When working in a chemical laboratory, it’s inevitable that a chemical will get spilled. While most of the chemicals are kept in flasks and various containers meant to protect everyone from the volatile substances, the handling of these chemicals might result in breaking the containers or flasks. This is why the clean up protocol is one of the first things that is discussed during orientation, prior to working in a laboratory. Since chemicals can potentially be harmful to the people in the laboratory, it is important to know these processes and protocols.
This is how one should deal with a chemical spill.
- Know where your chemical spill clean up supplies are. For everyone’s safety, laboratories usually have special cleaning pads that should be used for cleaning chemicals off any surface such as a tabletop or the floor. There are also special neutralizing solutions that should be used to handle the substances in a relatively stable form. There are solutions that should be sprayed on strong acids and alkali to make sure the handler will not suffer any skin irritation during the clean up.
- Whenever a spill happens, the person who caused it should be the first one to take control of the situation. He or she must alert everyone in the laboratory and surrounding area with the content and amount of the substance that was spilled. If the incident is something that could cause harm to anyone, he should call it to the attention of the person in charge, and assess whether or not an evacuation of the laboratory (or in worse cases, the entire building) should be considered as a course of action.
- If a volatile substance is related to the incident, anything that could start a fire or spark should be turned off. Electrical sockets, burners, gas sources and other heating devices should be kept away and protected from the chemical that spilled. Chemical fires are worse than ordinary fires, because these cannot easily be put out.
- If the chemical turns into vapor and can easily be inhaled, there might be a need to use self-contained breathing apparatuses. While most laboratories don’t have this feature, you need to be familiar with other similar options and alternatives in your facility. In any event, it’s best to stay low and try to control your breathing if you suspect dangerous vapors are escaping into the air.
- In case of a mercury spill, you would need a vacuum system that is especially designed to pick up mercury before it becomes volatilized into vapor. Inhaling mercury can be quite hazardous and has been linked to many pulmonary diseases, as well as certain types of cancers. Amalgamation using a reactive iron or copper has also been practiced in making mercury less volatile.
- If the amount spilled is too much to be controlled by one person or the substance spilled is much too dangerous or toxic to be handled by a non-professional, call 911 and let the professionals handle it. Nothing should be compromised when ensuring safety.