Personal Protective Equipment

Every year, on-the-job lab injuries occur that often could have been prevented with the use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Start with the clothing choices you make at home;  personal clothing can provide a measure of protection against hazardous materials.  Closed-toe shoes protect against chemical splashes, sharp objects, hot materials, and falling objects. On warmer days, people are inclined to wear shorts, t-shirts, and flip flops but any clothing that leaves large areas of skin exposed is inappropriate. Long hair, dangling jewelry, and loose fitting clothing should be also protected or removed while in the lab. 
Lab coats, gloves, and safety eyewear constitute basic lab PPE..  A buttoned lab coat must be worn whenever chemicals or biological materials are handled.   It must be replaced if ripped or torn, and cleaned regularly.

Gloves must be worn whenever handling any quantity of hazardous materials. No chemical resistant glove protects against all chemicals. Read the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for guidance on glove selection, or consult with lab supply distributors for information on the chemical resistance of  glove materials. See for one such resistance guide. 

Eye protection is the most under-utilized type of PPE, but  considering that your eyes are your most sensitive ‘exposed skin’, safety glasses or goggles must be used for work with ANY hazardous materials regardless of the physical state or quantity.  Face shields provide additional protection for work with larger volumes of material or cryogenics such as liquid nitrogen.   

Remove all PPE  before leaving the laboratory area.  For Columbia University Laboratories - PPE
requirements for labs can be found in your CU Health & Safety Manual or online at and can be used and supplemented as appropriate.

Oxygen Sensor Update

You may have started to see these small boxes mounted in some laboratories around campus. “What are they?” you ask.  They are Oxygen Sensors!  The NYC Fire Department Fire Code requires that where there are sixty gallons or more of cryogenic liquids are used or stored, including in dewars, an oxygen sensor be installed.  As we know, cryogenic liquids can rapidly displace oxygen if the container should leak, causing an unsafe atmosphere.

  • Normally the unit will read 20.5% indicating a safe level of oxygen in the area.  If the reading should go below 19.5% or above 23.5 %, the unit’s alarm will sound, warning that the area should be evacuated due to unsafe levels of oxygen.
  • Do not enter any area where the alarm has activated. 
  • Contact Public Safety and wait in a safe area for their arrival or instructions.  Please read and become familiar with the following materialsregarding Oxygen Sensing equipment, which can be found on the EH&S website: Environmental Health & SafetyResponse to Oxygen Deficiency Sensing Equipment in Laboratories
Environmental Health & Safety has conducted a survey of laboratories on both campuses to identify areas that require the Oxygen Sensors.  We have collaborated with Tech Air to purchase, install, and maintain the oxygen sensors at a nominal monthly cost to the laboratory.  In the next few weeks, you may see the installer in your labs.  Please do not unplug the units after they have been installed. 
If you have any question regarding the Oxygen sensors, please contact EH&S.
Oxygen Sensor

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