Every lab with inherent risks implements their own safety protocol specific to their industry and the hazards within their facility. However, no matter how cautiously you may navigate day-to-day work or material handling, accidents are inevitable. Of course, you can develop and apply policies with the strictest possible standards addressing every potential scenario. But no matter how carefully you plan ahead, human error will always find its way into the workplace, one way or another. It’s how you react to these unpredictable moments of sudden distress that defines your lab’s overall ability to keep personnel safe.
Obviously, storing and handling abrasive chemicals is a necessity for countless labs. Therefore, chemicals spills often occur and are a common, spontaneous problem that employees must instantly mitigate. Fortunately, there are specific steps each lab can take to clean the spill safely. However, for the most severe cases, independent removal isn’t possible and you’ll have to enlist the help of professional decontamination services.
At SEPS, we place high value on training and equipping staff to handle dangerous situations. Should a chemical spill occur in your lab, it’s critical that you’re aware of the necessary steps to safely clean the spill. Below, you’ll find the eight essential steps to safely managing chemical spills.
1. Be Prepared
This is the first (and most important) step to safely handling chemical spills. With each of the lab’s specific chemicals, the Material Safety Data Sheet (SDS) contains critical information everyone should be familiar with.
The SDS will outline each chemical’s health hazards, appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), first aid measures, clean-up and emergency procedures. Staff should always have access to the documents specifying each of the correct safety procedures.
In addition, a critical part of this first step is training. Each member of staff should know how to handle and store any chemicals present in the lab without inadvertently introducing additional risks. Also, they should know how to safely handle certified equipment as well as manage chemical spills.
Each lab should also have a complete, easy-to-use spill kit within reach. The spill kit should contain the necessary PPE and the correct materials to clean the substances. It should contain disposal bags, PPE, neutralizers and absorbents.
2. Assess the Severity
Of course, chemical spills vary in severity as well as toxicity. Therefore, accurately assessing the spill involves identifying the chemical, the spill volume, location and the area ventilation.
Those present classify the spill as either minor or major. Minor spills describe chemicals that don’t pose immediate risks to health and don’t cause bodily contamination. Most of the chemical spills are minor and usually, any employee can clean it without extensive maintenance procedures.
A major spill involves hazardous chemicals that pose a risk to health, or have a high likelihood to cause a fire or an explosion. Therefore, lab safety symbols will determine the appropriate containment response.
3. Maintain Effective Communication
Remember: remaining calm, no matter the severity, is critical during a chemical spill. First, all lab personnel should leave the area while you determine the necessary steps.
In the event of a minor spill, notify personnel within the immediate area. Following this, alert the manager, administrator, safety advisor, etc. In the unlikely event of a major spill, everyone in the facility should evacuate immediately. Notify emergency services at once. If someone was affected, locate the nearest safety shower or emergency eyewash. After that, remove contaminated clothing at once, and generously flush all areas of the body with water.
Before attempting to sterilize a chemical spill, personnel must wear the appropriate PPE like gloves, goggles and lab coats.
Identify and eliminate the source of the spill to prevent the chemical from spreading any further. Using absorbent materials, make a barrier at the edges of the spill. Additionally, if the substance is toxic or hazardous, close the lab doors and stimulate ventilation at once.
5. Clean Up
Lab spill kits can handle most chemical spills. However, the necessary clean up varies depending on the specific substance.
Consult the Material Safety Data Sheet to identify effective clean-up procedures. Acids, biological specimens, flammable liquids, mercury, and radioactive agents all have individualized clean-up measures. Consult each material’s instructions to discern the best way to manage the spill.
Once you finish cleaning, dispose of the materials you used. First, place the absorbents into a plastic bucket or other container. Double-bag any liquid or powder residue to provide additional reinforcement.
Afterward, place the waste in the appropriate hazard waste bin. Then, separate anything you might have used to clean chemical spills from normal trash. Be sure to very distinctly label each receptacle containing hazardous materials. On each label, clearly disclose exactly what’s within to prevent any accidental exposure.
After any kind of lab mishap (including spills), workers should always make sure they properly document the event. Moreover, you should entrust someone to notify the lab’s supervisors and administrators at once. Most importantly, be sure to document how to prevent a similar situation from happening again.
With most lab chemical spills, regular cleaning products will be able to properly decontaminate. However, special detergents provide labs with a higher degree of decontamination.
In a lab, some additional measures are often necessary to keep personnel safe and prevent costly, disastrous setbacks or production lapses. SEPS and our diverse range of services are always standing by and ready to assist in any workplace mishap. With over eighteen years serving labs all across the area, and a wide variety of accreditations and affiliations, we take pride in preserving high standards of quality and safety.