Not Rocket Science: A JHU Safety Note   


A researcher working without a lab coat spilled 10 mL of a solution containing small amounts of beta-mercaptoethanol on their forearm. The researcher removed gloves and sweater, then flushed the area with water for about 20 minutes. During this time, another student looked up the Safety Data Sheet for the spilled chemical, saw the notation “Fatal in contact with skin,” and called emergency responders.  

Security contacted HSE, which determined that negative health effects were unlikely despite the chemical’s acute toxicity due to the small volume and dilute concentration of the chemical along with the short duration of the exposure.  


  • Wear appropriate PPE for the task. 
  • A laboratory coat, particularly one which is chemical-resistant, can provide substantial short-term protection from chemical splash. 
  • Gloves must be chosen for the chemicals in use, since one glove may protect against different chemicals or exposures than another. 
  • Keep sashes lowered on fume hoods to provide more protection against splashes. 
  • Review Safety Data Sheets before working with a chemical.  
  • This is university policy and is not optional! 
  • Pay particular attention to first-aid instructions. 
  • Resources for SDSs 


  • How do we ensure that all lab occupants have read the SDS of a given chemical before working with it? 
  • How might the outcome of this incident have changed had the SDS for this chemical not been consulted? 
  • How do we select and use the correct personal protective equipment? 
  • What does the role played by the other student in this incident show about the roles of buddies in the lab? 


Contact Dr. Dan Kuespert, Laboratory Safety Advocate, at 410-516-5525 or [email protected] for
more information about this JHU Safety Note.