Safety in the laboratory is essential, especially if you don't want any injuries to happen! You can easily get injured in a laboratory if you do not follow common safety rules. There are corrosive substances which can burn your hand, Bunsen burners to be watched and so on. Chemicals have to be watched, apparatus has to be handled carefully and instruments have to be maintained. If this sounds overwhelming, don't worry, following common safety etiquette will help you stay safe in any laboratory. Most scientists and students follow these safety rules.
In this hub, you will find a complete list of rules you should follow, divided in sections so you can locate rules quickly and easily. First of all, common safety practice will be looked at, which gives you common practices you should follow in any laboratory. You'd be better safe than sorry!
A Guide To Laboratory Symbols
For a complete guide to laboratory symbols and their meanings, with photographs, click here. This guide contains photographs and detailed explanations to symbols like; corrosive, high voltage, hot surface and many more!
1. Common Practice
These rules should be applied in any laboratory, to stay safe and be safe from hazards!
- Women and girls should tie their hair back when working with Bunsen Burners. The flame from a Bunsen Burner is usually a blue colour and is a very long flame. Girls' and women's hair can easily catch fire. Even if you don't want to tie your hair back, tuck it into your blouse or laboratory coat.
- Don't eat or drink in a laboratory. Germs, bacteria and dangerous gases can enter your respiratory and digestive systems, leading to intoxication or even, death. As hungry or thirsty as you might be, don't eat or drink! Try eating and drinking before you enter the laboratory.
- Don't sniff or taste chemicals. You don't know how dangerous they might be!
- Wear a non-flammable laboratory coat and safety goggles. If for example, your coat caught fire, the fire should be extinguished if you wear a non-flammable lab coat.
- Wear gloves when handling chemicals and hypodermic needles.
- Wash your hands before and after you enter the laboratory. It is a must that you wash your hands after, you never know what harmful bacteria you may have picked up!
- Know where the first aid kits, eye wash stations, fire blankets and defibrillator (if your lab has one) are. You need to have quick access to these should an emergency occur.
- Keep flammable substances and flames away from each other...unless you want your lab to catch fire!
- Obtain a copy of a Material Data Safety Sheet for chemicals that you do not know the potential hazards of. They describe hazards associated with the substance, how to store the chemical also includes emergency phone numbers to hospitals etc. Most manufacturers supply MDSS's with the chemicals they supply. Alternatively, you can search for Material Data Safety Sheets on the internet. For example, I searched for an MDSS for Sodium Hydroxide.
- Be aware of the various hazard symbols associated with each chemical. Check the packaging to see if the substance is corrosive, dangerous to the environment, irritant and more. I have written a complete guide to these symbols, here it is.
- Don't ingest any chemicals or liquids. Some substances like sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid are life-threatening when ingested!
- After a day's work in the laboratory, don't leave chemicals in the sink that will be 'washed-up' after. Days can turn into weeks, and you will find quite a dangerous mess when you do wash up the equipment! Chemicals can become explosive when left with time so dispose of them when finished!
- Always be aware of corrosive substances. They will burn your skin and eat away into soft materials like wood. Always use these in the direct supervision of a scientist, teacher or laboratory technician and wear gloves.
- Don't carelessly throw chemicals down the drain, they could be dangerous to the environment and can kill fish, trees and other organisms living in lakes. To be sure, chemicals with the sign on the right are dangerous to the environment. Within saying that, it is advised not to throw toxic, flammable, oxidising or explosive substances down the drain either, they can cause severe damage. Dispose of dangerous chemicals with your local council.
- Don't carelessly mix chemicals together without knowing what you are doing! You could cause explosions or harmful reactions.
- Be cautious when dealing with an active Bunsen Burner, the hottest flame is an invisible blue one which is very easy to miss, causing your hair or body to go on fire. Always be attentive when working with Bunsen Burners.
- Don't touch hot instruments like hot plates or boiling tubes. Their temperature can vary but many can burn you should you come in contact with them.
- Keep all water away from plugs and electrical appliances.
- If a piece of glassware breaks, pick up the broken pieces with your gloves on your hands.
- Never drink water from a beaker or pipette, most laboratory glassware can contain specks of harmful chemicals or bacteria.
Did you know?
In the 1800's, the white laboratory coat was marked as a symbol of cleanliness.
- It is advised that you wear a non-flammable laboratory coat prior to working in the laboratory.
- Wear safety glasses when working with corrosive substances or toxic substances. If one of the corrosive chemicals splash into your eye, you would turn blind permanently. Don't risk it, wear a pair of safety glasses!
- When working with bacteria, hypodermic needles and other substances, wear a pair of gloves.
- It is advised to apply some hand sanitiser after working in the laboratory. This will kill any germs or bacteria on your hand to 99.99%.
Susan W (author) from The British Isles, Europe on July 15, 2013:
Thanks for reading and commenting. You may joke, but lab safety is an important issue. Good luck with making that 'explosive espresso', make sure to follow the tips in this hub and stay safe! (just joking)
Tom London from London, United Kingdom on July 15, 2013:
Haha, great advice. I'm going to use it tomorrow, when I'm making a morning explosive espresso in my home built laboratory.