SCIENCE EDUCATION > Basic Biology

Lab Safety

This collection provides safety guidelines to be followed when working with hazardous materials and equipment. It covers universal topics such as PPE, electrical safety, and general emergency guidelines, as well as some specific safety procedures for chemistry and biology laboratories.

  • Lab Safety

    05:36
    Proper Personal Protective Equipment

    Robert M. Rioux & William A Elliott, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

    Hazards are many and varied in the laboratory, but the right choice of PPE can make the laboratory a safe place to work.

  • Lab Safety

    05:02
    Emergency Eyewash and Shower Stations

    Robert M. Rioux, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

    The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates that an emergency eyewash and shower station be easily accessible in all workplaces in which a person could be exposed to injurious and/or corrosive substances. Emergency eyewash and shower stations should be used in the case of a laboratory or workplace accident that involves the spilling of a harmful, possibly corrosive chemical onto the body or the splashing of such a chemical into the eyes. Eyewash and shower stations are not, however, a replacement for proper protective equipment (PPE), including laboratory coats and protective eyewear, which should always be worn when handling hazardous chemicals. For proper selection of PPE, refer to your organization's Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) office.

  • Lab Safety

    04:52
    Electrical Safety

    Robert M. Rioux & Suprita Jharimune, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

    Among the many hazards present in the laboratory, electrical hazards are one of the most common we must be cognizant of since most of the laboratory equipment we use requires electricity for operation. Improper handling or operation of electrical devices might lead to electric shock with the potential risk of injury or even death. Electric sparks can lead to fire or explosion (since many flammable chemicals may be stored nearby to electrified instrumentation). Therefore, knowledge regarding electrical safety and what to do in case of emergency is essential for the laboratory personnel. Precautions can be employed when working in the laboratory to avoid electric shock and electrical fire or explosion.

  • Lab Safety

    07:06
    Working with Centrifuges

    Source: Robert M. Rioux & Suprita Jharimune, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

    Earth's gravitational force is capable of separating heterogeneous mixtures. However, many systems avert this type of separation owing to the length of time usually required in such cases. Centrifugation is one of the most powerful tools for the separation of heterogeneous mixtures1. It involves the application of centripetal force for sedimentation of the heavier phase, leading to separation of the two phases, and is a commonly used technique in industrial and laboratory settings. In a typical centrifugation process, particles suspended in a fluid are spun about the centrifuge axis of rotation, causing a force away from the axis. This force drives the particles to the bottom of the centrifuge sample holder at a rate which is dependent on the size and density of the particles. Centrifugation is therefore a technique to speed up the process of sedimentation. To ensure safety in the usage of a centrifuge, the user should be properly trained and made aware of the hazards that might result from its usage. The following sections present a discussion of handling and safety while working with centrifuges.

  • Lab Safety

    10:12
    Working with Hot and Cold Sources

    Source: Robert M. Rioux & Suprita Jharimune, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

    Working with extreme temperatures, both high and low, is an integral part of many laboratory operations. For many, mentioning a laboratory instantly evokes the mental picture of a Bunsen burner. Bunsen burners and hot plates are used extensively in small and large operations in research laboratories and industries, thus making it necessary for all users to be aware of their safe handling procedures. Hot plates and Bunsen burners are high temperature heat sources, while low temperatures are obtained using dry ice and cryogenic liquids, such as liquid nitrogen. Both dry ice and liquid nitrogen can pose significant hazards to the user if not handled carefully.

  • Lab Safety

    05:27
    Guidelines in Case of an Laboratory Emergency

    Robert M. Rioux & Zhifeng Chen, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

    The most common laboratory emergencies include chemical spills, fire or explosion, electric shock, and personnel injuries. Most laboratory accidents occur due to poor planning or lack of attention. Therefore, it's always better to prevent accidents (being proactive) than having to take any actions during an emergency (being reactive). For example, always wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) in the laboratory. Regular laboratory inspection and equipment maintenance is beneficial to prevent laboratory accidents. However, once the emergency occurs, it's also essential to know what to do. Ensure your personal safety first and then call local emergency responders, when and if necessary. The extent of your response will depend on the seriousness of the incident and documented laboratory protocols for dealing with such incidents. Stay calm and take proper actions according to the type and level of emergency.

  • Lab Safety

    08:39
    Chemical Storage: Categories, Hazards And Compatibilities

    Source: Robert M. Rioux & Taslima A. Zaman, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

    While the use of various chemicals in experimental research is essential, it is also important to safely store and maintain them as a part of the Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) program. The properties of chemicals and their reactivity vary broadly and if chemicals are not managed, stored, and labeled properly, they can have harmful or even destructive consequences such as toxic fume production, fire or explosion, which may result in human fatality, property damage or environmental hazards. Therefore, an appropriate chemical label should identify the material and list the associated hazards, and users should have knowledge of how to read chemical labels and safety data sheets (SDS). Proper chemical storage must meet OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Association) standards and this can prevent most chemical reactivity hazards.

  • Lab Safety

    11:18
    Safe Handling of Mineral Acids

    Source: Robert M. Rioux & Taslima A. Zaman, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

    A mineral acid (or inorganic acid) is defined as a water-soluble acid derived from inorganic minerals by chemical reaction as opposed to organic acids (e.g. acetic acid, formic acid). Examples of mineral acids include:

    • Boric acid (CAS No.10043-35-3) • Chromic acid (CAS No.1333-82-0) • Hydrochloric acid (CAS No.7647-01-0) • Hydrofluoric acid (CAS No. 7664-39-3) • Nitric acid (CAS No. 7697-37-2) • Perchloric acid (CAS No. 7601-90-3) • Phosphoric acid (CAS No.7664-38-2) • Sulfuric acid (CAS No.7664-93-9) Mineral acids are commonly found in research laboratories and their corrosive nature makes them a significant safety risk. Since they are important reagents in the research laboratory and often do not have substitutes, it is important that they are handled properly and with care. Some acids are even shock sensitive and under certain conditions may cause explosions (i.e., salts of perchloric acid).

  • Lab Safety

    03:50
    Handling Chemical Spills

    Source: Robert M. Rioux & Taslima Zaman, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

    Since chemicals are commonly used for laboratory research purposes, it is extremely important to be adequately prepared to handle chemical spills or accidental release of hazardous chemicals, which can happen at any time. No matter how minor a spill may be, the inability to respond in an emergency situation could severely endanger public health or the environment. All chemical spills must be properly disposed of, satisfying diverse regulations and standards, such as those of Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Act of 1986, which are administered by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

  • Lab Safety

    06:33
    Proper Use of Autoclaves

    Robert M. Rioux & Zhifeng Chen, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

    Autoclaving is one of the most commonly used methods in the laboratory for the purpose of decontamination. The most common items decontaminated with an autoclave are those that contact biological samples (typically those containing microorganisms). An autoclave works by utilizing pressurized high temperature steam to kill microorganisms present in the loaded materials. Sufficient steam flow and heat transfer are essential for highly efficient autoclaving, which are the key principles to consider when packaging materials. Safety needs to be considered when working with an autoclave due to the high pressure and temperature employed therein, which also sets limits on which materials are compatible and may necessitate special attention when packaging, loading, and unloading materials.

  • Lab Safety

    05:47
    Fume Hoods and Laminar Flow Cabinets

    Robert M. Rioux & William A. Elliott, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

    Fume hoods and laminar flow cabinets are engineering controls that operate under similar principles. Both use a constant flow of air to prevent contamination of the laboratory environment and its inhabitants. Fume hoods prevent hazardous substances from exiting the hood workspace, whereas laminar flow cabinets prevent contaminants from entering the cabinet workspace. Fume hoods are ventilation systems designed to minimize exposure to hazardous vapors, fumes, and particles. A constant flow of air is drawn into the hood opening, limiting the escape of vapors, fumes, and particles, and then is pulled out through the exhaust. Laminar flow cabinets are used to maintain a sterile/clean environment by constantly flowing high-efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA)-filtered air outwards, minimizing contaminated air entering the cabinet workspace. The HEPA-filtered air reduces the opportunity for harmful chemicals or particles from entering the laboratory. A HEPA filter removes 99.97% or greater of 0.3 µm particles.

  • Lab Safety

    07:04
    Handling Air- and Water-Sensitive Chemicals Using a Schlenk Line

    Robert M Rioux, Ajay Sathe, Zhifeng Chen, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

    The use of reagents sensitive to oxidation or moisture necessitates the use of air-free techniques. A Schlenk line is a routinely used glass apparatus to perform air and moisture free manipulations in a chemical laboratory1. The Schlenk line is widely utilized by many chemists since it allows them conduct air or water sensitive reactions even without the expense and restriction of a glove box. The Schlenk line can be configured to inert gas atmosphere such as Nitrogen and Argon or expose the glassware to vacuum. Another way to achieve an air and moisture free environment involves the use of a glovebox. The major difference between a Schlenk line and a glove box is that purge and refill applies directly to the reaction vessels, whereas purge and refill applies to the airlock instead of the glovebox. Besides, in a glovebox, conventional laboratory equipment can be set up with a large inert space, however gloves have to be used to handle the experiment and the glovebox itself is also expensive.

  • Lab Safety

    06:20
    Proper Operation of Vacuum Based Equipment

    Source: Robert M. Rioux, Ajay Sathe & Zhifeng Chen, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

    Vacuum is required for a number of laboratory procedures. This is most routinely achieved in the laboratory by the use of vacuum pumps. In addition to working at low pressures, vacuum pumps can also be used to enable rapid changing of the atmospheres in a reactor or flask by evacuation and backfilling.

  • Lab Safety

    07:56
    Operating the Glovebox

    Robert M Rioux, Ajay Sathe, Zhifeng Chen, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

    A glovebox is an isolated enclosure that is designed to maintain an inert atmosphere. The manipulation of chemicals or apparatus is done via the use of gloves, which allow operation while still maintaining an inert atmosphere. A positive pressure is utilized to compensate for any passive leaks. Objects can be transferred in and out of the box using an antechamber that acts as an airlock between the box and the outside atmosphere1. A glovebox can have multiple pair(s) of gloves associated with it depending on the size of the box.

  • Lab Safety

    05:55
    Operation of High-pressure Reactor Vessels

    Robert M Rioux, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

    The use of gases in a synthetic chemistry laboratory is essential for carrying out a variety of highly facile and atom economical transformations. Reactions such as hydrogenation, oxidation, and amination require the use of gases like hydrogen, oxygen, and ammonia. Due to the poor solubility of these gases in typical reactant solutions, high pressures are necessary to achieve a meaningful reaction rate. Not only are these gases highly reactive, the use of high pressures makes these operations fairly hazardous. The biggest challenge in the use of high pressure is the containment of the high-pressure gas for the entire duration of the reaction, with close monitoring of the pressure and temperature, to avoid the formation of explosive mixtures and runaway reactions. These reactions are typically carried out using thick-walled pressure vessels. The pressurized vessel allows for operation at high pressure with appropriate safety concerns abated. Figure 1 demonstrates the various parts of a typical pressure vessel, used to conduct high-pressure reactions. The following protocol highlights the procedure for the safe operation of these high-pressure reactor vessels. Figure 1. (a) Parts of the high pressure reactor vessel. (b) Assembled high pressure reactor vessel.

  • Lab Safety

    06:18
    Decontamination for Laboratory Biosafety

    Robert M. Rioux and Zhifeng Chen, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

    Decontamination is essential for laboratory biosafety, as the accumulation of microbial contamination in the laboratory can lead to the transmission of disease. The degree of decontamination can be classified as either disinfection or sterilization. Disinfection aims to eliminate all pathogenic microorganisms, with the exception of bacterial spores on lab surfaces or equipment. Sterilization, on the other hand, aims to eliminate all microbial life. Different methods are available which include chemicals, heat, and radiation, and once again depend on the degree of decontamination, as well as the concentration of the contaminating microorganisms, presence of organic matter, and type of equipment or surface to be cleaned. Each method has its advantages and cautionary measures that need to be taken to avoid hazards.

  • Lab Safety

    04:27
    Proper Waste Disposal

    Robert M. Rioux and Taslima A. Zaman, Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania, PA

    Users are responsible for the proper disposal of the waste generated during their work. Improper waste disposal may severely endanger public health and/or the environment. The handling of hazardous waste must be regulated from the moment of generation until its disposal at its offsite final destination facility. A waste management system must be devised before work begins on any laboratory activity. Users must comply with the rules and regulations of their institute's Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) office, which develops and implements proper waste management systems satisfying diverse regulations and standards, such as those imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

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