Safety is a vital part of any laboratory task. College and University graduates, in any profession which includes lab-work, know basic laboratory rules; experts made sure they understood the proper techniques during their training.
One of the most basic tenets of lab work is that “Hot glass looks exactly the same as cold glass”…so much so that it has become a rather familiar joke. If you treat all laboratory glass as if it is hot, you’ll probably never get burned by glass.
Common Sense is your Super Power
Chimneys are a different matter. They were designed to carry away excess heat and the gases of combustion, along with any toxic by-products produced. Generally provided with an inner core for its primary function, an insulating air-gap, and a cooler outer protective surround, even that outer chimney cover can get remarkably hot during operation. Don’t touch it.
Good flame photometers come equipped with a spark and flame arrestor for safety, but that doesn’t mean you can look down the chimney during operation, or especially during lighting procedures. Use the flame window for inspection, and avoid setting hair, clothing, or jewellery alight. Not incidentally, you also avoid breathing in any concentrated by-products of the combustion process.
Yes, that’s right—there can be toxic vapours produced either from unknown components in the sample solutions, or as gases that evolve as part of the process of testing. Typically the amounts are small but, over time, they can accumulate in the lab atmosphere in sufficient quantities to cause harmful effects under poor ventilation conditions.
Exhaust hoods are never a bad idea, and are a requirement where multiple stations are in use. Indeed, this is particularly true when examining biological materials which can contain their own unique hazards.
Aside from the invisible hazards (try detecting an odourless gas by sense of smell—Good luck!), there are physical hazards, too. Always turn it off when it is unattended! Other workers might not realise it is functioning and harm themselves. A flame photometer, by its very nature, requires a fuel to burn to sustain the flame. It’s always a good idea to check all connections for your gas lines, particularly if a new fuel container has been installed.
Detecting gas leaks can be accomplished with a handheld portable gas-sniffer around each coupling, or more economically, with a solution of water with some dish detergent in a spray bottle so bubbles will be apparent from a leak. Another option is a commercially available colour changing aerosol spray, but ultimately this will be even more expensive than a digital sniffer over the years.
In most cases, gas explosions are prevented by excellent build and design. In the rare case where it occurs (such as a poor connexion to the fuel supply), such events should be minor and scary, rather than dangerous, but even a tiny detonation could still impel something onto your clothes, skin, or into your eyes.
Hair-ties or hairnets are extremely economical, so make use of them, not only to stay safe, but to avoid contaminating your work area. Most lab coats are flame retardant and help to keep loose street-clothing under control; simple latex or nitrile gloves can protect your hands; finally, goggles or safety glasses are vital for your eyes. Clothes can be replaced, skin can grow back, but eyes are a once-in-a-lifetime offer, so don’t risk them.
You’re working with water and electricity, as well as fire, so keep the work area dry and tidy to make sure these factors don’t become connected in a threatening manner.
A friend once asked me to smell her scented candle claiming that it was cinnamon or something like that. I couldn’t detect the scent she mentioned as it actually smelled overwhelmingly like flaming nose hair…
Your common sense will work in concert with the great engineering that goes into each of our units to keep you safe. Personal safety works particularly well as long as you don’t ignore what your common sense is telling you. Some observers point out that Common Sense may not be as “common” as we think it is. Let’s prove them wrong!
Meanwhile, watch this space for more entertaining articles, and please feel free to contact us if you have any questions about our equipment. We would be delighted to hear from you!