Category: Safety Education

safety education in note index

Introduction to Pressure Vessel Safety and Regulations

Pressure vessels are closed containers designed to hold materials under greater than atmospheric pressure. Due to the risk of potentially dangerous and destructive incidents caused by over pressurization, there are substantial regulations put in place by both the state of Maryland and the university itself, regulation that must be understood by all researchers interested in using this equipment.  

Main points regarding this regulation: 

  1. Maryland regulates boilers and pressure vessels with a few exceptions. (see pressure-vessel law details below). Noncompliance can draw a $5,000 fine, plus the risk to life, limb, and property from the possibly faulty pressure vessel.  
  1. Pressure vessels MUST be built to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code. Make sure you order an ASME-code vessel because, while some states allow non-code vessels, Maryland is not one of them. There are some exceptions for small, low-pressure vessels. 
  1. An ASME-code vessel will come with a nameplate bearing the manufacturer’s stamp (a “U” for unfired pressure vessels). There will also be a “U1A” data form; do not lose it because you are not permitted to operate the vessel (which includes leaving it under pressure) without the U1A. 
  1. All pressure vessels need appropriate pressure safety relief protection, usually in the form of a safety relief valve or a rupture disc (a scored metal diaphragm that bursts at a preset pressure). Consult a qualified mechanical or chemical engineer for assistance with this. 
  1. Pressure vessels must be inspected before use and every 2 years by an independent inspection agency. Contact Facilities to arrange this for your vessel. Note that the State of Maryland requires 30 days’ notice before issuing pressure vessel permits, so plan accordingly. 

Researchers should not order or commission a pressure vessel without first contacting Laboratory Safety Advocate Dr. Dan Kuespert at 410-516-5525 or [email protected], or Laser Safety Advocate Mr. Niel Leon at 913-302-8500 or [email protected]. 

Further Resources: 

How to be a Lab Safety Buddy

Many lab activities are hazardous, some sufficiently so that someone should be watching and standing by in case of emergency. Understand how to be a such a bystander, a lab safety buddyby recognizing your role(s) and obtaining appropriate safety training. 

A lab safety buddy may have a range of roles depending on the lab work being performed and its hazards. In some cases, a buddy may only be expected to call his or her partner at set intervals to check in, but with more hazardous work, a buddy may need to be present in the lab. Safe experimentation requires that you and the lab partner you’re “buddy-ing” with establish clear roles and communicate effectively.  

Your principal investigator will decide exactly which work requires the buddy system, but you and your partner can apply it to more lab activities if you wish.  

In addition to having a clear understanding of the experiment or activity being done, you and your buddy must have the proper safety training to deal with the accompanying hazards and respond to any incidents. This includes contacting Security at 410-516-7777 for emergency response, properly evacuating an affected area, recording all information pertaining to the incident, and contacting Health, Safety, and Environment at 410-516-8798 before re-entering the lab. 

If you have any questions about lab safety buddies, contact Dr. Daniel Kuespert, Homewood Laboratory Safety Advocate, at [email protected]. 

Some Safety Measures Are Better Than Others: The Hierarchy of Controls

We do a variety of things to maintain safety in the lab: wearing safety goggles, using biological safety cabinets, following specific procedures. Not all of these safety measures are equally protective. We safety professionals use the NIOSH Hierarchy of Controls as a guide to which sorts of safety measures are preferred over others.

The Hierarchy of Controls gives five levels of hazard control, from most preferred to least (wording from the NIOSH source above):

1.     Elimination: Physically remove the hazard.

2.     Substitution: Replace the hazard (presumably with something less hazardous).

3.     Engineering Controls: Isolate people from the hazard.

4.     Administrative Controls: Change the way people work.

5.     Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Protect the worker with PPE.

The reason for this order of preference is effectiveness. Administrative controls, for example, depend on (unreliable) human beings to follow procedures and rules without fail; a built-in control, such as a fume hood, tends to be more effective.

If you have questions about the NIOSH Hierarchy of Controls, contact Dr. Daniel Kuespert, Homewood Laboratory Safety Advocate, at [email protected]. See Dr. Kuespert’s website,, for more safety information. As always, emergency response is available from Security at 410-516-7777.

Safely Vacating a Laboratory

Why might you vacate a lab? While the reasons vary from temporary renovations to permanent  relocation, health and safety needs remain the same. This safety note will help you safely vacate a laboratory, whether you are a principal investigator (PI) or another lab researcher, and help you leave the lab in a safe state for the next occupant 

What do I do? 

  1. Before vacating the lab space, you (or alternately your department administrator) must contact Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE) staff to arrange an inspection of the area.  
  2. Clean-out can be lengthy. Provide notice as early as possible. 
  3. Contact HSE at 410-516-8798. 
  4. HSE will inventory the hazardous materials in the lab and will provide an action list for the PI. The list covers: 
  5. Safely removing all hazardous materials from the lab; 
  6. Disposing of these materials safely;and 
  7. Decontaminating all laboratory surfaces that may have biological, chemical, and/or radioactive materials on them, including equipment. 
  8. The PI must address the noted issues note unless HSE gives other instructions. 
  9. HSE may involve an outside contractor for special issues. Have a representative present so as to guarantee disposal of only unwanted materials.  
  10. After addressing the checklist, contact HSE for a final inspection and a release certificate. 

JHU Policy 

Why Not to Trust Personal Protective Equipment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) like safety goggles and lab coats should not be trusted to protect you from harm. This is because they depend on the wearer to maintain and wear them properly in order for them to function effectively. No person can be relied upon to always, 100% of the time wear his or her PPE properly—or even at all!

Additionally, PPE itself is not 100% effective. A large fraction of eye injuries happen to people who were not wearing the proper eye protection (or were wearing it incorrectly). If you think about this, it also means that some eye injuries occur even when the victim is wearing appropriate eye protection! Imagine a chemical splash that dislodges the goggles from your face as an example.

Do not depend on PPE as your only defense against an incident unless you cannot avoid it. If you have a close call in which your PPE is tested—perhaps a flying part intercepted by your safety glasses—you should re-examine the various hazard controls protecting you, because you came very close to an injury. PPE is your last safety barrier; if it fails, you will have an incident.

If you have questions about PPE and your different layers of hazard control, contact Dr. Daniel Kuespert, Homewood Laboratory Safety Advocate, at [email protected]. See Dr. Kuespert’s website,, for more safety information. As always, emergency response is available from Security at 410-516-7777.

Tidy Labs Are Cool

Now that COVID-19 is a part of our daily life in the lab, we’ve become accustomed to disinfecting after each work shift. Keeping a tidy lab, free of clutter and unnecessary equipment, makes the lab easier to disinfect—there is less that needs to be moved out of the way, less that needs to be wiped. Your disinfecting routine will also be more effective, since you are less likely to miss spots.

Tidy labs are also safer, because there are no bottles of chemicals waiting to be knocked off the bench, sharp tools hiding under piles of paper, or round objects such as screw or rods waiting to cause slips and falls.

Lastly, a clean lab is more efficient. Although it takes time to put things away when they are not needed, this is generally more than offset by not having to search for items, not having to clear away space on the bench or in the hood to work, etc. Be safer, be more efficient, and avoid COVID-19 simply by keeping a tidy lab.

If you have questions about lab safety and efficiency improvements, contact Dr. Daniel Kuespert, Homewood Laboratory Safety Advocate, at [email protected]. See Dr. Kuespert’s website,, for more safety information. As always, emergency response is available from Security at 410-516-7777.