaching the contents of the drum. A safety relief device, designed to prevent the build up of a vacuum by opening and venting into the atmosphere when the pressure inside the drum reaches dangerous levels, is also required. Either pressure build-up or the creation of a vacuum can cause the failure of a drum. Drip pan must be positioned underneath the dispensing faucet to catch excess liquids.

Bonding during Pouring Operations

The build up of static electricity is a potential source of ignition and must be avoided when transferring a flammable liquid from one metal container to another. Bonding is achieved be running a metal wire form one container to the other. The entire operation should be grounded be running a metal wire form the drum/tank to a grounding source (e.g., cold water pipe or a grounding rod). Both the grounding and bonding connection msut be made on clean metal surfaces. It is also advisable to reduce static electricity build-up when transferring some liquids to or from a glass container (e.g., polar solvents). In this situation, the static electricity build-up may be limited by reducing the free fall distance of the liquid during the transfer. This is achieved by pouring the liquid through a funnel during the transfer. The funnel should be long enough so that it reaches the bottom of the glass container. As an added precaution, it is recommended that this type of transfer be done under controlled ventilation or in a fume hood when possible. Make sure that only one container is open at any given time during dispensing operations. All sources of ignition within 25 feet of the dispensing station must be extinguisher.

Incompatible Chemicals

Incompatible materials should not be allowed to come into contact with each other. Contact between incompatibles can produce poisonous or flammable gases, explosion, or spontaneous ignition.

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