Hands-on experimentation is a fundamental component of most science courses. However, it’s important to ensure that students are performing their experiments as safely as possible. This includes safety training for students, preventative maintenance on laboratory equipment, and appropriate safety equipment, materials, and procedures. Unfortunately, it’s easy for safety to get lost as students and teachers focus on due dates, standardized testing, and graduation requirements. Today, we wanted to offer a refresher on some important lab safety fundamentals and some ideas to make your lab safer as you plan for summer and fall courses.
General Lab Safety Rules
Every lab is unique, however, there are some standard safety policies that cover almost all classroom laboratories. Although many of these involve basic common-sense rules, it’s important that they are followed!
- Ensure that everyone is aware of the classroom and building evacuation procedures.
- Know where the safety equipment is located – including safety showers, eye-wash stations, fire extinguishers, and first aid kits – and how to use it!
- Test and certify all safety equipment regularly to ensure it is functioning properly.
- Know the phone numbers for emergency services (and post them somewhere convenient).
- Do not chew gum, eat, or drink in the lab. Also, NEVER smell or taste chemicals.
- Check glassware for chips and cracks before each use.
- Always ensure that the lab is properly ventilated.
- Never leave an experiment unattended.
Individuals should also follow proper dress code safety rules in the lab. This includes tying back long hair, removing or securing loose clothing and jewelry, and wearing close-toed shoes. Additional care should be taken when working with open flames.
An Ounce of Prevention
Before starting any experiment, survey the laboratory and ensure that all chemicals are being properly stored. Are acids and bases safely placed in lockable safety cabinets? All flammables should be similarly stored in a separate chemical safety cabinet (this is NOT the same one used for caustic chemicals!) and clearly labeled. Expired chemicals should be removed from the lab and safely discarded.
Preventative maintenance on equipment can also help to identify potential safety issues before they arise. This includes long-term preventative care, such as properly storing equipment in a dry location and away from direct sunlight. In addition, all equipment should be cleaned using only appropriate cleaning agents to prevent corrosion and damage to sensitive surfaces.
Maintenance should also be performed before each use of the equipment. This includes checking to ensure that it is in good operation and that everything has been properly stored. Any equipment with broken, ragged, or frayed power cords should be immediately removed from the lab until it can be serviced. Early maintenance is also important for preventing costly damage to equipment and unplanned repair expenses.
Expect the Unexpected
Although minimizing potential hazards in the lab is the best way to ensure safety it is vital that we prepare for unexpected events. Broken glass, chemical spills, and fires can occur in even the best-prepared labs. Ensure that fire extinguishers are easily accessible and regularly maintained. Also, talk to the local fire department if you are unsure how to best use an extinguisher – many fire departments will offer training!
It is also important to keep a well-stocked first-aid kit in the lab. This should include materials to treat cuts, scrapes, and burns, including sterile gauze, compress and adhesive bandages, antibiotic ointment, and more. The American Red Cross has a large selection of first aid kits and recommendations for 1) what items to include and 2) how to best organize and store the contents for easiest use.
Finally, it’s important to know what to do in the event of a chemical spill, inhalation, or other exposure (eyes, skin, ingestion, etc.). Keep a record of chemical Safety Data Sheets (SDS) on hand and understand what hazardous substances might be present in each experiment! Edvotek provides an SDS for each component and a combined PDF for each experimental kit. Safety Data Sheets can be found here.
When in doubt, the best plan is to reach out for advice before it is needed. Our scientists are happy to provide safety advice over the phone (1-800-370-1500) or email (email@example.com)!
Cover image: First Aid Kit, Daniel – Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ydhsu/3724317388/
Science Photo Library, NTB scanpix – https://api.ndla.no/image-api/raw/sy06c157.jpg?width=2080
Chemistry Laboratory, Jena-Pierre – Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chemistry_Laboratory_-_Bench.jpg