How to avoid laboratory spills?

Laboratory spills are avoidable but can happen when least expected and without prior warning. Apart from material damage spills can cause injuries to yourself, your co-workers or to any unsuspecting laboratory visitor. Besides damage and injuries laboratory spills also result in frustrations due to unforeseen delays leading to falling in laboratory workflows.

Our earlier article titled-Importance of laboratory Spill Management dealt with suggestions on actions required to handle spills of different classes of chemicals. The present article offers some tips which can help minimize laboratory spills and save you from inconveniences.

Leakage of the sample from cracked test tube

Spill Prevention-Liquids

Liquids are more prone to spilling as compared to solids.

  • Store reagents and liquid chemicals in an orderly manner on laboratory workbench and wall shelves. Such shelves should be accessible by laboratory workers of all heights
  • Quantities of corrosive liquids and acids should be kept to a minimum as per requirement. Bulk quantities should be kept in laboratory storage area. Do not permit storage of excess stocks in laboratory passages or along stairways.
  • Make use of funnels for transfer of liquids to smaller containers or volumetric flasks.
  • Discard cracked test tubes, flasks, and other glassware as it can cause leaks or break easily.
  • Make use of solvent trays for carrying solvent bottles or volumetric flasks for carrying out dilutions.
  • Never hold large Winchester or volumetric flasks by neck alone. Always provide support by putting the other hand at the bottom.
  • During titrations ensure that the glass joints of burettes are greased and are not sticking. Dried out joints can break or result in sudden unexpected leakages.
  • Stir hot liquids gently with glass rods. In case a magnetic stirrer is used do not operate at excessive rotor speeds.
  • When boiling liquids add glass beads to prevent bumping.

Avoid placing liquid-filled containers next to the edges of workbench platforms

  • Remember to release pressure from time to time when carrying out solvent extraction in separation funnels.

Spill Prevention- Solids

Solid powders are generally not corrosive but can be of poisonous nature.

  • Seal samples properly in plastic pouches or bottles for transfer to testing facilities and further remember to re-seal if further testing is required.
  • Tilt bottles to the minimum extent required when withdrawing powder samples with the help of spatulas.
  • Ensure that bottle caps are securely fixed and tight before lifting. It is not a good practice to lift any bottle by holding the caps as lose caps can open up and result in material spills.
  • After weighing of solid powders lift watch glass or butter paper carefully to avoid spillages.
  • Use funnels for transfer of weighed powders to volumetric flasks

Every care should be taken to avoid spillages which can result from carelessness during material handling and transfer. However, spills can still take place due to unforeseen circumstances. Every laboratory should have emergency plans in place to handle such contingencies.

About Dr. Deepak Bhanot

Dr Deepak Bhanot is a seasoned professional having nearly 30 years expertise beginning from sales and product support of analytical instruments. After completing his graduation and post graduation from Delhi University and IIT Delhi he went on to Loughborough University of Technology, UK for doctorate research in analytical chemistry. His mission is to develop training programs on analytical techniques and share his experiences with broad spectrum of users ranging from professionals engaged in analytical development and research as well as young enthusiasts fresh from academics who wish to embark upon a career in analytical industry.

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