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Lab Safety—Use Common Sense!

2010 January 8

image of author sitting in a lab surrounded by equipmewnt and wearing safety goggles.Beakers and pipettes and chemicals, oh my! Science labs are full of gadgets and substances waiting for student scientists to explore, whether they’re trying to make soap, dissect a shark, or extract the DNA of a plant.

While labs can be exciting and the results of experiments can be interesting—even dramatic!—here at the EPA, I make lab safety a priority. December is a great time to continue to practice lab safety so that we can all end the year on a good note!

Some of the most useful tools I have in dealing with lab safety are ones that I carry with me at all times—I’m talking about my senses. Besides putting on my safety glasses and protective gear, what I see, hear, and smell offers important signals to what’s happening in my lab. I put all this information together because it’s common sense! I want you to have fun and avoid accidents.

What do I see in this lab? Do I see a number of unlabeled containers? If I do, I surely can’t be in an EPA laboratory! Ask your teacher or lab assistant if you’re unsure — don’t guess!

Do I hear something strange? Do you hear the sound of a vacuum pump and see a bunch of glass tubing connected together? This could be an evacuated glass line and it may be very dangerous to be around. If you hear something unusual, notify your teacher or lab assistant.

Is there a smell of chemicals? Do they smell like chemicals that may be flammable? I may want to think before lighting a burner.  How about the smell of something hot?  Are there burners or hotplates in use and where are they? Is someone watching them? If not, alert the teacher or the lab assistant!.

Tuning your senses in to what’s happening in your lab is a great way to make sure you and your fellow scientists stay safe—so put your eyes, nose and ears to work.

About the author: William Rugh is the Lab Manager of EPA’s Integrated Stable Isotope Research Facility in the Western Ecology Division located in Corvallis, Oregon

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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4 Responses leave one →
  1. Al Bannet permalink
    January 8, 2010

    In a sense our human sciences are treating the Earth like a laboratory, carrying out all sorts of experiments and assuming the Earth will adjust to anything we do, including nuclear, chemical and biological weapons testing, rampant economic growth, population explosion, air pollution, massive dumping into the global ocean, etc. But if our irresponsible behavior results in a global disaster, we won’t be able to pick up the pieces and start over because our life-supports will be gone.

  2. armansyahardanis permalink
    January 8, 2010

    Ha…ha….ha…(lol). I’d remembered in our high school in 1974 ago. After practiced in our lab, our team brought H2SO4 walked around the school and made the students angered to us. Just nostalgia…..!!!!

  3. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    January 10, 2010

    California labs especially in the middle schools and high schools have been crippled by serious budget cuts. So in cases where the labs are still open, the chemicals are old and can be unstable and dangerous. Lab Assistants are in the class of support personnel having some of the highest number of layoffs together with school librarians and audio-visual technitions.. Many school labs like school libraries are now closed and with the current budget more will be closing. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  4. Bob Patel permalink
    September 21, 2010

    love your article, l need to purchase some safety glasses, don’t like what l see in retail stores, came across this website they are located in my town, which is great for no shipping, what would you recommend for working in an automotive shop and also for yard work

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