Laboratory chemicals offer a diverse range of hazards to laboratory workers and need to be handled with extreme care. Exposure to such hazardous materials becomes inevitable but adherence to safety guidelines can prevent such exposure and minimize the resulting harm.
The earlier article How laboratory chemicals gain entry into your body discusses the four common groups of entry taken by laboratory chemicals to enter the human body. Such knowledge though essential requires knowledge of steps that should be taken to prevent such exposure. First and foremost you should familiarize with the hazard potential of materials that you are about to handle by reviewing their material safety data sheets .
The article provides some useful tips that will reduce contact, or even eliminate it altogether, with hazardous laboratory materials.
Skin or eye contact
Skin contact can result from exposure to hands, face, eyes or feet.
Your hands are the most vulnerable to contact with dangerous chemicals not only while working but also during cleanup of laboratory spills.
Use gloves when handling hazardous materials as they provide the required protection in addition to contamination of samples which could affect accuracy of test results. Make the right choice of the glove material to meet the requirement in hand.
Latex gloves offer protection from chlorinated solvents but provide poor protection against acids, bases and common organic solvents. Some individuals can also show allergic reactions to latex gloves
Butadiene rubber gloves show good resistance to most chemicals
Neoprene rubber exhibits good chemical and wear resistance
Nitrile gloves show good resistance to general chemicals
Gloves tend to degrade over a period of time and need to be inspected for holes, tears and cracks before use. Always remove gloves before leaving the laboratory otherwise they can contaminate door handles or other surfaces which are touched by unprotected and unsuspecting individuals.
Laboratory footwear should offer complete protection. Sandals, perforated shoes, open toe or open heal or high heel footwear should be removed outside and laboratory and laboratory footwear should be worn on entering laboratories. Laboratory footwear should not have slippery soles as these can cause falls on wet or slippery floors.
Eyes can suffer temporary or permanent damage due to splashes of hazardous and corrosive chemicals. Safety goggles are recommended routinely but additional protection is provided by chemical splash goggles and face shields. In addition such devices also afford face protection against flying projectiles like broken glass or other solid objects.
It is not advisable to sniff chemicals for their chemical characteristics especially if they are unknown materials. Whenever digestions and corrosive acids or refluxing is required it is advisable to use fume hoods with working exhaust systems. It is advisable to make use of respirators and face masks whenever handling volatile solvents and highly toxic chemicals.
Like sniffing it is not advisable to taste any substance for identification. Mouth pipetting is a dangerous practice as it can lead to accidental intake of hazardous materials. Consumption of foods and beverages is strictly prohibited inside laboratories. Similarly laboratory glassware should never be used for preparing tea or coffee or consumption of juices or cold drinks. Storage of food items in laboratory refrigerators can prove dangerous and similarly food items should never be heated in laboratory ovens.
Injection of chemicals is generally not deliberate but can occur accidentally when handling contaminated syringe needles or shreds of broken glass. Such materials require to be handled carefully and that too never with bare hands.
It is strongly recommended that hands should be washed with soap and water before leaving the laboratory even if you have made use of gloves. This practice will ensure freedom from laboratory contamination for yourself and those with whom you are likely to come in contact.