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Undergraduate Lab Safety

Safety Information for Students in Undergraduate Chemistry Laboratory Courses

All students taking laboratory courses in the Chemistry Department must:

  1. Read this information.
  2. Read the Emergency Evacuation Form and complete it if necessary.
  3. Complete the Student Safety Questions at the end of the document.

The Chemistry Department at the University of Nevada has developed a Student Safety Program and has developed policies that will minimize your exposure to hazardous situations that may occur in courses. This information is based on the Department of Chemistry Student Safety Program, and applies to CHEM 100, 121L, 122L, 201, 202, 220L, 285, 330, 345, 347, 348, 423, 424, 432, 435R, 444, and 455. Other more specific safety policies may be applicable to individual courses, and to advanced Chemistry Department laboratory courses such as CHEM 292, 392, 490, 495, and 496.

The University of Nevada and departmental safety policies represent a Student's Right to Know about any potentially hazardous situation that you may be placed in while performing an experiment. For this reason, before you begin any experiments, your faculty instructor and teaching assistant (TA) will go over any safety precautions of which you should be aware and show you how to perform any particularly difficult or potentially dangerous procedures. Your TA will also emphasize any personal protective equipment and other safety equipment needed. All safety procedures will also be documented in writing, either as a part of the laboratory procedure, or as a handout. They may also be discussed in the lecture part of the course. You should ask your TA if you feel that you do not fully understand the instructions or information given to you about the hazards of any experiment. Once properly instructed, it is your responsibility to follow all safety procedures.

The experiments in these laboratories have been chosen or modified to use relatively safe chemicals and procedures as much as possible. However, all chemicals have a certain level of hazard and toxicity. Therefore, the use of hazardous chemicals cannot be avoided. Your laboratory work in CHEM 100, 121L, 122L, 201, 202, 220L, 285, 330, 345, 347, 348, 423 or 424 will minimize the use of any chemicals listed as carcinogens or acutely toxic materials in the University of Nevada Chemical Hygiene Plan. However, some of the experiments do use chemicals that are hazardous (flammability, toxicity, etc.), and special precautions are required. As part of the pre-lab for each experiment, you are expected to review and note the safety precautions and procedures for that experiment. The TA will check this part of your pre- lab before you are permitted to begin the experiment. When using organic solvents, use the chemical fume hoods and protective gloves. If students in advanced classes or undergraduate research work with carcinogenic or acutely toxic materials, they must use gloves and lab coats in addition to goggles, and use a special designated area. There is always the possibility of individual sensitivity or allergy to any substance. If you experience any unusual irritation, itching, or burning of the skin, respiratory tract, or eyes, stop the experiment and report the situation to your TA. Anyone with any relevant physical or medical condition (e.g., pregnancy, epilepsy, history of severe allergies, etc.) that might pose difficulties with laboratory operations must report these conditions to the laboratory and course instructor.

The most important personal protective equipment is EYE PROTECTION!! ALL PERSONS IN THE LABORATORY SHALL WEAR GOGGLES WITH IMPACT AND SPLASH PROTECTION whenever any chemicals or experimental equipment are in use or on the benches anywhere in the laboratory. This includes the full laboratory period except during introductory discussions by the TAs or after all experiments are done and all equipment and chemicals are stored and students are only using the computers. Students who are asked more than twice (in one lab period) to put their goggles on or follow any other safety procedure will be dismissed from the lab for that period. The student will not be allowed to make up that lab and will receive a "zero" for that experiment. More than two "zeros" mean failure of the course (not just the laboratory portion of the course). Full coverage splash and impact goggles (ANSI Spec. Z87) must be worn. Any other splash goggles that you may have from another course may be acceptable. Have your TA or faculty instructor check them for you. You must have a pair that you can wear continuously in the laboratory. Ordinary plastic safety glasses or impact-only goggles are not acceptable. Impact goggles have a larger number of ventilation holes around the face piece and do not offer protection from a chemical splash. Acceptable safety goggles are available at the ASUN Bookstore.

Students must wear a protective laboratory coat during experimentation. Because of their lack of protection, shorts and short dresses are not allowed in the laboratory. Legs must be covered to the foot. Open sandals or bare feet are forbidden in the laboratory. Shoes must cover the entire foot and be completely enclosed. Individuals with long hair must tie it back to keep it away from fire, chemicals, and moving equipment. Bracelets, necklaces, neckties, and similar loose items of attire may create a hazardous situation and so they must be confined or not worn in the laboratory. Students will not be allowed to enter the laboratory if not properly clothed and will receive a ‘zero' for that day's experiment and will not be allowed to make it up.

Accidents In The Laboratory

In the case of personal injury or exposure to chemicals, the highest priority is that you be treated in an appropriate and timely fashion. For all accidents, no matter how insignificant the injury seems, you will be advised to seek further medical attention. In the case of ingested chemicals, chemicals in the eyes, or other serious injuries, you will be required to seek further medical attention.

Be careful when dealing with glass tubing and glassware in general. The most common laboratory injury involves cuts by the misuse of glass tubing. In case of minor cuts, prudent policy dictates that you immediately rinse the area in flowing cold tap water for several minutes to permit a controlled loss of blood that might contain infectious material. After rinsing and washing, immediately report the cut to your lab TA or the laboratory coordinator, who will give you further instructions. Be advised that use of a Band-aid is only temporary. Any cut must be kept under observation and further medical assistance must be obtained. You will be advised to seek further medical attention for all cuts. In case of more serious cuts or injuries that result in bleeding, consult your TA immediately for instructions. Prudent practices dictate that all human blood be considered potentially contaminated with blood borne pathogens. Make every reasonable effort to avoid transfer of your blood to another individual.

All accidents, no matter how minor, must be reported to the laboratory instructor, who must file an accident report form. The forms are available in the Chemistry Department Office (See Director of Laboratories). You will be given a copy of this accident report form. The form contains questions about what happened, what chemicals were involved, what action was taken, etc. If chemical exposure is involved, a Material Safety Data Sheet (EHS Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) source listing) will be provided to you at this time so you can take it to your medical caregiver.

You should keep in mind that you bear some of the responsibility for preventing accidents in the laboratories by following the directions given to you by your instructor. For example, an eye injury occurring because you neglected to wear eye protection after initial instruction and reminders to do so would be considered primarily your fault, and you could bear the cost of treatment.

The other pieces of safety equipment and protective equipment that you must know how to use are:

  1. Eyewashes are located in every teaching laboratory. Take the time to locate the nearest eyewash before the laboratory begins. In case of any chemical in the EYES, wash with water at the eye wash station for at least 15 minutes. ASK FOR HELP. DAMAGE TO EYES TAKES PLACE IN SECONDS! The eye wash may also be used if you get any chemicals in your mouth or nose.
  2. The showers are located just above the eyewash. If you should spill corrosive material over a large region of your clothing or body, USE THE SHOWER! The showers may also be used if your clothing catches on fire. HOWEVER, DO NOT pull the shower valve unless the shower is needed. When turned on, the shower will remain on until the handle is pushed back. Anyone turning on a shower as a joke will be expelled from the course.
  3. The closest telephone for the general teaching laboratories (and other first floor laboratories) is in the hall opposite from the stockroom. This telephone is for the students to use ONLY IN CASE OF EMERGENCIES. The closest telephone for the organic teaching labs is in the hall near the stockroom. There is also a telephone in each of the stockrooms.
  4. The fire alarms are at either end of the hall, by each stairwell. Please make sure that you can locate these before entering the lab. In case of a fire on your bench, leave the vicinity, alert your TA and let the TA extinguish the fire. If your clothing catches fire, stop, drop and roll to smother the flames or use the shower to extinguish the flames.
  5. Fume Hoods: There are several experiments that will require you to work in the fume hoods. The hoods cannot protect you from noxious chemicals unless you use them properly. Be sure the exhaust fan timers are turned on and that the hood flow sensors indicate that the hood is functioning properly. Never unplug the hood flow sensor, if it is in an alarm state the hood is not functioning properly. Also, for proper ventilation, the sash (the front door that slides either vertically or horizontally) must be pulled down or placed past the red arrow on the sticker on the front. If you are unsure of these arrows or lines, ask your TA to show you how to properly use the hoods. Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) also has an information page about indoor air quality.
  6. WASTE CONTAINERS: There are many hazardous wastes generated in the teaching laboratories. ABSOLUTELY NO WASTE CHEMICALS, FILTER PAPERS, OR GLASS ARE TO BE PUT IN WASTE BASKETS OR POURED DOWN THE DRAIN. Broken and waste glassware must be placed in glass disposal boxes. There will be waste containers out for every type of waste generated from your experiments, or a manifest list for you to enter the identity and quantity of waste each time you use the container. Chemical waste must only be disposed of in the container designated for that waste, since chemical incompatibility can result in explosion and fire. If you are not sure where to dispose of your waste, ask your TA to help you. If a waste container is full, tell your TA so she or he can get you another one. Clean or soapy rinse water should be poured down the drain. Do not unnecessarily increase the volume of chemical waste by dilution.

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs)

A MSDS is a set of data prepared by the manufacturer of a chemical that gives important physical, chemical, health, and safety information for users of all chemicals. A MSDS must be sent the first time anyone purchases a chemical from a particular firm. Subsequent purchases from the same firm do not need a MSDS unless changes have been made. Federal OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations require that employers make these available to any employees in the work-place. MSDSs are available in the Chemistry Stockrooms and at the EH&S offices (327-5040). Many MSDSs are also available on the internet. These may be accessed through the UNR Environmental Health and Safety web site.

You are required by the University of Nevada Safety Program to know the following about MSDSs.

  1. There is a specific list of information that must be on a MSDS, but OSHA does not specify the format. Therefore, MSDSs from different manufacturers may look very different. There are also MSDS available from various industrial safety firms. For pure materials the available MSDS does not have to be from the company that makes the actual chemical that is in use.
  2. No one outside of the company preparing the MSDS is required to check it for accuracy. MSDSs have been known to contain erroneous, incomplete, or outdated information. MSDSs from different sources may contain conflicting information. Companies obviously make an effort to have MSDSs as accurate as possible, but always will include a statement such as:
    "THE ABOVE INFORMATION IS BELIEVED TO BE CORRECT BUT DOES NOT PURPORT TO BE ALL INCLUSIVE AND SHALL ONLY BE USED AS A GUIDE. THE COMPANY SHALL NOT BE HELD LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGE RESULTING FROM HANDLING OR FROM CONTACT WITH THE ABOVE PRODUCT."
  3. These minimum topics or types of information must be covered in the MSDS:
  • Chemical Products and Company Identification
  • Composition/Information on Ingredients
  • Hazards Identification
  • First Aid Measures
  • Fire Fighting Measures
  • Accidental Release Measures
  • Handling and Storage
  • Exposure Controls/Personal Protection
  • Physical and Chemical Properties
  • Stability and Reactivity
  • Toxicology Information
  • Ecological Information
  • Disposal Information
  • Transportation Information
  • Regulatory Information
  • Other

In the Hazard Section, MSDSs often use some common terms or phrases. Generalized meanings of these terms and the corresponding precautions that should be taken are listed below. These terms also often appear on labels.

Hazards Associated With Handling Chemicals

Consider all chemicals potentially toxic unless you have specific information to the contrary. If you should get any chemical in your eyes or mouth, rinse quickly with clean, cold water. Avoid breathing the vapors of any chemicals and any contact with skin or clothing.

Some experiments require that you work with many different chemicals. Read the label on the chemical you use carefully. Many unexpected and dangerous reactions have occurred due to using the wrong reagent. Report any unlabelled containers to your TA.

In order for you to understand the hazards of the chemicals a list of definitions commonly used to describe chemicals is provided. Please read over this list so that you fully understand what each term means. (This list is adapted from "Safety in Chemistry Laboratories", published by the American Chemical Society).

  • AVOID CONTACT: A general rule for all chemicals, even if they are considered non-hazardous.
  • CARCINOGEN: Substances which are suspected or known to cause cancer. Some have threshold limits of exposure. The use of these chemicals is avoided in the general chemistry laboratories.
  • CORROSIVE: Living tissue as well as equipment is destroyed on contact with these chemicals. PRECAUTIONS: Do not breathe vapors and avoid contact with skin, eyes, and clothing.
  • DANGER: Substances that have known harmful effects or which may have harmful effects, but have no available literature citing such effects. PRECAUTIONS: Treat as if these are the most dangerous chemicals that exist. There may or may not be serious hazards associated with these chemicals.
  • EXPLOSIVE: Substances known to explode under some conditions.
  • PRECAUTIONS: Avoid shock (dropping), friction, sparks, and heat. Isolate from other chemicals which become hazardous when spilled.
  • FLAMMABLE: Substances which give off vapors that readily ignite under usual working conditions. PRECAUTIONS: Keep away from heat, sparks, or open flame. Use in hood or other well ventilated area whenever possible.
  • IRRITANT: Substances that have an irritant effect on skin, eyes, respiratory tract, etc. PRECAUTIONS: Do not breathe vapors and avoid contact with skin and eyes.
  • LACHRYMATOR: Substances that have an irritant or burning effect on skin, eyes, or respiratory tract. These are dangerous in very small quantities (opening the cap has an immediate effect on eyes).
  • PRECAUTIONS: Only open in hood! Do not breathe vapors. Avoid contact with skin, eyes. Avoid heating.
  • MUTAGEN: Chemical or physical agents that cause genetic alterations. PRECAUTIONS: Handle with extreme care! Do not breathe vapors and avoid contact with skin, eyes, or clothing.
  • PEROXIDE FORMER: Substances which form peroxides or hydroperoxides upon standing or when in contact with air. PRECAUTIONS: Many peroxides are explosive! Do not open the bottle if a residue is present on the outside of the cap or inside the bottle.
  • POISON: Substances that have very serious and often irreversible effects on the body. Hazardous when breathed, swallowed, or in contact with the skin, and in sufficient quantity lead to death.
  • PRECAUTIONS: Avoid all contact with the body. When handling use suitable protective equipment.
  • STENCH: Substances which have or generate bad smelling odors. PRECAUTIONS: Open only in the hood!
  • TERATOGEN: Substances that cause the production of physical defects in a developing fetus or embryo. PRECAUTIONS: Handle with extreme care! Do not breathe vapors and avoid contact with skin, eyes, and clothing. Use suitable protective equipment when handling.
  • TOXIC: Substances which are hazardous to health when breathed, swallowed or are in contact with the skin. There is danger of serious damage to health by short or prolonged exposure. PRECAUTIONS: Avoid all contact with body. When handling use suitable protective equipment.

Training of Teaching Assistants

According to federal OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations, all employees that use or may be exposed to hazardous chemicals in the workplace must be provided with certain safety training by their employer. Your TAs have received safety training which includes general chemistry safety, eye protection policies, use of hoods, management of hazardous waste, spill control, use of MSDSs, certain emergency procedures, and departmental student safety policies. The document that directs this training is the University of Nevada Chemical Hygiene Program. All employers are required by OSHA regulations to have a chemical hygiene program. OSHA regulations do not apply to students directly, but the UNR Chemical Hygiene Plan does apply to all employees, including teaching assistants. University of Nevada safety policies that apply to students include the Student Safety Policy and the Eye Protection Policy. These policies are available for you to read.

Authority of Teaching Assistants and Other Personnel
Teaching assistants, laboratory coordinators, and faculty in charge of laboratory courses are authorized to enforce University and Departmental safety and teaching policies. If necessary they may dismiss a student from a laboratory under their supervision.

Supervision of Chemistry Students in Laboratory
An important provision of the University of Nevada Student Safety Policy states that students using hazardous chemicals, or certain hazardous procedures, shall be constantly supervised by a properly trained teaching assistant, laboratory coordinator, or the faculty member in charge of the course. If for any reason constant supervision cannot be maintained, the use of the chemical or procedure must cease until supervision can be reestablished. Teaching assistants should not leave the laboratory during the lab unless a qualified replacement is available. Teaching assistants should be constantly moving about the laboratory, giving help if necessary, and watching out for problems. If some emergency occurs that requires the TA's attention, it is the students' responsibility to stop the experiment as soon as safely possible.

For more laboratory safety information please visit the UNR E&HS home page.
Next steps:

Read the Emergency Evacuation Form and complete it if necessary.
Go to safety questions: Student Safety Questions

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