A chemistry lab can be a fun, exciting and possibly dangerous place to work and learn. For the safety of students and staff, it is important that chemistry lab safety rules be followed strictly, and that all students understand basic safety procedures in the lab.
Most chemistry experiments involve some kind of chemical liquid and heat. It is important that students understand how to remain safe when heating chemicals and handling liquids. The first rule is to never heat liquids in open containers. You may see mad scientists on television with bubbling beakers suspended over gas flames, but this isn’t how an actual chemistry lab should look. Most liquids shouldn’t even be heated using a flame or hot plate. Instead, they should be heated gently in hooded containers using a steam bath.
Heating liquids with open flames is a good way to create a fire or explosion. Even the vapors from various substances like ether or acetone can catch fire if they reach an open flame.
Hot or cold, liquids represent a real hazard in the lab. On one hand, most chemical liquids in a lab are somehow toxic or hazardous. Many laboratory liquids are also corrosive or damaging to the skin or eyes and should never be touched with the bare hand. They may also release harmful or toxic fumes, and nothing should ever be ingested.
Following strict liquid handling processes in laboratories is a must to keep students safe. Every liquid except water should be treated as both flammable and toxic. This means keeping it away from flames or hot plates. It also means keeping chemicals properly contained and handling beakers and test tubes carefully and correctly.
Always Wear Safety Gear
Although some students may balk at having to wear goggles and gloves, protective gear is vital to lab safety. Most lab chemicals can cause serious damage to eyes and skin on contact. Ensure that students also know how to deal with eye and skin irritation when it does occur. This means using a flushing station and where first aid kits are located.
Proper Glass Handling
There tends to be many glass implements in a chemistry lab, and cuts are just as common an injury as burns or chemical irritation. Most cuts occur from improper glass handling and improper use or disposal of glass tubes and beakers. This is especially important with rubber stoppers and thermometers. It is important to always select the right size and use lubrication and a gentle pressure to apply the stopper. A stopper or thermometer should never have to be forced into place.
When glass implements break, students should be aware of what to do. Broken glass should never be picked up by hand. Instead, sweep the glass onto a dust pan. Most glass should be disposed of in a sharps container rather than just a trash bin. If broken glass is thrown into the regular trash it presents a hazard for disposal and janitorial staff. Any glass too small to be collected by a broom may be vacuumed.
Food and Hand Washing
No types of food or drink should ever be kept or consumed in a chemistry lab. Even if food is kept away from an actual experiment, it is still likely to become contaminated with vapors, droplets or undetectable dust from toxic substances. It is not always possible to detect contamination in food or drink that could be harmful or even fatal.
The same goes for food containers. The containers themselves may become contaminated, and some chemicals are not removed by soap and water alone. After working in the lab, it is vital that students wash their hands thoroughly before doing any other activity, especially eating.
Keeping a lab safe is merely a matter of knowing and understanding basic safety precautions and following them. Lab experiments can sometimes get exciting or even a little chaotic, but students should always remain calm and in control of what they are doing with substances and tools.