The Do’s and Don’t’s of the Lab: Laboratory Safety

Welcome back, everyone. I hope this post finds you in good health and spirits.

With any chemistry course the first lecture should always be on course overview and laboratory safety (only if experiments are to be done). This blog post seeks to educate you and what should and should not be done in lab. So pay close attention.

DON’Ts

#1
Do not enter the laboratory without your lecturer’s permission/presence.

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This is paramount. At most schools, secondary and tertiary, laboratory techs prepare the lab for the upcoming experiment. They do not need you playing with them.
Also, if an accident occurs with injuries involved, the instructor, and by extension the institution, can be legally dealt with.

#2
DO NOT COVER OR PLUG YOUR EARS WITH HEADPHONES OR EAR BUDS.

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We live in the tech era and everyone has a smart phone and/or a laptop and/or a tablet. Each of these devices is compatible with headphones.
Now, pray tell, why you would want to be in a CHEMISTRY lab with music blasting in your ears? It is not a a computer lab. Machines malfunction, people make mistakes…FIRES ARE REAL. You need to hear when someone screams for help or when you’re being ordered out of the area urgently.

#3
No running around or playing in the lab.

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No. Horsing. Around.
No, seriously. Your colleagues will be transporting volatile mixtures, dangerous chemicals and precious glassware in lab. Bumping into them or making them fall is not the business. As a chemist, I can tell you I see things in lab that excite me. That does not mean I’m going to Usain Bolt to my friend at the fume hood just to tell them.

#4
Do not leave your materials unattended.

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Unless the compounds have to mix for hours, do not take your eyes off of the apparatus. Overflows, explosions and many other things occur when no one is looking.

#5
Do not consume anything nor smell anything directly.

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We’ve all been hungry during a class or experiment but never that hungry that we eat at our bench. Just don’t do it. Don’t taste anything you’ve synthesised either.

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[Side bar story: Now, I can tell you loud and clear that smelling a chemical directly is not a good move. I’ve been there. No, not when I first started chemistry, I was in fifth form. How I managed to have such an intellectual slip? I don’t know and I felt the consequences. We were at the Organic section of the syllabus and acids were being discussed. There were examples of the acids, methanoic  acid (my nemesis) and ethanoic acid (vinegar). I took a whiff of the methanoic acid and realised the blockage in my nose had cleared (had a clocked nostril for ALMOST the entire day). My curiosity piqued and I decided to take another whiff. Who de bird tell me do that?! Man that thing burn me so bad I run out the lab coughing. Dr. Russell told me to get some fresh air and wash my face. Never again did I EVER smell a chemical directly. ]
Don’t let that be you. Fan the fumes in your direction, never go down to the apparatus.

DOs

#1
Remove/secure all that dangles from your person.

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Hair care products are flammable, and cotton and bracelets hook into apparatus. You DO NOT need that mess. So bun your hair and remove all hand accessories that dangle. However, if something on your person catches afire, alert your instructor or lab tech and obey Don’t #3.

#2
Enter the lab with full lab gear at all times.

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Some of the chemicals you come into contact with are nasty ones, which you don’t want on your skin. Covering up your extremities should be priority number one and it should stay there. There are different types of lab coats, including flame resistant ones, that can suit any chemistry laboratory. Personally, get you a lab coat that is knee length.

#3
Keep a clean space, ALWAYS.

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Clean up after the lab can be tedious especially after a huge lab with no breaks but, it must be done. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a clean and ordered bench. Dispose of all materials appropriately, wash all glassware and return to storage area, return stools to rightful positions, and unplug all electrical apparatuses.
Also, any spills in lab must be cleaned immediately. Serious chemical spills must be reported to the instructor or lab techs.  They would know what to do.

#4
Follow all written and verbal instructions.

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Listen to your instructor and lab techs at all times and follow the lab manual, unless otherwise instructed. This is as straightforward as it gets. Many times we think if we add (or subtract from) something to the process that we think might help, problems arise. These aren’t food recipes…they are experimental procedures and unauthorised deviations can end badly.

#5
Know where all of the emergency stations are.

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From the emergency wash stations to the fire assembly points and evacuation routes, know them. Every chemistry class isn’t a big one and if you have to evacuate alone (instructor remained behind to check that everyone left) you must know where to go.

And last but by no means least…
#6
ENJOY THE EXPERIMENT!!

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Science is gorgeous. Chemistry is a beauty best observed in a laboratory. The colours, the textures, the smells (some not pleasant), the unpredictability, the laughs, the tears, the encouragement…nothing compares. You might find you enjoy some areas in chemistry more than others, and that is okay. But enjoy…ENJOY!

– the Awkward Chemist

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