It is important to become informed concerning the appropriate emergency protocols for dealing with whatever routine hazards you may encounter while working in your lab. Do you know what to do in case of an emergency? It is critical to learn what the appropriate emergency measures are and to make sure you know how to use the available safety equipment now because when an emergency arises there simply won’t be any time to do this.
Your laboratory should have a plan for evacuation in case of an emergency. Do you know what your lab’s emergency plan is for each of the following types of emergency:
You should only consider fighting a fire when all of the following statements are true:
- You have called the fire department and/or pulled the fire station lever.
- You have gotten everyone safely out of your laboratory and the building
- You have verified that the fire extinguisher available to you is full, in good condition, and is of the appropriate class to fight the fire.
- You have had training in the use of the fire extinguisher and are confident of your ability to use it properly.
- The fire is small and in a confined area such as a waste paper basket or hood.
- One or both of the fire exit doors will be located behind you when you face the fire in order to fight it with the extinguisher. If you have any doubts, exit the lab closing the door behind you and let the fire department, who are experts, do their job.
Where are the fire exits in your laboratory? There should be two clearly marked exits from each laboratory. These doors should not be blocked by furniture, equipment, or instrumentation.
Locate the fire extinguishers in your laboratory. What types of extinguishers do you have in your laboratory? Check to make sure that these extinguishers are the correct types for the kinds of hazards you are likely to face while working on your research project.
The fire extinguishers in your laboratory should be inspected on a regular basis by someone from either the Office of Environmental Health and Safety or Fire Safety at your institution. Don’t make assumptions about safety equipment. Periodically check the date on the red tag and the gauge on the fire extinguisher to make sure that the extinguisher is full (gauge) and that the extinguisher is known to be in good working order (red tag). Always check these before using a fire extinguisher.
Types Of Fire Extinguishers
There are four main types of fire extinguishers: A, B, C, and D.
- Class A fire extinguishers use water to put out paper and wood based fires.
- Class B fire extinguishers use compressed non-flammable gases such as carbon dioxide to put out fires involving flammable materials. The gas extinguishes the fire by starving it of oxygen. Note that these fire extinguishers should not be used in small confined spaces as they have the potential to asphyxiate the user, too, in the process.
- Class C fire extinguishers shoot a very fine non-flammable, non-conductive powder in order to extinguish electrical fires.
- Class D fire extinguishers are for use in combating fires involving flammable metals such as magnesium and sodium. These types of fires are especially dangerous. Unless you are trained, don’t try to fight these fires.
There are also multi-class fire extinguishers as well. One of the most common multi-class fire extinguishers is the carbon dioxide extinguisher which can be used for Class B and C fires.
How to Properly Use a Fire Extinguisher
Fire extinguishers can be heavy and awkward to use effectively in an emergency situation if you aren’t properly trained. If you haven’t used a fire extinguisher before, it is really important to obtain training first. Contact your Office of Environmental Health and Safety or your Fire Safety Officer.
PASS, which stands for pull, aim, squeeze, and sweep, is a common acronym used to summarize the general procedure for using a fire extinguisher properly:
- Pull the pin
- Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire
- Squeeze the handle and
- Sweep the spray across the base of the fire slowly back and forth until the fire is completely extinguished.
Don’t walk away from the scene until you are certain that the fire has been completely extinguished.
The Hanford Fire Department has an excellent series of photographs illustrating the PASS process on their website at URL: www.hanford.gov/fire/safety/extingrs.htm#use
Be sure to inform your Office of Environmental Health and Safety and/or your Fire Safety Office as soon as possible that you have used the fire extinguisher. This is important so that the fire extinguisher can be inspected and recharged.
First attempt to ascertain the source of the problem. If the victim is unconscious, look around and make sure that electricity isn’t responsible. If it is, use a non-conductive object to move the source of electricity away from the victim and seek immediate medical help.
If the victim is unconscious or does not appear to be breathing, call 911 and request medical assistance immediately. Do not move the victim unless instructed to do so by medical personnel.
If the victim appears to have been splashed with a chemical or solvent, assist them to the nearest emergency shower and pull the handle. Help the victim remove any contaminated clothing and be prepared to provide them with a clean lab coat or other temporary covering.
Advance planning coupled with knowledge (information) is the best offense in case of an emergency. Locate the following information, insert it into the table provided, Xerox and paste the completed table publicly at your lab bench where you can see it in case of an emergency.
- Telephone number including area code
- Your workplace emergency phone number
- Your Advisor’s home phone number
- Office of Environmental Health and Safety
- Physical Plant or Facilities (after hours)
- Your personal physician
Today’s research laboratory is equipped with a wide range of emergency equipment that can be invaluable in mitigating the severity of an injury in case of an accidental exposure to or a fire and/or explosion involving a hazardous reagent. The equipment that should be available in your laboratory in case of emergency includes:
- Eye wash stations
- Spill kits
- First aid kits
- Fire blankets
- Fire extinguishers
- Emergency exits
Take note of the location of the aforementioned safety equipment in your laboratory now and make sure that you understand how to use each of these in case of an emergency. We will briefly discuss the purpose and proper use of each of these devices below.
Eye wash stations
Some eye wash stations consist of a mirror and a set of bottles containing saline solution that the user can remove and use to flood the injured eye with water. No matter the form, the eye wash station is intended to allow you to flood the eye with a continuous stream of water for a minimum of 15-minutes. Ideally the eye wash station should be located within 20 feet of your work space. Since you may not be able to see clearly in an emergency, it is important to locate your eye wash station now before you need it.
If you need to use the eye wash station and you have gotten something in your eye. First, remove the object. Use one hand to hold open your eyelid and activate the eye wash using your other hand. Keep the eye open. Do not blink as that prevents the water from flushing your eye. Continue flushing the affected eye for a minimum of 15-minutes. Seek prompt medical attention as soon as possible thereafter.
“Drench” showers are the most common type of emergency shower and are intended to provide on-the-spot cleansing when a chemical and/or solvent has been spilled, contacted a large portion of your head and/or body, or in a fire. The user should stand underneath the shower head, pull the handle, and immediately remove any clothing covering the affected limb(s). These showers are intended to deliver a continuous stream of water at a rate of at least 20 gallons/minute for a minimum of 15-minutes so don’t pull the handle unless you mean business!
Spill kits (sections lacking, should ask pam to write more)
There are typically three kinds of reagent spill kits commonly found in the research laboratory: acid, base, and solvent.
First aid kits
If you have one of these in your lab, it is important to periodically inspect and restock your first aid kit so that it will be useful in an emergency. In general these kits are most useful for small injuries such as a cut finger.
Fire blankets are not intended for use in fighting fires. Do not attempt to use them to extinguish fires. Rather they are intended to extinguish clothing fires. They are very easy to use: simply yank the blanket out of the cabinet and wrap it around the prostrate victim. Keep the victim wrapped until help arrives as victims often are in shock and the fire blanket will help keep the victim warm.
Each research laboratory is required by law to have two unobstructed means of exit in case of emergency. These emergency exits are generally marked by readily visible red “Exit” signs placed immediately above the door.
Note: The information below is not intended to serve as a substitute for formal training or professional advice and/or treatment. Always immediately seek medical assistance from a medical professional if you believe that you are in a potentially life-threatening emergency situation. Even if you don’t believe a situation is life-threatening report the accident as soon as possible to your advisor and/or your Office of Environmental Health and Safety.
Wash the wound thoroughly with mild soap and water. As there is always the potential for infection, be sure to seek medical attention as soon as possible. If you are assisting someone else, be careful not to come in contact with their blood (blood borne pathogens) and if you do seek prompt medical attention.
Severe Cuts/Wounds with Heavy Bleeding
Apply direct pressure to the wound and elevate the limb to staunch the bleeding and seek immediate medical attention.
Chemicals on Skin
If you spill a hazardous chemical on your hand or arm, wash your hand and/or arm with running water at the closest sink for 15-minutes. If you spill a hazardous chemical on your face and/or a significant portion of your body, go to the nearest safety shower, pull the handle, remove any clothing covering the exposed limbs, and wash the contaminated area thoroughly with water. Seek immediate medical attention.
Chemicals in Eyes
Use the eyewash fountain to flood your eye(s) with water for 15-minutes. Seek immediate medical attention.