Something to do in lab today

I said I’d make this a monthly repost, then travel and assorted other things meant that I forgot it in February. Trying again… From Derek Lowe, in memory of people who died in chemical incidents:

So in memory of these four, here’s something that all of us who work in the lab can do today. Take a look around you. Remind yourself of where the fire extinguishers are (and there should be more than one kind). Think of how you’d get to the safety shower if you had to use it. And pick the door you’ll use if a situation get beyond that. It’s far easier to go over such details when things are quiet, and if you do that every so often you’ll have a much better chance of remembering where to go when you really need to.

And whenever you’re setting up an experiment that involve any noticeable hazard (pyrophoric reagent, toxic liquid or gas, potential exotherm), think for a moment about what might be most likely to go wrong, and also what the worst thing that could happen might be, and what you’d do about them. Is it dropping that bottle of phosgene solution on the floor? A fire started by your hydrogenation catalyst or your sodium hydride? An exotherm that sends your reaction pouring out over the hot plate or heating mantle? Picturing these things beforehand is never wasted time, because (as everyone with experience in the lab knows) such things do happen, and not on anyone’s schedule. Those four DuPont workers were getting ready to go home for the day when suddenly everything went wrong: in their memory, keep an eye out for what might go wrong in your own fume hood.

(Some commenters have already quibbled over the “more than one kind” of fire extinguisher point. Just make sure you have what you need for your lab.)

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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2 Comments

  1. Before people are expected to use a fire extinguisher in the lab, they are required to have training in its use. If there are two different fire extinguishers in the lab, I presume that they would be required to have training as to which fire extinguisher should be used when as well as how and when (when not to) to operate them?

  2. Thank you for the kind reminder! Safety is really something that we shouldn’t take for granted, and having been in a number of close calls myself I feel that these small mental exercises help a lot when things do go wrong. You might not be able to save the reaction, but at least you can save yourself and the people around you!