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7.1 Minimize Exposure to Chemicals

The best way laboratory personnel can protect themselves from chemical hazards is to minimize their exposure to them. In order to minimize chemical exposure:

  • Substitute less hazardous chemicals in your experiments whenever possible. 
  • Always use the smallest possible quantity of chemical for all experiments. Consider microscale experiments and activities. 
  • Minimize chemical exposures to all potential routes of entry - inhalation, ingestion, skin and eye absorption, and injection through proper use of engineering controls and personal protective equipment
  • Be sure to select the proper PPE and regularly inspect it for contamination, leaks, cracks, and holes. Pay particular attention to gloves. 
  • Do not pipette or apply suction by mouth. 
  • Do not smell or taste chemicals. When it is necessary to identify a chemical’s odor, lab personnel should hold the chemical container away from their face and gently waft their hand over the container without inhaling large quantities of chemical vapor. 
  • Do not underestimate the risk of exposure to chemicals - even for substances of no known significant hazard. 
  • In order to identify potential hazards, laboratory personnel should plan out their experiments in advance. These plans should include the specific measures that will be taken to minimize exposure to all chemicals to be used, the proper positioning of equipment, and the organization of dry runs. 
  • Chemicals that are particularly hazardous substances require prior approval from your supervisor and special precautions to be taken. 
  • When working with mixtures of chemicals, laboratory personnel should assume the mixture to be more toxic than the most toxic component in the mixture. 
  • Consider all substances of unknown toxicity to be toxic until proven otherwise. 
  • Request exposure monitoring to ensure the Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) of OSHA and the current Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists are not exceeded.
  • Promptly clean up all chemicals spills regardless whether the chemical is considered hazardous or nonhazardous. When cleaning up spills, remember to clean up any splashes that may have occurred on the sides of cabinets and doors in the immediate area.
  • When working in cold rooms, keep all toxic and flammable substances tightly closed as cold rooms have recirculated atmospheres. 
  • Be aware of the potential asphyxiation hazard when using cryogenic materials and compressed gases in confined areas such as cold rooms and environmental chambers. If necessary, install an oxygen monitor/oxygen deficiency alarm and/or toxic gas monitor before working with these materials in confined areas. Contact EHS at 607-255-8200 for more assistance. 
  • Do not eat, drink, chew gum, or apply cosmetics in areas where hazardous chemicals are being used. 
  • Keep all food and drink out of refrigerators and freezers used to store chemicals. Refrigerators used to store chemicals should be labeled as “Chemicals Only – No Food”. Refrigerators used to store food should be labeled as “Food Only – No Chemicals”. You can download these and other free labels at the EHS Signs and Labels webpage
  • Always wash hands with soap and water after handling chemicals and especially before leaving the lab and eating – even if gloves were worn during chemical handling. 
  • Always remove personal protective equipment, such as gloves and lab coats, before leaving the lab. 
  • Do not attempt to scale up experiments until after you have run the experiment according to published protocols and you are thoroughly familiar with the potential hazards. When scaling up an experiment – change only one variable at a time, i.e. don’t change the heat source, the volumes, and the glassware all at once. It is also advisable to let one of your other lab group members to check your setup prior to each run.