6.C.10 Responding to Accidents and Emergencies

6.C.10.1 General Preparation for Emergencies

Every laboratory should have a written emergency response plan that addresses injuries, spills, fires, accidents, and other possible emergencies and includes procedures for communication and response. All laboratory personnel should know what to do in an emergency. Laboratory work should not be undertaken without knowledge of the following points:

   how to report a fire, injury, chemical spill, or other emergency and how to summon emergency response;

   the location of emergency equipment such as safety showers and eyewash units;

   the location of fire extinguishers and spill control equipment;

   the locations of all available exits for evacuation from the laboratory; and

   how police, fire, and other emergency personnel respond to laboratory emergencies, and the role of laboratory personnel in emergency response.

The above information should be available in descriptions of laboratory emergency procedures and in the institution’s Chemical Hygiene Plan. Laboratory supervisors should ensure that all trained laboratory personnel are familiar with this information.

Trained laboratory personnel should know their level of expertise with respect to using fire extinguishers and emergency equipment, dealing with chemical spills, and handling injuries. They should not take actions outside the limits of their expertise but instead should rely on trained emergency personnel. A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation, Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER), 29 CFR § 1910.120, specifies the training required for various response actions.

Names and contact information for individuals responsible for laboratory operations should be posted on the laboratory door.

6.C.10.2 Handling the Accidental Release of Hazardous Substances

Experiments should always be designed to minimize the possibility of an accidental release of hazardous substances. Laboratory personnel should use the minimum amount of hazardous material possible and perform the experiment so that, as much as possible, any spill is contained.

In the event of an incidental, laboratory-scale spill, follow these general guidelines, in order:

1.   Tend to any injured or contaminated personnel and, if necessary, request help (see section 6.C.10.4).

2.   If necessary, evacuate the area (see section 6.C.10.3).

3.   Notify other laboratory personnel of the accident.

4.   Take steps to confine and limit the spill if this can be done without risk of injury or contamination (see section 6.C.10.5).

5.   Clean up the spill using appropriate procedures, if this can be done without risk of injury and is allowed by institutional policy. (see section 6.C.10.6).

6.   Dispose of contaminated materials properly, according to the procedures described in Chapter 8, section 8.B.6.

(See Chapter 7, section 7.G for more information on emergency procedures.)

6.C.10.3 Notification of Personnel in the Area

Other nearby laboratory personnel should be alerted to the accident and the nature of the chemicals involved. If a highly toxic gas or volatile material is released, the laboratory should be evacuated and personnel posted at entrances to prevent others from inadvertently entering the contaminated area. In some cases (e.g., incidents involving the release of highly toxic substances and spills occurring in nonlaboratory areas), it may be appropriate to activate a fire alarm to alert personnel to evacuate the entire building. The proper emergency responders should be called. Follow your institution’s policies for such situations.

6.C.10.4 Treatment of Injured and Contaminated Personnel

If an individual is injured or contaminated with a hazardous substance, tending to him or her generally takes priority over implementing the spill control measures outlined in section 6.C.10.5 Obtain medical attention for the individual as soon as possible by calling emergency personnel. Provide a copy of the appropriate MSDS to the emergency responders or attending physician, as needed. If you cannot assess the conditions of the environment well enough to be sure of your own safety, do not enter the area. Call emergency personnel and describe the situation as best you can.

Every laboratory should develop specific procedures

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