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How to Be Safe When Using a Chemistry Lab

When you are in a chemistry lab, whether in school or in a research laboratory, you are surrounded by
safety hazards at every turn. Keeping yourself and others safe should always be your number one
priority. There are many things you should learn about chemical safety and proper safety protocol to
keep you and your colleagues or classmates safe and out of the hospital so you can focus on your work.

Part One of Three:

Understanding the Risks in a Chemistry Lab

Be smart about chemicals and the dangers they pose. Some chemicals are harmless; others can kill you!
Until you are familiar with the chemicals you are using in the lab, always ask an instructor for help. There
are a few basic points about chemical safety to bear in mind:

Never mess with an unlabeled chemical. It may be corrosive and dangerous to your skin, and mixing it
with other chemicals could produce toxic fumes or even an explosion.

Know the difference between an acid and a base. Every chemical has a property known as the "pH"
which indicates its concentration of hydrogen ions.[1] In chemistry, each chemical's pH is determined on
a scale from 0 to 14 with 0 being "very acidic," 7 being "neutral," and 14 being "very basic." Both acidic
and basic chemicals can be dangerous and corrosive to your skin and can create dangerous chemical
reactions when mixed. For example, battery acid is a dangerous acid and lye and ammonia are
dangerous bases. [2]

Add acids to water instead of the other way around. Adding water to an acid will cause heat to build up,
and may cause an explosion.[3]

Bleach is a particularly dangerous but common chemical. Never mix bleach with acids or bases, such as
ammonia or other household cleaners. Doing so can produce a toxic gas that can be fatal if inhaled.[4] If
you're not sure whether chemicals are safe to combine, do not combine them.

Never use mouth suction to fill a pipette with a chemical. You may inhale or accidentally swallow some.
Instead, always use a bulb syringe.[5]
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Watch out for sources of heat. All well-equipped chemistry labs have sources of heat like a Bunsen
burner or electric heating coil, in order to complete various chemical experiments. These heat sources
are often the source of accidents in the lab, ranging from minor burns from handling hot glassware to
clothing or hair accidentally set on fire from a Bunsen burner.

Always practice extra caution around sources of heat and fire. Do not reach across open flames or heat
sources, which could set your sleeve on fire or burn your arm.

Avoid breaking glassware. Glass tubing is a frequent cause of lab accidents, as it can snap into sharp
pieces if you forget to lubricate it before sealing it with a stopper or cork. Other dangers include beakers
that might be accidentally dropped, particularly because they can be awkward to handle while wearing
gloves.[6]

Move slowly and deliberately in the lab to avoid breaking glass and causing cuts or other damage. If you
break glassware in the lab on accident, be careful while disposing of it; the shards are sharp and may cut
you, even through protective gloves.

Never use beakers or burners that are damaged in any way. A cracked beaker may explode when heated.

Have the right attitude. While some accidents are unpredictable, most lab accidents are the result of
negligence, horsing around, or not following instructions and thus can be totally prevented by being
mindful and having the right attitude while in a lab setting.

Listen to the instructor and follow directions. Now is not the time to be adventurous or try your own
thing.

Save chatting with your friends or goofing off for after lab is over. You need to focus on what you're doing
so that you can stay safe. Running, dancing, being loud and boisterous, or any other kind of horseplay is
dangerous and not a mature way to behave in a lab.
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Part Two of Three:

Following Proper Safety Protocol

Never use a chemistry lab alone. Using a buddy system in the lab is an important way to stay safe: if
anything happens to you in the lab, someone is there who can help you or go for more help if needed.[7]
Ask a teacher, friend, or colleague to work with you in the lab as you are learning the ropes.

If it's not possible to have someone with you in the lab, at the very least you should let people know that
you are using it. Tell a friend or parent that you will call when you're done, and give them an expected
time, so that they will know if you don't get in touch then something is wrong.

Familiarize yourself with the layout before working. Every chemistry lab is set up slightly different, which
means that the things you need to stay safe may be hard to find in an emergency. Even if you are just
helping someone else in a lab, you may need to locate safety gear in case they are incapacitated. Locate
the following before doing any kind of work in a chemistry lab.[8]

All exits to the lab (check to see if windows are locked, and unlock them if possible)

Fire extinguisher and fire blankets

Chemical shower

Eye wash station

First aid kit

Telephone

Never handle chemicals you are unfamiliar with. Chemicals can be harmless (such as water) or highly
corrosive and dangerous (like sulfuric acid). If a chemical is unlabeled and you are not familiar with it,
leave it alone until an instructor can tell you what to do.
Never sniff directly from a container with an unknown chemical. Some chemicals are highly toxic and can
kill you if you inhale them. You can use one hand to "waft" the scent toward your nose from the top of
an open container, rather than inhaling it.

Similarly, never taste an unknown chemical. Doing so could be fatal.

Follow the lab procedure carefully. If you are in school, do not deviate from the lab procedure given to
you by your instructor, such as by substituting another chemical or adding them in inexact quantities.[9]
If your instructor wants you to make a deviation, do so only with her supervision.

Every detail in a lab procedure matters, including which chemical to add to the other and in what order,
the exact temperature to heat it to, amounts to measure, or any other details given.

Wash chemicals off of you immediately. If you spill any amount of a chemical on yourself, wash yourself
immediately with cool water.

Depending on where you've spilled the chemicals, you may need to use an eye wash station, hand
washing sink, or an emergency chemical shower. If you've spilled harsh or corrosive chemicals on your
clothes, you may need to remove the clothing, or even strip naked if your clothes are saturated. Nobody
wants to get naked in front of their lab colleagues, but it is better than living with burns on your skin!

Never eat or drink in the lab. Similarly, you should not prepare food in the lab or store it there. Even if
you are careful to keep the food away from contact with chemicals, your food may still become
contaminated with chemical fumes.

For the same reason, never smoke, chew gum, or apply cosmetics in a lab.

Put everything back where you found it. When you finish a lab, you should leave it how you found it.
That means replacing everything where it belongs or leaving it where your instructor prefers. A clean lab
is a safer lab!
Be sure to push your chair back in and close all cabinets and drawers before you leave, to ensure that the
lab is safe for the next users.

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Part Three of Three:

Dressing for Safety in the Lab

Choose appropriate attire. A chemistry lab is no time to be fashion conscious. Your clothing choices
should be made with your safety in mind.

Wear something that shows little skin; long pants and sleeves are ideal. Be sure your sleeves are fitted
and do not dangle down, and be sure your clothing are easy to remove in case they become saturated
with a chemical and have to be taken off.

Wear closed-toe shoes that are easy to walk in safely (no high heels!), and if you have long hair, tie it
back so that it doesn't hang down and possibly catch fire or dip into a chemical. Similarly, do not wear
dangling bracelets, necklaces, or earrings.

If safety aprons are available, wear these over your clothes.

Wear goggles at all times. Your eyes are very vulnerable, and getting even just a small bit of a chemical in
your eye could permanently blind you. Even if you are not working with chemicals, you should wear
chemical splash goggles while in the lab; someone else may spill a chemical and it could splash into your
eyes inadvertently.[10]

Be sure your goggles fit snugly but not too tight. Try them on before the lab begins to ensure that they
fit, and do not proceed with the lab if they do not fit.

If you wear glasses, they are not adequate to keep chemical splashes out of your eyes, since chemicals
could come from the side and go under your lenses. Wear your safety goggles on top of your glasses.

If you wear contact lenses, it is important that you wear your glasses instead on days when you will be
working in the lab. In the rare case that a chemical got into your eye while wearing contacts, it would be
very difficult to remove them and rinse the eyes without causing more damage to the eyes.
3

Wear gloves. Your instructor will tell you when they are necessary. If you are working with corrosive
chemicals, wear gloves as they will prevent any spillages from damaging your skin. Wear gloves
appropriate to the chemicals you are working with.

When you work with highly corrosive materials, such as concentrated sulfuric acid, thin latex gloves (the
one your dentist uses) will not protect you and will only make you think you are safe. Should you spill
anything onto any glove (latex, neoprene, any sort of gloves) put the chemical away as safely and quickly
as possible and take off your gloves. Wash your hands, then wash or dispose of your gloves in a
hazardous waste receptacle.

Always check your gloves before beginning the lab to ensure that they are free of holes or small cracks.

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Community Q&A
Question

What is the most important rule?

wikiHow Contributor

Community Answer

Wear appropriate gear. Wear a lab coat and safety goggles. If handling chemicals, make sure to wear
some kind of glove as well.

Tips

Learning the procedure before you do it can help get rid of any unexpected surprises.

Never eat or drink any substance in the lab. Even if the only product should be something harmless like
salt water, there may be residue from other experiments left on the beaker.

Wash your hands when you have finished, even you don't think you have spilled anything on them. You
may have harmful chemicals on your hands which, if you don't wash them off, could be transferred to
food and ingested.

Be careful, but don't be too nervous. Chemicals should only be scary and dangerous if you don't know
what you're doing.

Label everything that you will keep in the laboratory; some potentially deadly chemicals look the same
as non-deadly ones. For example, sulfuric acid and water are both clear. However, there are things you
would normally do with water that you wouldn't do with sulfuric acid.

Warnings

Chemistry can be very dangerous; not following some of these guidelines can result in a trip to the
hospital.

When on an introduction of, for example, a university, don't think they wouldn't let you play with
dangerous chemicals. Almost all chemicals have more than enough potential to kill you. Behave
responsibly!

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Expert Review By:

BR

Bess Ruff

M.A. in Environmental Science and Management

Co-authors: 29

Updated: June 24, 2018

Views: 49,321

Article Rating: 79% - 29 votes


Categories: Chemistry Safety

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