Are You Ready for the Unexpected?
In terms of accident prevention the only legitimate goal is zero accidents. Because systems and people are imperfect however, we also must know what to do, in advance, to mitigate the consequences of laboratory accidents.
Recently, two college chemistry students (at another University) were treated for first- and second-degree burns after their clothes caught fire during an experiment. Mistake followed mistake. One student reached for napkins to pat out the fire, while the other reached for the nearest squirt bottle. Instead of water, it contained acetone, a flammable liquid that intensified the fire. (Label ALL secondary chemical containers; here, mistaking flammable acetone for water made a bad situation worse). Fiery napkins fell on the floor, and one of student’s socks caught fire. When one of the panicked students screamed “fire!” the professor rushed into the laboratory from his office, grabbed an extinguisher and put out the flames. While it seems that EVERYTHING went wrong in terms of incident response, it actually could have been worse. A follow up investigation revealed:
- No one was wearing safety glasses or lab coats
- One student was wearing shorts; another, flip-flops
- One student with long hair did not have it tied back
Unfortunately, lab fires, explosions, and other mishaps occur with a greater frequency in academic settings than in chemical industry settings. One of the most effective proactive measures is to keep your eyes wide open and know where your safety and response equipment is located and how to use it in case of an emergency. QUICK!! Do you know the whereabouts and uses of the following items in your laboratory?
- Personal Protective Equipment (lab coat, safety glasses, and gloves)
- Fire extinguisher & fire blanket
- Eyewash station & safety shower
- Chemical spill kit
- Current EH&S wall guide describing response procedures for fires, chemical, biological, or radioactive spills
EH&S regularly surveys labs for the presence of appropriate spill/accident response materials. But, if you have any questions, DON’T WAIT, call us for an assessment.
See something, Say Something
In a lab safety poll taken at Ohio State University, ninety-five percent of the graduate students polled said they would not likely report a safety hazard because they feared reprisals from faculty or staff. Unreported safety hazards are one of the most common causes of accidents within a laboratory. We encourage you to please contact EH&S to report a safety hazard.