Having an up-to-date chemical inventory is important for efficient laboratory operations, but it is essential for emergency responders. By agreement with the Baltimore City Fire Department, each JHU laboratory containing chemicals must post an up-to-date chemical inventory on the entry door. It is the lab’s responsibility to maintain its inventory.
In practice, the inventory need include only the full English common name of the chemical (or the IUPAC name if there is no common name) and maximum quantities stored or used in the lab. The inventory must be updated before the annual Health, Safety, and Environment inspection in the Fall, but best practices would be to update quarterly or monthly, depending on the rate of chemical transfer in and out of the lab.
Please make an effort to ensure that your laboratories meet JHU’s commitment to the Fire Department. Accurate information on a lab’s contents allows the Fire Department to protect themselves more effectively and to minimize damage to a lab experiencing an emergency.
There is often a need to move chemicals from room to room or between buildings. Hand-carrying hazardous chemicals can introduce a variety of ways that you, others, or the environment can be exposed. It is essential to transport chemicals properly in order to transport them safely. Tips for safe transport include:
- Carry bottles or jars in trays or bottle carriers instead of by hand—they are less likely to become broken, and the tray/carrier provides secondary containment.
- If using trays, push the tray on a laboratory cart instead of carrying it. Suppose you trip while executing the carry? A carried tray would fall and the contents would leak out.
- According to the National Academy of Sciences, carts used to transport chemicals should have at least a 2-inch lip to provide adequate containment.
- Do not crowd the bottle carrier or tray—trying to put two bottles in a single-bottle carrier or overloading the tray. This makes it more likely something will fall out.
- Line the bottom of the tray or carrier with vermiculite or a spill-absorbent pad to help absorb minor leaks.
- Bear in mind that some chemicals rapidly degrade or even explode in the presence of strong temperature changes or bright sunlight. Peroxide-forming chemicals are notorious for this if they have built up sufficient hazardous peroxides.
- Do not transport incompatible chemicals (e.g., acids and bases) together in the same tray or carrier.
- If moving chemicals further than the next lab, bring spill-management supplies along—the same spill kit you would use in your lab. Your quick action to clean up a spill can prevent a complex and expensive response by the JHU hazardous materials team or by the Baltimore Fire Department.
- When moving chemicals, it is a good time to verify that they have proper labeling: full chemical name, in English, is required (e.g., “isopropyl alcohol” instead of “IPA”). If there is not sufficient space to do this, use abbreviations and carry a key to the abbreviations with you to give to the new lab. Common chemical names are sufficient; full IUPAC nomenclature is not necessary.
- If the chemicals you are moving are heat-sensitive, package them in a box with a cold pack to maintain quality. If the chemicals may become shock-sensitive, consult with the Department of Health, Safety, and Environment before the move.
The American Chemical Society has revised the commonly-used Safety in Academic Chemistry Laboratories for its eighth edition. All those who handle chemicals should be familiar with the information in this small booklet, although it is aimed particularly at first- and second-year chemistry students. Hardcopies can be ordered from the American Chemical Society (http://www.acs.org) or a free PDF can be downloaded from here.
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