Certificate of Fitness-Avoiding Fines, Work Interruptions

During a recent Columbia lab fire inspection, the FDNY official asked “who is the Certificate of Fitness holder for this lab or for the floor?”  Workers in the lab did not know who the Certificate of Fitness holder was.  It turned out that there was a COF holder for the area but that person was not at work at that time.  A violation order was issued to the laboratory “to obtain additional Certificate of Fitness for Chemical Laboratories”

The Rules of the City of New York state: “At least one Certificate of Fitness holder is required, per floor, on the premises while the laboratory is in operation and such additional Certificate of Fitness holder(s) shall be provided as may be determined by the Fire Commissioner.”  This also means weekends, nights and holidays!

The FDNY allows EH&RS/EH&S to administer the Certificate of Fitness test (multiple choice, covering basic laboratory and fire safety) on campus to applicants who meet the educational requirements. EH&RS/EH&S pays the test fee and will renew your permit every three years.  We strongly recommend that each lab have at least one Certificate of Fitness holder.

Another FDNY focus during their inspections is the storage of high hazard materials: flammables, oxidizers, explosives, and unstable or reactive chemicals.  Only spaces with hazard-specific permits can be used for such storage.  Other spaces, including general storerooms may not meet the FDNY storage requirements.


For more information on how to obtain a Certificate of Fitness, or to ascertain compliance with storage requirements, visit our website at:


“FDN(wh)Y Me” safety vignettes continue to be e-mailed to Columbia University laboratories on a monthly basis.  Upcoming topics include expired 2-propanol, 70% ethanol solution in a non-flammable refrigerator, and unsecured compressed gas cylinders.  Stay tuned for further updates!

To view FDN(wh)Yme Safety vignettes, go to http://www.ehrs.columbia.edu/FDNYme.html


Keeping Mercury out of the Environment

Even the small quantity of mercury released when a thermometer breaks requires specialized clean up and often results in an interruption of a laboratory’s activities.  And if it’s the mercury from a sphygmomanometer that has to be remediated, the time  and hazard increase exponentially.

Columbia University has developed an extensive mercury exchange program, which often involves exchanging mercury thermometers for alcohol ones--free of charge.


Since 2002 the CUMC campus has exchanged over 400 thermometers; at Morningside, approximately 50 thermometers have been exchanged since the program’s inception earlier this year. 

Working with W.A. Baum, a supplier of sphygmomanometers offering free exchange for mercury free devices, Curricular Affairs, Anesthesiology and EH&RS/EH&S recycled and removed 8 kilograms of mercury from Columbia teaching spaces.   The thermometer exchange program at both campuses has recycled and kept out of the environment an additional 13 kilograms of mercury.

If your laboratory must use mercury containing equipment such as thermometers you must have a spill kit present in the lab.  Such kits allow trained lab staff to initiate clean up of small spills.  For larger spills, the immediate area has to be isolated until EH&RS/EH&S completes the clean up, which, in some cases could take several hours.  This, of course, reemphasizes the importance of removing mercury from the lab whenever possible.  If you are unsure where to purchase a mercury spill kit, or any other type of spill kit, please contact your Laboratory Safety Officer or EH&RS/EH&S for further assistance.

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