Some experiments take time: hours, days, even weeks. This means that the experiment will be set up and running in the lab while you are not there. You have an ethical obligation to prevent harm to others in the lab by ensuring that they are aware of your experiment and its hazards. Make sure they know:
- What the purpose of the experiment is;
- To whom it belongs;
- What behavior indicates that something has gone wrong; and
- What to do if something does go wrong.
You could tell the members of the lab all that information, but some lab members might not be present and others will promptly forget. Depending on the lab’s occupants to “know what’s going on” is foolish—your colleagues may know the general type of research you do but they are not familiar with the details of all your experiments. Far better is to post the information so that anyone in the lab can easily see what your experiment is, how to identify abnormal situations, and what to do in that event.
A sample form is available for you to use directly or adapt to your lab’s needs. (The file is in Word format for easy modification.) The form is written to allow use in teaching as well as research labs. You should prepare two copies of the form: one to post near the experimental apparatus and one to post in a safe place (like on the door). In an emergency, no one may be willing to approach the apparatus to read the information sheet!
Equipment being relocated must move through public corridors and outside areas; equipment being repaired or disposed is being transferred to service or disposal personnel unfamiliar with your lab and its hazards. In all cases, you are responsible for protecting others from unknown contamination. Learn more in Equipment Transfer Safety Note.
When a hazard involves a lot of energy or aggressive chemicals, your face may be at risk as well as your eyes. Also, Z87.1 or Z81+ rated eye protection may not be adequate to protect your eyes, so additional protection might be prudent. If you could injure your face in an accident, use a face shield to protect your face – learn more in High energy facial protection.
Chemical hazards require eye protection specifically designed for chemical hazards. Many chemicals can cause serious damage or irritation when they get into your eyes. These include, but are not limited to, acids, caustics and solvents. When working with chemical eye hazards, wear chemical splash goggles to protect your eyes – learn more in Chemical Hazard Eye Protection.
There are many different types of protective eyewear available, and each one is designed to protect against a different hazard. Having the wrong type of safety eyewear can be worse than not wearing eye protection at all. Learn about the basic types in Choosing eye protection.
This Hopkins Safety Note is the start of a series on eye protection, so look for future notes covering the different types in detail.
In the lab, we often collaborate with others in the lab or with outside researchers. It is essential that lab protocols be communicated consistently and in language everyone understands. Learn about a close call that occurred when a JHU researcher misunderstood an outside collaborator’s protocol in CCall miscommunication MD.
A researcher finished flame-sealing an ampoule in a chemical fume hood, turning off the torch used and setting it down. While the researcher was storing the ampoule, the hot torch tip ignited a number of lab wipes and rubber stoppers that had been left in the hood, and the cotton insulation on a nearby solvent still containing 1-2L of highly flammable tetrahydrofuran (THF) also ignited.
Learn more about this incident, including lessons learned at Incident Fire NCB Jun2015
During a lab move, a chemical container was moved to the wrong lab, where it remained for years. While the container read “Ethyl Alcohol” on the side, it actually contained chemical waste. Several years later, a student filled spray bottles with the contents of the container, and the lab used them for about a week to sanitize biological safety cabinets, equipment, hands, etc. Several researchers were exposed to the contents. Fortunately, analysis showed that the contents were water and a common solvent, and exposures were minimal.
Find out Lessons Learned and other information about this incident at Incident chemical exposure Croft Oct2014.
While performing experiments in a large water tank, a researcher placed an incandescent spotlight in front of a 2-inch thick Plexiglas observation window. During the experiments, the lamp slipped and came to rest against the window surface. The window melted one-third of the way through, compromising its mechanical integrity.
Learn more about this incident in Incident tank damage Krieger May2014.
Chemical fume hoods help prevent exposure to volatile hazardous chemicals in the lab. The hood works best, though, when it is empty. Everything in the hood disturbs the airflow, so keep extra equipment, chemicals, and other materials to a minimum.
Learn more about using fume hoods for storage in Fume hoods are not storage cabinets.