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.
Protect your vision when working with UV germicidal lamps; lasers; welding and arc lamps; or other high–energy light sources. Special goggles limit the amount of light that can reach your eyes and skin. The type and amount of protection depends on the frequency, nature, and intensity of light. Learn more in Light eye protection.
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.
Many labs use compressed gases, and often we use pressure regulators to step down the 2000-3000 psi in the cylinder to the use pressure. If the regulator can produce more than about 30 psi outlet, your plastic tubing might be in danger of rupture. Read more about how to fix this without buying a new $500 regulator in How to prevent plastic tubing rupture.
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.
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.
A researcher was attempting to change the acetylene pressure on an atomic absorption spectrometer by adjusting the pressure regulator. He inadvertently set the pressure well above 15psig, despite the signs (and the red markings on the regulator) warning not to do so. When acetylene pressure exceeds 15psi, the gas can liquefy; in this state, acetylene can suddenly and explosively polymerize. Fortunately, this did not occur, although the regulator was ruined from overpressurization.
Learn more about this incident and its implications in Incident Ames Feb2014.
Every office and lab uses electrical equipment, but the wall socket is not always in the right place. An extension cord, power strip, or surge suppressor offers a quick way to fix this situation. Sometimes, though, this is not a good thing.
Learn about fire and other hazards from extension cords and their ilk in Extension cords v2.