The chemistry laboratory includes hazards and risks. Work in the lab can involve the use of corrosive and toxic chemicals, flammable solvents, and equipment that can cause injury. Whether taking a lab course or working on a research project, students are expected to be familiar with and conscientiously abide by these established safety practices and procedures.
This section is based on the American Chemical Society publications Safety for Introductory Chemistry Students (2010) and Safety in Academic Chemistry Laboratories (2003).
Safety is the first concern and the collective responsibility of everyone in the chemistry lab. Accidents most often result from an indifferent attitude, not using common sense, and/or a failure to follow instructions that leads to mistakes. Be sure you know and follow the safety precautions that will protect you and others from harm:
Follow your instructor's directions for disposal of chemicals. If you don't know, ask! Improper disposal can result in personal hazard and/or environmental contamination.
Any substance can be harmful to living things. Therefore proper caution must be used when handling all substances, especially those encountered in a chemistry laboratory.
There are four main routes by which hazardous materials enter the body:
Toxic effects can vary from mild and reversible to serious and irreversible:
Chemical Reactivity Hazards
Certain types of compounds react with each other to produce heat, gases, and hazardous products, for example:
When handling chemicals:
Chemical container labels usually give information about the toxic, flammable, corrosive, and reactive properties and potential hazards of the chemicals they contain. It is imperative to read and heed the label. Not all hazards, however, may be covered on the label.
A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for each chemical is on file in our stockroom. This information is available for students to consult, but it can be voluminous and technical. The meaning of some words used to describe health hazards in MSDS follows:
|Avoid Contact||The general rule for all chemicals, even if they are considered non-hazardous.|
|Carcinogen||Substances that are suspected or known to cause cancer.|
||Living tissue as well as equipment is destroyed on contact with these substances.|
|Danger||Substances that have or may have harmful effects, but have no available literature.|
|Explosive||Substances that irritate skin, eyes, respiratory tract, etc. Nearly all solutions are potential irritants. The effect ranges from mild and temporary to severe and lasting. It is best to avoid as much contact as possible in all instances.|
|Lachrymator||Substances that cause eye irritation, burning, and tears. Avoid all contact.|
|Poison||Hazardous when breathed, swallowed, or upon contact with the skin. In sufficient quantity, will lead to death.|
|Toxic||Substances that are hazardous if breathed, swallowed, or upon contact with the skin. Serious health problems may result from short or chronic exposure.|