If you are in a chemistry lab, be it a school lab or a research lab, you will be surrounded by danger at every turn. Keeping yourself and others safe should always be your top priority. There are many things you need to learn about chemical safety and proper safety protocol in order to keep yourself and your colleagues or classmates safe and away from hospitals so that you can focus on a job.
Part 1 of 3: Know the Hazards in a Chemistry Lab
Step 1. Be smart about chemicals and the hazards they pose
Some chemicals are harmless, while others can kill you! Always ask an instructor for help until you are familiar with the chemicals you are going to use in the lab. There are some basic points about chemical safety to keep in mind, such as the following:
- Never experiment with an unlabeled chemical. This could be corrosive and dangerous to your skin, and mixing it with other chemicals could produce toxic gases or even an explosion.
- Know the difference between an acid and a base. Each chemical has a property known as "pH," which indicates its concentration of hydrogen ions. In chemistry, the pH of each chemical is determined on a scale of 0 to 14, where 0 is "very acidic", 7 is "neutral" and 14 is "very basic." Both acidic and basic chemicals can be dangerous and corrosive to the skin, and can lead to dangerous chemical reactions when mixed. For example, battery acid is a dangerous acid, and caustic soda and ammonia are dangerous bases.
- Add the acids to the water, rather than the other way around. Adding water to an acid will cause a build-up of heat, and could cause an explosion.
- Bleach is a very dangerous but common chemical. Never mix bleach with acids or bases, such as ammonia or other household cleaners. This would produce a toxic gas that can be fatal if inhaled. If you're not sure if the chemicals can be safely combined, don't do it.
- Never suck with your mouth to fill a pipette with a chemical. You could accidentally inhale or swallow some. Instead, always use a pear syringe.
Step 2. Be careful with heat sources
All well-equipped chemistry laboratories have heat sources such as a Bunsen burner or an electric heating coil, which they need to complete various chemical experiments. These heat sources often cause accidents in the laboratory, from minor burns when holding hot glass instruments to clothing or hair accidentally set on fire by a Bunsen burner.
Always be very cautious around heat and fire sources. Do not run your hands through open flames or heat sources, as they could ignite your sleeve or burn your arm
Step 3. Don't break glass instruments
Glass tubes are a frequent cause of accidents in laboratories, as they can break into sharp pieces if you forget to lubricate them before sealing them with a lid or cork. Other hazards include beakers that could accidentally fall over, especially since they can be uncomfortable to handle while wearing gloves.
- Move slowly and deliberately around the lab so you don't break glass instruments and cause cuts or other damage. If you break these instruments in the lab by accident, be very careful when disposing of them, as these fragments are sharp and could cut you, even if you are wearing protective gloves.
- Never use beakers or lighters that are damaged in any way. A cracked beaker could burst when heated.
Step 4. Have the right attitude
Some accidents are unpredictable, but most of those that occur in laboratories are due to negligence, pranks, or failure to follow instructions. Therefore, they can be completely avoided if you are mindful and have the right attitude while in the lab.
- Listen to the instructor and follow the prompts. This is not the time to be adventurous or test your ideas.
- Postpone conversations or jokes with your friends for when you finish using the lab. You will have to focus on what you are doing so that you can stay safe. Running, dancing, making noise and bustling, or any other type of teasing behavior are dangerous and immature ways to behave in a laboratory.
Part 2 of 3: Follow Proper Security Protocol
Step 1. Never use a chemistry lab alone
Having partners with you in the lab is an important way to stay safe - if something happens to you there, someone will be with you and can help you get more help if you need it. Ask a teacher, friend, or colleague to work with you in the lab as you learn how to perform in it.
If you can't have someone with you in the lab, you should at least tell the others that you are going to use it. Tell a friend or one of your parents that you will call them when you finish, and indicate the time at which you will do it, so they will know that something is wrong if you do not communicate at that time
Step 2. Know the laboratory layout before working
Each chemistry lab will be set up a little differently, which means that the things you need to stay safe may be difficult to find in an emergency. Even if you are only helping someone else in a lab, you may have to locate safety equipment in case that person becomes incapacitated. Locate the following items before doing any type of work in a chemistry lab:
- all lab exits (check if windows are locked and unlock if possible)
- fire extinguisher and blankets
- chemical shower
- eye wash station
- first aid kit
Step 3. Never handle chemicals that you are not familiar with
Chemicals can be harmless (like water) or very corrosive and dangerous (like sulfuric acid). If a chemical isn't labeled and you don't know it, don't touch it until an instructor can tell you what to do.
- Never directly smell a container with an unfamiliar chemical. Some chemicals are very toxic and can kill you if you breathe them in. You can use one hand to draw the scent into your nose from the top of an open container, rather than inhaling it.
- Also, never try an unknown chemical. This could be deadly.
Step 4. Follow the lab procedures carefully
If you are in school, do not deviate from the laboratory procedures that the instructor gives you. For example, don't substitute one chemical for another or add it in inaccurate amounts. If the instructor wants you to do a variation, do it only under their supervision.
Every detail in a laboratory procedure will be important, such as which chemical to add to the others and in what order, the exact temperature to heat it to, the quantities to be measured, or any other details they provide
Step 5. Wash off chemicals that you get splashed on right away
If you spill any amount of a chemical on your body, immediately wash it off with cold water.
Depending on the area where you spilled the chemicals, you may need to use an eye wash station, hand sink, or emergency chemical shower. If you have spilled harsh or corrosive chemicals on your clothing, you may have to remove it or even undress if your clothing is soaked. Nobody wants to undress in front of their lab colleagues, but this is better than living with skin burns
Step 6. Never eat or drink in the laboratory
Also, you should not prepare or store food in it. Even if you are careful to prevent food from coming into contact with the chemicals, it could still become contaminated with the chemical fumes.
For the same reason, never smoke, chew gum, or apply cosmetics in a laboratory
Step 7. Return everything to where you found it
When you finish using the lab, you should leave it as you found it. This means putting everything in its place or leaving things where the instructor prefers. A clean lab is safer!
Leave your chair tidy and close all cabinets and drawers before you leave to ensure that the lab is safe for the next people to use it
Part 3 of 3: Dressing Safely for the Lab
Step 1. Choose an appropriate outfit
You won't have to worry about fashion when you're in a chemistry lab. You must choose the garments with your safety in mind.
- Wear something that shows little skin. Ideally, wear long pants and long-sleeved garments. Make sure the sleeves are the correct size and don't sag, and make sure you can easily remove your garments in case they get soaked with a chemical and you have to take them off.
- Wear closed-toe shoes that you can walk easily and safely in (avoid high heels!). If you have long hair, tie it up so that it does not hang down and poses the risk of catching on fire or getting soaked in a chemical. Similarly, don't wear dangling bracelets, necklaces, or earrings.
- If safety aprons are available, wear them over your garments.
Step 2. Wear safety glasses at all times
Your eyes are very vulnerable, and if even a small amount of a chemical gets into your eye, you could be permanently blinded. Even if you are not working with chemicals, you should wear chemical splash goggles while in the lab, as someone else could spill a chemical and it could accidentally splash into your eyes.
- Make sure your glasses fit you, but not too tight. Try them on before using the lab to make sure they fit, and don't wear them if they don't fit.
- If you wear ordinary glasses, they are not suitable for keeping chemical splashes out of your eyes, as the chemicals could come from the side and get under the lenses. Wear the safety glasses over your regular glasses. You can also buy prescription safety glasses if you will be working in labs frequently.
- If you wear contact lenses, it will be important to wear your regular glasses on the days when you work in the lab. In the rare event that a chemical gets into your eye while wearing contact lenses, it would be very difficult for you to remove them and wash your eyes without causing further damage.
Step 3. Wear gloves
The instructor will tell you when they will be needed. Wear gloves if you are working with corrosive chemicals, as they will prevent spills from damaging your skin. Wear gloves appropriate for the chemicals you are working with.
- When working with highly corrosive materials, such as concentrated sulfuric acid, thin latex gloves (those used by the dentist) will not protect you and will only make you think you are safe. If you spill something on any type of glove (latex, neoprene, or anything else), move the chemical away as quickly and safely as possible, and remove the gloves. Wash your hands and then wash or dispose of the gloves in a hazardous waste container.
- Always check your gloves before you start using the lab to make sure they don't have any small holes or cracks.
- Learning the procedures before using the lab can prevent any unexpected surprises.
- Never eat or drink any substance in the laboratory. Even if the only product is something harmless like salt water, there might be residue from other experiments in the beaker.
- Wash your hands when you're done, even if you think you haven't spilled something on them. You could have harmful chemicals on your hands, which you could transfer to your food and ingest if you don't wash it.
- Be careful, but don't be too nervous. Chemicals will only be scary and dangerous if you don't know what you're doing.
- Label everything you will have in the lab. Some chemicals that can be deadly will look identical to those that are not. For example, sulfuric acid and water are transparent. However, there are things you would normally do with water that you couldn't with sulfuric acid.
- Chemistry can be very dangerous; If you don't follow some of these guidelines, you may have to go to the hospital.
- In a presentation of, for example, a university, do not think that they will not let you handle dangerous chemicals. Almost all chemicals have enough potential to kill you. Behave responsibly!