A University of California, Berkeley, researcher began to feel burning pain after pouring excess isopropanol into a container labeled with the same chemical name. In fact, the bottle was being used for waste nitric acid. When the two chemicals were mixed, the reaction caused a dangerous spray that hit the researcher. According to the injury account from the lab, there were several missteps that created a formula for disaster; the major cause was the mislabeled bottle.
Prevent Chemical Incidents
First, every laboratory should have a fundamental chemical safety and hygiene plan in place, as OSHA's rule in §1910.1450 requires. Control exposure to hazardous chemicals through these six tips:
- Perform a job hazard analysis and chemical risk assessment: Recognizing the potential for chemical hazards is central to controlling chemical safety and preventing injury, illness, loss of property, or damage to the environment. Evaluate chemical work operations thoroughly and prepare for possible problems. Check the lab’s ventilation systems and tools. Where are flammable materials stored? Are eye wash stations clean, ready to use, and easily located with proper signage? What can cause possible vapor or fume exposures? Record your assessment’s findings to track the lab’s progress in chemical safety.
- Use and update Safety Data Sheets: Where available, the SDS for a chemical provides information on hazards and safety procedures for the safe handling of the material – more than what can fit on a container label. OSHA provides an item-by-item list of the required details in Appendix D of the HazCom 2012 regulations. Find out as much as possible about any new material prior to working with it.
- Clearly label chemical containers: Mark containers and research samples to identify exactly what they are. Remove and replace any old or damaged labels. Label containers used for hazardous waste, and use signs to designate waste collection areas. Download a free guide on the international GHS approach to chemical labeling, OSHA’s HazCom 2012 rules for workplace chemical safety, or the EPA's requirements for hazardous waste.
- Clean and organize work areas: Store chemicals properly, using good housekeeping practices to ensure chemicals are put away when not in use. Create separate areas for incompatible materials or wastes. Label personal disposal bins for worker use near each work area. Ensure stations such as eye wash areas, spill kits, emergency equipment and PPE are all neat and stocked. Use floor marking, signs and labels to cordon off areas and maintain clear walkways. Floor marking tape, such as PathFinder Anti-Slip tape, can withstand wet conditions and routine cleaning, as well as help prevent slip, trip, and fall injuries.
- Create an emergency action plan: Identify possible emergency situations, and decide on the best solutions. Make sure workers know what to do in different types of emergencies, such as if a co-worker is overcome by chemical exposure, or if a fire starts in a storage area.
- Provide effective training: Do lab workers know proper lab procedures? Review chemical hygiene plans and go over JHA findings, emergency plans, and other safety topics. Inform workers of safety and compliance best practices through videos, booklets, posters, and infographics to educate employees on hazard communication, GHS, HAZMAT, spills, and more.
Chemical Safety Management
After the incident at UC Berkeley, the lab began to improve the storage area for unwanted chemicals by clearly labeling all chemical containers and research samples. Following an investigation and debriefing, laboratory staff revisited safety procedures that included reviewing the chemical hygiene plan. Safety managers and staff can help maintain chemical safety from start to finish. Use safety precautions inside laboratories when handling chemicals to help prevent unnecessary safety risks. Adhere to safety guidelines and maintain safety standards for optimal chemical handling by using appropriate work practices, emergency procedures, and personal protective equipment.