Chapter 19: Emergency Response

Revised January 2023

Emergency Contacts

Appropriate emergency response is predicated on an accurate assessment of risk. The following examples provide guidelines for appropriate emergency contacts:

911, Reno City Emergency Dispatch

Call 911 for fires, medical emergencies (including significant chemical contamination), and major chemical spills.

(775) 327-5040, EH&S (answered 24 hours a day)

Call (775) 327-5040 for situations that do not warrant a 911 response but where assistance is needed. Examples of these situations include: lower risk spills that require cleanup assistance or materials, situations requiring air monitoring, and technical assistance. (775) 327-5040 is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week EH&S contact number.

(775) 784-8020, Facilities Maintenance (emergency after hours)

Call (775) 784-8020 for facility issues that require immediate assistance, including utilities (power, water, etc.) and laboratory ventilation problems.

Note: Although EH&S does not provide primary response to higher risk incidents (911 calls) or facility issues, report the incident to EH&S as soon as practical by calling (775) 327-5040.


Incidents or emergencies are never planned or expected; therefore, anticipating potential incidents and preplanning an appropriate response is essential to minimizing the occurrence of incidents and their severity. Effective emergency planning requires that laboratory personnel know the hazards of the chemicals and equipment that they are working with, that potential accident scenarios be evaluated, and that appropriate response actions be developed. The emergency response actions that result from this preplanning should be included in the laboratory or department training program.

Personnel safety is the primary consideration when responding to any laboratory incident. Do not place yourself or others at undue risk when responding to an incident.

Personnel Contamination

Quick response to personnel contamination is necessary to minimize harm to the affected individual. To reduce response time, be knowledgeable of chemicals that are being used in the laboratory and the location of eyewashes and safety showers. If medical attention is required as a result of a chemical exposure, provide medical personnel with SDSs or other sources of health hazard information for the chemical(s) involved, and the circumstances of the exposure.

Eyes and Face

If chemical contact with the eyes occurs, immediately flush the affected area using water (eyewash, emergency shower, or other means available). It is recommended that the eyes be flushed for 15 minutes.

Due to pain and irritation, the eyes may have to be physically held open (by using your hands) during flushing. If the affected person is wearing contact lenses, flush the eyes before attempting to remove the contact lenses. If not removed by the flushing water, contact lenses should be removed as soon as the eyes can be held comfortably open, after which the eyes should continue to be flushed.

After thoroughly flushing the eyes, seek medical attention as soon as possible. All incidents involving chemical exposure to the eyes require immediate medical attention.


Flush the affected area with water as soon as possible. Do not use solvents or other chemicals in an attempt to rinse off or neutralize the chemical. Exceptions to this protocol should be discussed with the Chemical Hygiene Officer prior to implementation. Remove clothing and jewelry as necessary to rinse all potentially affected areas.

All incidents involving exposure to hydrofluoric acid, phenol, or other severe skin contact hazards require immediate medical attention. Additionally, seek medical attention if pain, numbness, redness, irritation or other signs are apparent. If you are unsure, take a cautious approach and seek a medical evaluation.


Go to fresh air as soon as possible. If coughing, wheezing, or other symptoms of exposure are present, other than minor coughing that quickly subsides, seek immediate medical attention. Again, if you are unsure whether or not medical attention is needed, take a cautious approach and seek a medical evaluation.

Chemical Spills

Since each spill scenario is different, the proper response to a particular spill is based on an assessment of risk. The appropriate level of response will vary depending on the specific health and physical hazards associated with the chemical, exposure potential, quantity spilled, and local circumstances such as ventilation and spark sources. Therefore, all laboratory workers must be familiar with the chemicals in the laboratory so that they can properly assess the risk associated with a spill incident. Lab personnel should preplan, through the development of written SOPs, their actions in response to spills or personal contamination, with consideration of the chemicals in their laboratory inventory.

Chemical Spill Risk Assessment

Chemical spills can be segregated by risk into three categories: high risk, moderate risk, and low risk.

High Risk:

Exists due to the nature of the chemical (highly toxic, flammable, reactive) and quantity involved; extensive measures required to control or contain the spill; unique circumstances of the lab; personnel contamination or injury involved; or other factors. This level of risk necessitates the need for prompt, full scale, professional emergency response action. Follow the emergency response actions outlined in your department’s emergency response plan.

Response: EVACUATE AND CALL RENO CITY EMERGENCY RESPONDERS, 911; notify EH&S at (775) 327-5040 as soon as practical

Moderate Risk:

Exists when there is a “low comfort level” of the lab personnel due to the particular circumstances involved, the need for additional physical support, the need for respiratory protection, or when professional advice or technical information is needed.

Response: CALL EH&S, (775) 327-5040 (24 hr. contact number)

Low Risk:

Exists when laboratory personnel fully understand the hazards and risks involved; there is no personnel contamination; adequate spill control materials are at hand; proper personal protective equipment is available; and workers have been trained in spill cleanup procedures. GUIDE: 1 L or less of flammable liquid, concentrated acid or base, or 100 ml or less of a particularly hazardous substance.


Cleanup of Spills by Laboratory Personnel

Each laboratory is expected to have equipment and procedures necessary for cleanup of the specific chemicals they are using. The following recommendations are presented as general guidelines.

Personal Protective Equipment

The minimum personal protective equipment required for spill cleanup is:

  • Splash goggles (safety glasses can be used when there is minimal risk to eyes)
  • Lab coat with sleeves rolled down
  • Nitrile or neoprene gloves in good condition (other gloves may be required for specific chemicals, check with EH&S if you are unsure).

Spill Cleanup Materials

The following is a minimum recommended list of supplies:

  • 5 each absorbent pads
  • 1 spray container of liquid acid neutralizer
  • 1 spray container of liquid caustic neutralizer
  • plastic trash bags
  • 3-5 gallon plastic bucket with lid
  • 1 each plastic tongs

Spill kits containing the above items are available free of charge from EH&S (while supplies last). It is the responsibility of each laboratory to replenish spill kit items. Most of these items are available at the Chemistry Department Stores. Additionally, these items can be obtained from laboratory supply vendors (such as Grainger) - contact EH&S at (775) 327-5040 if specific assistance is needed.

Procedure for Cleanup of a Low Risk Spill

  • Decontaminate affected persons using the eyewash, shower, or other appropriate means. If other than minor contact with a hazardous chemical occurs, the incident is not considered low risk (although the spill cleanup may still be low risk).
  • Notify others of the spill and control access to the affected area to prevent spreading of the material.
  • Clean up spill using proper protective equipment as follows:
    • Ensure ventilation is adequate to prevent accumulation of flammable or toxic vapors.
    • Don personal protective equipment as listed above.
    • Control spread of the spilled chemical by placing absorbent pads around the spill.
    • Use plastic tongs to pick up broken glass and other sharps; dispose of all sharps in a hard-sided container with lid to prevent sticks.
    • Use absorbent pads to pick up the liquid. Start at the perimeter of the spill and work toward the center.
    • Place contaminated absorbent pads in a plastic bag for disposal. Tongs can be used to handle contaminated pads in order to minimize contact with the chemical.
    • For spills involving acids or bases, use liquid acid or base neutralizer to neutralize any residual acid or base. Neutralizer should only be applied after the bulk of the liquid has been absorbed using pads.
    • Moisten an absorbent pad with water and carefully wipe all contaminated surfaces until all chemical residue is removed (soapy water may be required). Place used pad in a plastic bag for disposal.
    • Inspect the area. Carefully check the entire affected area for spill residue, hidden contamination, or unsafe conditions.
    • Place all used absorbent material and contaminated personal protective equipment in a plastic bag; seal the bag, label as chemical waste, and submit a request for waste disposal.
    • Dispose of any broken glass as non-hazardous waste (“regular trash”) – assuming only trace chemical is present.
    • Remove personal protective equipment. Chemical resistant gloves can be reused if they show no signs of deterioration, swelling, cracking, rips, or tears. If gloves will be reused, rinse with water and let air dry.
    • Wash hands and arms (and other potentially affected areas) with soap and water.
    • Restock the chemical spill cleanup kit.


Fire Safety Services and Fire Extinguisher Training

The Fire and Life Safety section of Facilities Maintenance inspects and services fire extinguishers and evaluates work areas for the proper type and placement of fire extinguishers. The Fire and Life Safety section can be contacted at 784-8020 (ask for the Fire and Life Safety group). Visit the online EH&S Training Calendar to learn more about fire extinguisher training opportunities or contact Brock Young in EH&S at (775) 327-5058. Individuals who are expected to use a fire extinguisher as part of their job duties are required to attend fire extinguisher training on an annual basis.

Small Fires

Laboratory personnel who have received annual fire extinguisher training can extinguish small fires within the capability of the extinguisher, and their own comfort level and ability. Laboratories will normally require a class ABC or BC extinguisher; however, laboratories using flammable metals should also have a Class D fire extinguisher readily available. Contact the Fire and Life Safety section to inquire about a class D (or other) fire extinguisher.

Large Fires

Fires beyond the ability of a portable fire extinguisher are considered large fires. Laboratory personnel should not attempt to extinguish large fires. In the event of a large fire, all personnel are to evacuate immediately.

  • If possible, close laboratory doors while evacuating, and notify others.
    • Never use elevators when evacuating a building, always use the stairs.
  • Activate the closest fire alarm on your evacuation route.
    • Many buildings (generally newer buildings) do not have manually activated fire alarms; however, fire alarms will be activated in response to heat or smoke.
  • Report to the assigned building assembly point so that you can be accounted for.
    • Provide any information pertinent to the fire or evacuation.

Each department should have an emergency response plan; consult your department’s emergency plan for specific guidance. Contact Spencer Lewis at (775) 327-5046 in EH&S for assistance in developing building (or department) emergency plans.

Chapter 20: Chemical Waste Management