The laboratory…a beguiling setting that most people only see in movies, one that is perceived as an unknown and even bizarre space. And yet, it’s a second home to you. It’s the place you work, hypothesize, test and create. You know every corner of the lab and every detail about the procedures, experiments, tools and technology you use. When you are in that lab and in your favorite lab coat, you are truly in the zone.
Perceiving your workspace as a second home is often connected with higher confidence and productivity among labcoat-wearing professionals. However, too much confidence can come at a cost. Being too familiar with anything means that, at some point, we’ll inevitably overlook an important detail. When that detail is related to safety, our confidence can lead to dangerous situations like chemical spills and fires.
The laboratory is a place where hazardous chemical spills and even fires can occur in the blink of an eye. This article serves as a quick guide to lab emergencies and aims to prepare you for such situations. We will talk about precautionary measures and personal protective equipment; specifically, what lab coats are best designed to keep you at ease in the case of emergencies.
1: Precaution in a lab setting
“Preparation is better than cure.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
This is something you’ve heard and made an integral practice—in fact it’s a code of many lab professionals—but it’s worth reiterating: it’s your responsibility to minimize the possibility of accidents. To reduce risk, follow these basic principles:
Before starting any procedure or experiment in the lab, outline the potential hazards along with the chemicals or other materials associated with it, and articulate the greatest risk for each: is there a risk of spill? Is there a risk the chemical will be rendered unstable? Is there a risk of inhalation?
Limit exposure to hazardous substances:
To control exposure to hazardous substances, first make sure that all the structural features of your lab are kept maintained and in good working condition (for example, ventilation). Second, ensure you have the proper personal protective equipment available—at least a pair of everything. If your goggles are contaminated, you’ll need another pair on-hand. Your white lab coat, similarly, might need to be removed in a heartbeat in case of an accident, and so another needs to be at-the-ready.
To truly limit your exposure to harm, ensure your lab coat has an easy-to-remove button design. Designer lab coats and fitted lab coats are those that have the best fit and function to avoid accidental contamination with too-large sleeves and unisex sizing, and which also have the most practical designs to remove quickly.
Be prepared for accidents:
Before starting any work in the lab, determine the action to take in the event of an accident. Knowing the location of emergency exits and safety equipment as well as the toxicity and other specificities of the mixtures you are working on has to be second nature if things go wrong.
2: Fire emergency
Fires in a lab setting can occur from leakage, spillage, overheating or thanks to flammable chemicals and gases. (And that’s just a few of the sources of lab fires.) When you work with any possibility of fire, keeping a safe distance from chemicals and open flames sometimes comes down to knowing which is the best lab coat to wear.
For example, a unisex size might be too long in the sleeves or too baggy in the waist for women in lab coats. Designer lab coats and fitted lab coats designed for women entering science were a long time coming, and for generations of women scientists this need was left unmet. It’s about safety, however, and the market has finally started to shift.
If a fire does occur, your next steps are:
- Ensure your safety and then immediately call emergency responders for help.
- Stay as calm as possible. Notify your coworkers and the people near you and safely start evacuating the building.
- Close the doors behind you to confine the fire and activate the nearest fire alarm.
- On your way out, use the stairs, never elevators.
If the fire is small, you can try putting it off before it spreads. If you do so, make sure that an exit is accessible if you fail to extinguish the fire.
Finally, in the case you are lit on fire, having a lab coat that is easily removable can be lifesaving in this situation. In the event that your clothing catches fire, do not run—drop onto the ground, cover your face with your hands, and start rolling to extinguish it.
3: Chemical spill emergency
Chemical spills are undoubtedly the most common accidents in a lab setting. A spill usually happens due to careless handling of chemicals, and both a small-quantity spill of hazardous chemicals or a large-volume spill of non-hazardous chemicals can be dangerous or life-threatening. If a spill does occur, these are your next steps:
- Identify the area of the spill and inform your co-workers about the danger.
- If necessary, evacuate the area.
- Identify the spilled chemicals as well as the amount of chemical that has been spilled. Knowing the properties and quantities of the spill, take proper actions to confine and eliminate it.
The key to avoiding harm by chemical spills is to prevent the chemical from coming into contact with your body. For that reason, you should always wear personal protective equipment, even if the substances you are working with are relatively safe. Moreover, your lab coat should be made of LABTEX materials that put a barrier between you and chemical substances. A white lab coat made from a polycotton blend will prevent the lab jacket from melting and, at the same time, it will be comfortable to wear in your work setting.
If chemicals do come into contact with your body, these are your next steps:
- Remove any clothing that came into touch with chemicals.
- Make sure chemicals have not come into contact with your shoes.
- Immediately wash the chemicals off your body using a safety shower.
- If the spill gets to your eyes, wash your eyes immediately and for at least 15 minutes. If you wear contact lenses, remove them only when you have completely washed off the chemicals.
- Call safety responders and coworkers for assistance.
Working in a laboratory is your second nature. It is the place you work, create, and innovate. You are a professional full of confidence because you have a grasp of all these basic safety precautions and have a passion for science and excellence. However, your work contains dangers, and no matter how confident you grow, you should always be cautious.