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Health & Safety Manual - Chemical Hygiene Plan

1.3 Guidelines for Working with Chemicals

1.3.1 General Housekeeping and Laboratory Hygiene
1.3.2 Food, Beverage, Smoking and Cosmetics Use in the Laboratory

1.3.3 Unattended Work
1.3.4 Working Alone/Working "Off Hours"

1.3.5 Chemical Storage and Segregation
1.3.6 Hazardous Substance Management Standards and Guidelines
1.3.7 Chemical Substitution
1.3.8 Mercury-Containing Devices
1.3.9 Discarding Used Laboratory Equipment
1.3.10 Vacating Laboratory Space

Good laboratory hygiene relies on adherence to protocols, procedures policies and best practices. Ensuring that proper work practices are followed will limit the probability of occupational exposure to hazardous chemicals, thus reducing the possibility of injury and illness.

1.3.1 General Housekeeping and Laboratory Hygiene
Disorderly laboratories and unsafe practices contribute to accidents and can hinder emergency response activities. The following list of general rules must be adhered to in every laboratory:

  • Keep all aisles, doorways and emergency exits free from obstructions.
  • Keep all emergency equipment including fire extinguishers, fire blankets, overhead emergency showers, eye-face wash/drench hose, and chemical spill kits free from obstructions.
  • Remove gloves and wash hands and arms before leaving the laboratory or handling the telephone, door handle/knob; remove lab coat before leaving the laboratory.
  • Remove gloves before handling common items like phones, instruments, door knobs, etc.
  • Keep all work areas clean and uncluttered. Wipe benches with cleaners or disinfectants regularly.
  • Avoid storing chemical containers, particularly glass bottles, on the floor. If unavoidable, it is required that all chemical containers on the floor be stored in a deep, corrosion-resistant plastic tray and placed away from high-traffic areas.

1.3.2 Food, Beverage, Smoking and Cosmetics Use in the Laboratory
The consumption or storage of food and drink, as well as smoking, and the application of cosmetics, in any laboratories where chemical, biological, or radiological materials are used or stored is strictly prohibited.

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1.3.3 Unattended Work
The unattended operation of laboratory equipment or experiments is strongly discouraged. Unattended work can lead to laboratory accidents and property damage. If unattended work must be performed, the National Research Council's publication, Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Disposal of Chemicals, recommends that laboratory personnel design these experiments so as to prevent the release of hazardous substances in the event of interruptions in utility services such as electricity, cooling water, and inert gas. Laboratory lights should be left on, and signs should be posted identifying the nature of the experiment and the hazardous substances in use. Arrangements should be made for other laboratory personnel to periodically inspect the operation. Information should be posted indicating how to contact the responsible individual in the event of an emergency.

1.3.4 Working Alone/Working "Off Hours"
Working with chemicals alone, at night, or otherwise in isolation, places individuals at special risk and should be avoided whenever possible. The PI is responsible for ensuring that employees and students perform only those tasks for which they are qualified by training and experience, especially during off-hours when they may be unsupervised or unaccompanied. PIs must also define for their staff any prohibited activities for laboratory personnel working alone or during off-hours, based on the hazard of the materials used or the activity performed, such as the use of pyrophoric materials,. All personnel working alone in the laboratory must hold an applicable FDNY Certificate of Fitness.

1.3.5 Chemical Storage and Segregation
Proper storage of chemicals in laboratories is a critical safety concern. Chemicals that have been stored improperly could react, forming hazardous products or resulting in a fire. Follow good storage practices no matter where the chemicals are stored (i.e. cabinets, refrigerators, or shelves). Carefully read the SDS and container label before storing a chemical as these will indicate any special storage requirements, as well as incompatibilities.

Good Storage Practices

  • Chemicals shall be segregated in accordance with good practice and the Columbia University Chemical Segregation and Storage Chart.
  • Chemicals should be stored in approved, compatible containers.
  • Chemicals should be stored below eye level with heavy objects stored on lower shelves.
  • Corrosives should not be stored bare metal shelves. Instead, use plastic storage bins or shelves, or cover metal surfaces with protective, plastic-backed paper (Bench-Kote) and change frequently.
  • When practical, chemicals in the same hazard class should be stored in corrosion-resistant secondary containers.
  • DEA controlled substances shall be stored in locked containers as specified in the Policy for the Acquisition, Use, and Disposal of Controlled Substances in Research.

1.3.6 Hazardous Substance Management Standards and Guidelines
Federal, state and local regulations, as well as University policy, prescribe certain requirements for hazardous substances.

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OSHA Regulated Substances
OSHA defines Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) for several hundred hazardous substances. Additionally, there are numerous OSHA substance-specific standards requiring specific safety programs to reduce exposure to workers who may be exposed.

The OSHA substance-specific standards typically require training of laboratory personnel in safe handling and disposal practices, implementation of engineering controls (e.g., chemical fume hoods), work practices, administrative procedures (e.g., medical surveillance), PPE and other approaches will be used to reduce exposure and minimize personal risk, procedures for monitoring of airborne concentrations when any PELs* may be exceeded, and communication of monitoring results to employees and retention of data for a specified time period.

*A PEL may refer to any of the following:

Time weighted average (TWA) - the maximum allowable airborne concentration, averaged over an eight-hour workday, to which a person may be legally exposed.

Action level (AL) - a concentration below the TWA, at which some of the requirements of a substance-specific regulation must take effect.

Ceiling (C) - the airborne concentration that must never be exceeded. This largely applies to compounds that may be fatal or cause permanent impairment upon even brief exposures, such as carbon monoxide

Short-term exposure limit (STEL) - the maximum allowable exposure for (typically) a fifteen-minute period. A limited number of excursions over the TWA may be permissible (if they do not exceed ceiling) provided that the day's average exposure is below the TWA.

Formaldehyde/Formalin
Formaldehyde is a potential carcinogen and its use is strictly regulated by OSHA. To ensure the hazards associated with formaldehyde and formalin use are anticipated, recognized, evaluated, controlled and that information concerning these hazards is communicated to affected employees consistent with the OSHA Formaldehyde Standard, a Formaldehyde Exposure Control Policy and Formaldehyde training program have been established. All formaldehyde and formalin users must be familiar with the policy and safe work practice, as well as attend training.

Pyrophoric Chemicals
Pyrophoric reagents, such as organolithiums, aluminum alkyls and metal hydrides, are extremely reactive to oxygen and moisture. Precautions must always be taken to prevent contact with air or water. Despite their inherent hazards, pyrophoric materials can be safely manipulated and stored if the proper techniques and precautions are carefully followed. However, the consequences of even the smallest error during the manipulation of these substances can be catastrophic.

The importance of experience and comprehensive knowledge of the correct techniques for using pyrophoric and air-sensitive reagents cannot be overstated. Only qualified and experienced laboratory workers should ever manipulate these materials, and only after they have attained a complete understanding of the hazards involved and received hands-on instructions from knowledgeable peers regarding correct handling techniques. Some additional information regarding the safe handling of pyrophoric materials should be reviewed by all laboratory personnel where such substances are used or stored.

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Hazardous Gases
Laboratory storage or use of hazardous gases must be in accordance with pertinent regulations and University procedures. This may include storage in a ventilated enclosure and/or leak detection equipment. EH&S must be consulted when hazardous gases are considered for laboratory use

Cryogenic Materials
Cryogenic materials such as liquid nitrogen present both a thermal and an oxygen displacement hazard. Laboratories possessing more than 60 gallons (generally two tanks or more) of liquefied cryogenic gases, such as liquid helium or liquid nitrogen, are required to have an oxygen monitor present in the laboratory. Oxygen monitor alarms must always be acknowledged by lab personnel and taken seriously as a matter of health and safety. The Policy for Response to Oxygen Sensing Equipment in Laboratories.

It is essential that laboratory personnel wear appropriate PPE, which will be specified in the laboratory-specific LATCH, when handling or using cryogenic materials.

Particularly Hazardous Substances (PHS)
OSHA has established a category of chemicals known as particularly hazardous substances (PHS) for which additional precautions beyond normal standard operating procedures may be required. Included in the PHS definition are select carcinogens, reproductive toxins, and substances with a high degree of acute toxicity. Laboratory personnel must follow laboratory-specific procedures to avoid exposure to PHSs.

Before these substances are used, laboratory personnel must be fully aware of the risks involved and be fully trained in the appropriate storage, handling, and disposal procedures prior to using the substance. PHS use and storage must be assigned to designated areas with the laboratory. EH&S can evaluate PHS procedures, prescribe special limitations, necessary equipment and facilities or operating conditions, PPE and additional personnel training requirements, as needed.

Controlled Substances in Research
The acquisition, use and disposal of controlled substances in New York State are strictly regulated by the New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH) Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement and the United States Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration (US DEA). These regulations are aimed at preventing diversion of controlled substances through a variety of administrative and physical controls. To assist researchers in understanding and meeting their individual obligations under these regulations, Columbia University has established a Policy for the Acquisition, Use and Disposal of Controlled Substances in Research (http://www.ehs.columbia.edu/ControlledSubstances.html)

In addition to the Policy, several Appendices, Resources and Reference Documents have been prepared to assist researchers in navigating the requirements for controlled substances.

Nanoparticles
Nanomaterials are substances that are manipulated at the atomic or molecular level and have at least one dimension between 1 and 100 nanometers. Research into the health effects of exposure to engineered nanomaterial is ongoing. Until the health effects of various nanomaterials are better characterized, it is recommended that their handling be approached with caution, accompanied by the use of the standard engineering controls, administrative controls, and PPE used for manipulating other hazardous materials in the laboratory setting, and that waste resulting from nanomaterials be managed as hazardous waste.

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1.3.7 Chemical Substitution
One of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of exposure to a hazardous material is to eliminate it entirely from the work environment. This can be accomplished by replacing hazardous materials with safer, less hazardous ones capable of performing the same function. EH&S can assist laboratory personnel in evaluating work practices to identify candidates for substitution. MIT offers a valuable tool for assisting laboratory personnel in choosing safe substitutions for hazardous chemicals and processes. Visit the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Green Chemical Alternatives Wizard for more information.

1.3.8 Mercury-Containing Devices
Mercury is a toxic metal, and must be carefully cleaned up if it is spilled. To minimize exposure to mercury vapors and hazardous waste generated from broken thermometers, EH&S has established a mercury substitution program. EH&S will replace a mercury thermometer with an alcohol thermometer, at no cost to the laboratory, with the understanding that the laboratory will order mercury-free thermometers thereafter.

The Mercury Device Registration Program, which is a complement to the perennial mercury thermometer exchange program, will allow for improved tracking of mercury-containing devices and allow EH&S to focus its efforts helping those who absolutely must maintain a mercury device(s), to establish safe storage and handling procedures, prepare them with necessary knowledge about immediate, defensive actions when a mercury release occurs, and ensure EH&S has adequate resources at the ready to assist laboratories in the event of an incident.

1.3.9 Discarding Used Laboratory Equipment
Prior to disposal of any laboratory equipment, the end-users must ensure that equipment is free of any contamination prior to handling by Facilities Operations or any outside contractors. The equipment clearance process details the necessary steps.

1.3.10 Vacating Laboratory Space
Research Scientists vacating University facilities or relocating within the University are responsible for leaving laboratories in a state suitable for re-occupancy or renovation by following the Procedures for Vacating a Laboratory. EH&S Research Safety Specialists will assist laboratories in completing the vacating process. Laboratory space must not be re-occupied and no renovation work started until the space has been issued final clearance EH&S.

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