Chemical Research Safety Note #13
Professor Rick L. Danheiser and the Chemistry Department Safety
November 17, 1995
Emergency Procedures(Group Safety Coordinators: Please post copies
of this Safety Note in every lab in your group)
The incidence of serious accidents in the Chemistry Department has declined
dramatically in recent years, due largely to heightened safety consciousness and
improved chemical hygiene and safety training. Nonetheless, accidents do
occasionally occur, and it is important that all researchers be aware exactly
how to respond in the event of an emergency. Study this Safety Note:
your familiarity with this information could prevent serious injury or even save
Are You Prepared for Emergencies?
Everyone working in department laboratories should know:
- Exactly how to summon emergency assistance in the event
of a fire, spill, or injury
- The precise location of the nearest safety shower and
eyewash, and how to operate it
- The location of the nearest fire extinguisher and
spill control equipment, and how to use it
Summoning Assistance and General Instructions
- To summon emergency police, fire, or ambulance
assistance, call the Campus Police 24-hour emergency phone line
100. Report the location of the emergency, including both
your building and room number. Be as specific as possible about the nature of
the emergency and the type of assistance required. By clearly describing the
nature of the situation, you can ensure an appropriate response. In the event
of uncertainty, Campus Police are instructed to order a "full-force"
- Notify other personnel in the area of the emergency. If necessary,
activate the nearest fire alarm to order the evacuation of the building.
Remember: when a fire alarm sounds, all personnel, without
exception, are required to leave the building!
- Be prepared to meet the emergency responders and advise them about the
nature of the situation. In the event of fires, explosions, and releases of
hazardous materials, a Fire or Incident Command
Post marked with colored plastic posts and signs will be set up at
the scene by the MIT emergency responders. The MIT official coordinating the
emergency response ("Incident Commander") will be found at
this post, and personnel from the laboratory involved in the accident should
contact this official to provide information and technical assistance. The
Incident Commander will also serve as liasion for communicating information to
the Cambridge Fire Department and MIT Campus Police. Fire Department and
Police personnel will generally not follow instructions from MIT students and
faculty unless authorized by the Incident Commander.
Specific Procedures for Responding to Fires
MIT Policy states that personnel are not required to fight fires. The
following guidelines should be followed to prevent and minimize injury and
damage from fires.
- Fires in small vessels can usually be suffocated by
loosely covering the vessel. Never pick up a flask or container of burning
- A small fire which has just started can sometimes be
extinguished with a laboratory fire extinguisher. Extinguishing such fires
should only be attempted if you are confident that you can do so successfully
and quickly, and from a position in which you are always between the fire and
an exit from the laboratory. Do not underestimate fires, and remember
that toxic gases and smoke may present additional hazards.
- Small fires involving reactive metals and organometallic
compounds (such as magnesium, sodium, potassium, metal hydrides,
etc.) should be extinguished with Met-L-X or Met-L-Kyl extinguishers, or by
covering with dry sand.
- In the event of a more serious fire, evacuate the
laboratory and activate the nearest fire alarm. Be prepared to meet and advise
the Fire Department and Emergency Response Team with regard to what hazardous
substances are present in your laboratory.
- Personal injuries involving fires: Minor clothing fires
can sometimes be extinguished by immediately dropping to the floor and
rolling. If a person's clothing catches fire, they should be doused with water
from the safety shower. Fire blankets should only be used as a last-resort
measure to extinguish fires since they tend to hold in heat and to increase
the severity of burns. Quickly remove contaminated clothing, douse the person
with water, and place clean, wet, cold cloth on burned areas. Wrap the injured
person in a blanket to avoid shock and get medical attention promptly.
Specific Procedures for Handling the Accidental Release of Hazardous
Plan ahead! Experiments should always be designed so as to
minimize the possibility of an accidental release of hazardous substances. Be
familiar with the properties (physical, chemical, and toxicological) of
hazardous substances before working with them, and develop a contingency plan to
deal with the accidental release of each hazardous substance. Make sure that the
necessary safety equipment, protective apparel, and spill control materials are
In the event that a spill does occur, the following General
Guidelines for Handling Spills should be followed in the indicated
order of priority.
- Notify other personnel of the accident. In the event of
the release of a highly toxic gas or volatile material, evacuate the
laboratory and post personnel at all entrances to prevent other workers from
inadvertently entering the contaminated area. In some cases (e.g. incidents
involving the release of highly toxic substances and spills occurring in
non-laboratory areas), it may be appropriate to activate a fire alarm to order
an evacuation of the building. Call 100 to obtain emergency assistance from
the Cambridge Fire Department and MIT Industrial Hygiene Office.
- Tend to any injured or contaminated personnel. If an
individual is injured or contaminated with a hazardous substance, then
treating them will generally take priority over the spill control measures
outlined below. It is important to obtain medical attention as soon as
possible; call the Campus Police 24 hour phone line 100 to call for emergency
medical technicians who can transport injured personnel to the medical
department or hospital.
For spills covering small amounts of
skin, immediately flush with flowing water for no less than fifteen
minutes. If there is no visible burn, wash with warm water and soap, removing
any jewelry to facilitate removal of any residual materials. Check the MSDS or
LCSS to see if any delayed effects should be expected. It is advisable to seek
medical attention for even minor chemical burns. For spills on
clothes, don't attempt to wipe the clothes. Quickly remove all
contaminated clothing, shoes and jewelry while using the safety shower.
Seconds count, and no time should be wasted because of modesty! Be careful not
to spread the chemical on the skin, or especially in the eyes. Use caution
when removing pullover shirts or sweaters to prevent contamination of the eye;
it may be better to cut the garments off. Immediately flood the affected body
area with warm water for at least 15 minutes. Resume if pain returns. Do not
use creams, lotions or salves. Get medical attention as soon as possible.
Contaminated clothes should be discarded or laundered separately from other
For splashes into the eye, immediately flush
the eye with potable water from a gently flowing source for at least 15
minutes. Hold the eyelids away from the eyeball, move the eye up and down and
sideways to wash thoroughly behind the eyelids. An eyewash should be used, but
if one is not available, injured persons should be placed on their backs and
water gently poured into their eyes for at least fifteen minutes. First aid
must be followed by prompt treatment by a member of a medical staff or an
ophthalmologist especially alerted and acquainted with chemical
- Take steps to confine and limit the spill if this can be
done without risk of injury or contamination. Every research group that works
with hazardous substances should have a Group Spill Kit
tailored to deal with the potential hazards of the materials being used in
their laboratory. Group Safety Officers are responsible for maintaining these
spill control kits. Spill kits should be located near laboratory exits for
ready access. Typical spill control kits might include: (a) spill
control pillows, (b) inert absorbents such as
vermiculite, clay, and sand, (c) neutralizing agents for alkali
spills such as sodium bisulfate and citric acid, and (d)
large plastic scoops and other equipment such as brooms,
pails, bags, dust pans, etc.
- Clean up the spill. Specific procedures for cleaning up
spills will vary depending on the location of the accident (elevator,
corridor, chemical storeroom, laboratory hood), the amount and physical
properties of the spilled material (volatile liquid, solid, or toxic gas), and
the degree and type of toxicity. It is MIT Policy that the responsibility for
having a spill cleaned up rests with the person causing the spill. If the
individual responsible is unknown, or unable to clean up the spill due to
injury, then responsibility for dealing with the spill rests with the
Department. Custodians are not permitted to clean up spills of
hazardous materials. The Environmental Medical Service, Safety
Office, and Campus Police will provide technical advice, but are not
responsible for the spill clean up.
Outlined below are some general
guidelines for handling several common spill situations.
- Materials of low flammability which are not volatile or which
have low toxicity. This category of hazardous substances includes
inorganic acids (sulfuric, nitric) and caustic bases (sodium and potassium
hydroxide). For clean-up, wear appropriate protective apparel including
gloves, goggles, and (if necessary) shoe-coverings. Neutralize the spilled
chemicals with materials such as sodium bisulfate (for alkalis) and sodium
carbonate or bicarbonate (for acids). Absorb the material with inert clay or
vermiculite, scoop it up, and dispose of it according to the appropriate
procedures detailed in the Chemical Hygiene Plan.
- Flammable solvents. Fast action is crucial in the event
that a flammable solvent of relatively low toxicity is spilled. This
category includes pet ether, hexane, pentane, diethyl ether,
dimethoxyethane, and tetrahydrofuran. Immediately alert other workers in the
laboratory, extinguish all flames, and turn off any spark-producing
equipment. In some cases the power to the lab should be shut off with the
circuit-breaker. As quickly as possible, the spilled solvent should be
soaked up using spill control pillows. These should be sealed in containers
and disposed of properly.
- Highly toxic substances. Do not attempt to clean up a
spill of a highly toxic substance by yourself. Notify other personnel of the
spill and contact the Industrial Hygiene Office (253-2596) to obtain
assistance in evaluating the hazards involved. The Cambridge Fire Department
and the IHO have special protective equipment to permit safe entry into
areas contaminated with highly toxic substances.
- Handling Leaking Gas Cylinders. Occasionally, a
cylinder or one of its component parts develops a leak. Most such leaks
occur at the top of the cylinder in areas such as the valve threads, safety
device, valve stem, and valve outlet. If a leak is suspected, do not use a
flame for detection; rather, a flammable-gas leak detector or soapy water or
other suitable solution should be used. If the leak cannot be remedied by
tightening a valve gland or a packing nut, emergency action procedures
should be effected and the supplier should be notified. Laboratory workers
should never attempt to repair a leak at the valve threads or safety device;
rather, they should consult with the supplier for instructions.
following general procedures can be used for relatively minor leaks where
the indicated action can be taken without the exposure of personnel to
highly toxic substances. Note that if it is necessary to move a leaking
cylinder through populated portions of the building, place a plastic bag,
rubber shroud, or similar device over the top and tape it (duct tape
preferred) to the cylinder to confine the leaking gas.
Flammable, inert, or oxidizing gases: Move the cylinder to
an isolated area (away from combustible material if the gas is flammable or
an oxidizing agent) and post signs that describe the hazards and state
warnings. If feasible, leaking cylinders should always be moved into
(ii) Corrosive gases may increase
the size of the leak as they are released and some corrosives are also
oxidants or flammable. Move the cylinder to an isolated, well-ventilated
area and use suitable means to direct the gas into an appropriate chemical
neutralizer. Post signs that describe the hazards and state
(iii) Toxic gases - Follow the same
procedure as for corrosive gases. Move the cylinder to an isolated,
well-ventilated area and use suitable means to direct the gas into an
appropriate chemical neutralizer. Post signs that describe the hazards and
state the warnings.
When the nature of the leaking gas or the size of
the leak constitutes a more serious hazard, self-contained breathing
apparatus and protective apparel may be required. Evacuate personnel from
the affected area (activate the fire alarm to order the evacuation of the
building) and call Campus Police (dial 100) to obtain emergency assistance.
In the event of a medical emergency, it is important to remain calm and to do
only what is necessary to protect life.
- Summon assistance by calling the Campus Police 24 hour emergency line 100.
Police trained as emergency medical technicians will respond and can transport
injured personnel to the medical department or hospital.
- Do not move an injured person unless he or she is in danger of further
- If a coworker has ingested a toxic substance, have the victim drink large
amounts of water (never give anything by mouth to an unconscious
person) and obtain medical assistance at once. Attempt to learn exactly
what substances were ingested and inform the medical staff as soon as
- If a coworker is bleeding severely, elevate the wound above the level of
the heart and apply firm pressure directly over the wound with a clean cloth,
handkerchief, or your hand. Obtain immediate medical assistance.
- Do not touch a person in contact with a live electrical circuit -
disconnect the power first!
- Procedures for handling medical emergencies involving fires and exposure
to hazardous substances are discussed in previous sections above.
Additional information on emergency procedures can be found in the Chemical
Hygiene Plan and Safety Manual (especially Part VB and Part IX) and Prudent
Practices in the Laboratory (particularly Chapter 5, Section 5.C.11 and
Chapter 6, Sections 6.F and 6.G).
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