Chemical Safety

Chemicals are an important component of laboratory work. If used carelessly, they can cause severe physical, structural, and/or financial damage to the University and its employees.

These damages may be brought about by an immediate reaction or long-term misuse/neglect of a chemical. To prevent the misuse of chemicals, employees must identify any hazards associated with chemicals in their workspace. This can be done by reviewing the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) before working with the chemical. Plan work carefully. At the beginning of complex research projects, conduct a risk assessment. Ask these questions: What are the hazard(s) associated with the chemicals involved in the research? What engineering and environmental controls are in place to protect me and protect the environment? What kind of personal protective equipment is needed? Will the process generate waste?  Will waste be hazardous? What type of reactions takes place when using the chemicals?

If you are leaving the University or moving to another building (or lab space), be sure to remove all unwanted chemicals from the lab before you leave the building (or lab space). The EHS Audit Team has on numerous occasions found chemicals left behind that current lab staff was not aware were there. Old or expired chemicals present serious hazards for lab personal and EHS employees who manage the disposal of these chemicals. Updated chemical inventories and frequent housekeeping will prevent unnecessary accumulation of chemicals. EHS (410-706-7055) provides lab chemical cleanouts if you do not want to take chemicals with you.

Common findings relevant to chemical safety:

Chemical labeling inadequate or missing: 

The improper handling of chemical waste can result in injuries to employees, damage to the environment, and fines from regulatory agencies. All chemical containers must be labeled, in English, as to their contents. Chemical formulae are not permitted as the sole means of identification. Reused containers must be completely defaced of the old label, prior to relabeling with the new contents. Unlabeled containers are automatically considered unknown hazardous waste and are problematic and expensive to dispose of. Relabel any chemical containers found to be improperly labeled.

Chemical container management issues identified: 

All chemical containers must be in good condition with no visible damage or deterioration. Caps must be secure, intact, and without chemical residue; Labels must be intact and fully legible. Any container found to be leaking, rusted, or forming precipitates must be disposed of immediately as chemical waste. Storage of hazardous chemicals for speculative use is illegal. Itemize chemicals to be removed and submit the list to EHS for a chemical waste pickup.

Corrosive chemicals stored above eye level: 

Eye damage could result from spilled corrosive chemicals. Storage of corrosive material below eye level minimizes the risk of damage to the eye. Move corrosive chemicals to storage below eye level.

Chemicals are being used outside a fume hood: 

Chemicals representing an inhalation hazard must be used only in a chemical fume hood. When not in use, chemical containers must be securely capped and free from exterior contamination. Retrain individuals in the lab on safe working procedures with chemical hazards.

Chemical storage — inadequate flammable storage: 

The improper handling of flammable material can result in injuries to employees, damage to equipment and the environment, and fines from regulatory agencies. Flammable solids and liquids must be isolated from potential sources of ignition, including acids. No more than 10 gallons of flammable liquids in a laboratory may be stored outside a flammable storage cabinet. Move flammable materials away from ignition sources and into proper containment.