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Laboratory Safety: Guidelines For Emergency Response Procedures For Chemical Spills

Excerpts from the Laboratory Safety Manual of the UAH Office of Environmental Health and Safety



The Laboratory Safety Manual was compiled to ensure that the University goals in environmental health and safety are accomplished as they apply to laboratory activities. Basic concepts in laboratory safety practices are covered. This Manual does not include in-depth information on biological safety, radiological safety, laser safety, or general industry safety. Information on these safety topics is available from the Office of Environmental Health and Safety. In compiling this information, guidelines and recommended practices were drawn on from regulatory agencies such as:

  • The National Fire Protection Agency
  • The Environmental Protection Agency
  • The National Institutes of Health
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Knowledge and practice of the guidelines set forth in this manual will significantly reduce the risk of injury and facility loss and benefit the faculty, staff, and students of The University of Alabama in Huntsville.

The Laboratory Safety Manual outlines the basic safety requirements and responsibilities of faculty and staff utilizing and responsible for laboratories and laboratory facilities. The manual begins with guidelines for emergency response procedures for chemical spills, followed by injury treatment procedures. The injury treatment procedures include the requirement to complete a standardized form during injury consultations. The form is designed to provide necessary information to the person who has been injured in a UAH laboratory and for documentation purposes. Fire and emergency evacuation procedures are also provided. Measures for best chemical hygiene practices are outlined. These measures include both requirements and information concerning chemical identification and cataloguing, inventorying, labeling, storage (according to chemical compatibilities), general housekeeping and chemical waste disposal.

The general housekeeping section includes laboratory close-out procedures. Significant strides have been made at UAH in minimizing the safety and environmental hazards associated with unknown laboratory products. By adhering to the laboratory close-out procedures, unknown chemical products will be virtually eliminated and incoming faculty and staff will be greeted with a research-ready laboratory. The UAH Hazardous Waste Management Plan (HWMP), which was previously a stand-alone document, has been incorporated into the Laboratory Safety Manual as an appendix. The goal of the HWMP is to protect the health and safety of employees, students, and the environment while complying with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The HWMP provides guidelines for the management of hazardous waste from its point of generation to its final disposition/destruction. Violations of RCRA regulations can result in fines as much as $32,500 per day per violation. Criminal charges may be brought against individuals who knowingly violate state, federal, or local regulations.

Therefore, failure to comply with the guidelines for handling hazardous waste can have serious ramifications to individuals as well as to the University. Additionally, the Laboratory Safety Manual incorporates OEHS hazard notifications through project registration and optional self-audit procedures. Notification to the OEHS is required for emergency planning, regulatory reporting, and to limit employee and University liabilities. The Laboratory Safety Manual provides information on the fixed safety and industrial hygiene equipment as well as how to get repairs for these items.

I. Introduction

The UAH Laboratory Safety Manual is for use as a general guide in safety for chemical laboratories on the UAH campus. In depth information can be obtained from the OEHS or a number of publications. Prudent Practices for Handling Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories is a publication highly recommended for all laboratories utilizing hazardous chemicals.

II. Emergencies

Call the Office of Public Safety (OPS) for immediate assistance when chemical exposure and or injury has occurred. The OPS will immediately contact the appropriate parties. The Office of Public Safety can be reached by dialing 6911 on any campus phone. Emergency laboratory situations in which Public Safety should be notified include but are not limited to; hazardous chemical, radioisotope, and biological agent spills. Injuries and exposures should be attended to immediately and the OPS contacted as soon as possible to request an ambulance or other assistance. In all cases the OPS will immediately call the appropriate individuals for response. A laboratory sign indicating emergency phone numbers must be posted in all laboratories and is available in Appendix A.

All injury and chemical exposure cases must be reported to the OPS within 48 hours of the occurrence. This is accomplished by either a supervisory person or the injured/exposed person completing and submitting an accident/injury report at the UAH Police Station in the Physical Plant Building.

A. Hazardous Chemical/Substance Spills must be cleaned as soon as possible. If the spill exceeds five liters or is an acutely hazardous substance, as defined in Appendix B of this manual, the OPS must be contacted immediately at 6911.

General procedural guidelines to follow during a chemical spill are listed in section II C. Individual departments may develop more detailed internal procedures. Internal procedures must be at least as stringent as the UAH Laboratory Safety Manual guidelines and are subject to review by the OEHS.

1. Spill Kit Materials

Laboratories should be prepared for chemical spills by having a spill kit or materials available and supervisory personnel trained to respond. The spill kit must be in an obvious location and all persons responsible for the activities conducted in the laboratory must be knowledgeable in the use of the spill kit. Spill kits can be specialized for individual laboratories or can contain general supplies necessary to handle a variety of spills. Spill kits are commercially available or you may request a listing from the OEHS on what items must be included in a spill kit. Departments, centers or units are responsible for purchasing and refurbishing spill kit items. Recommended items for a universal chemical spill kit are:

1- Small broom
1- Plastic dustpan

Safety goggles
Chemical resistant apron or lab coat
Nitrile gloves

pH paper
Chemical waste disposal bags
Chemical waste labels
6 gallon pail

2. General Chemical Spill Guidelines

Determine the extent and type of spill. Contact the Office of Public Safety at 6911 if any of the following apply:

  • A large spill category
  • A release of hazardous chemicals to the environment
  • An acutely hazardous chemical (as listed in the HWMP) spill
  • No one trained in the proper procedures for cleaning chemical spills

Dawg spill control and emergency response products keep you prepared and ready to handle any spill.

The categories below provide an easy to find guide to the products you'll need to keep your facility clean, safe and in compliance.


Spill Kit Selection Chart

Mobile Spill Kits

Spill Response Cart
Mobility with big spill protection on wheels

Caddie Spill Kit
Smaller mobile cart with swing open doors

Spill Station Sorbent Center
Customizable spill center on wheels, up to 3 tiers high


Duffel Bag Spill Kit
Water resistant duffel bag with all of the essentials

Spill Sack Kit
Lightweight nylon bag kit fits almost anywhere

Versatile Flat Pack Spill Kit
Best Portable Kit - Fits behind truck seats

Economy Spill Kit
Our most economical & lightweight, great for trucks

Camouflage Duffel Bag Spill Kit
Camouflage pattern spill kit bag

HazMat Bucket Kit
Inexpensive and easy to carry to any small spill

OverPack Kits - Larger Spills

95 Gallon Overpack Spill Kit
Everything Yyou need to handle larger spills

65 Gallon Overpack Spill Kit
Economical and handles almost any spill

50 Gallon Wheeled Overpack Kit
For quick response to medium size spills

95-Gallon Mobile Overpack Kit
Mobility of a Large Overpack Spill Kit on wheels

30-Gallon Spill Kit
Middle Size Spill Protection, Not Too Big or Small

20-Gallon Spill Kit
Respond To Small Spills Fast, Convenient Container


Mercon Mercury Spill Kit
Cleanup, store & dispose of dangerous mercury spills

Ampho-Mag Neutralizer Adsorbent
Color-changing neutralizer for almost any type of spill - identifies whether a spill is an acid or a base.

Ansul Spill-X Neutralizing Adsorbents
Neutralizing Adsorbents For Acids, Caustics, Solvents

Aqueous Polymers
Absorbs 300 times it's own weight in water based liquids

Fuel Solidifer
Encapsulate and solidify hydrocarbon spills with our Fuel Solidifier


Complete Selection of PPE Products

Safety Gloves
Offer superior puncture & chemical resistance

Nitrile Gloves
Excellent resistance to solvents, chemicals & petroleum products

Safety Glasses, Goggles
Provides eye protection, style and comfort

Disposable Respirators
NIOSH Disposable Respirator N95, R95, N100, P100

Hearing Protection
Corded & uncorded reusable hearing protection

Safety Suits
Industrial protective clothing Tychem SL Protective Clothing


Absorbents Selection Chart

(MRO) Universal Pads
HazMat Pads

(MRO) Universal Socks
HazMat Socks


Training For Chemical Spill Cleanup
Safety training aids For regulatory compliance

Spill Category Table
CategoryQuantityResponseTreatment Materials
SmallSpilled material< 300 millilitersChemical TreatmentNeutralization or absorption spill kit
Medium300 ml AbsorptionAbsorption Spill Kit
LargeSpilled material >5 LitersCall OPS at 6911
    1. Immediately alert area occupants and supervisor, and evacuate the area, if necessary.

    2. Contact the Office of Public Safety (OPS) at 6911 in the event of a fire or when medical attention is required.

    3. Attend to any people who may be contaminated. The First Aid Manual for Chemical Accidents is available in each laboratory building. Refer to the posted signs for location information. Contaminated clothing must be removed immediately and the skin flushed with water for at least fifteen minutes. Clothing must be laundered separately from other clothing before reuse.

    4. Immediately warn everyone when a volatile flammable material is spilled. Control sources of ignition. Ventilate the area by turning on the fume hoods with the sashes completely open and open all windows.

    5. Use the appropriate personal protective equipment for the hazard involved. Refer to the Material Safety Data Sheet or other available references for information.

    6. The use of respiratory protection requires specialized training and medical surveillance. DO NOT enter a contaminated atmosphere without protection or use a respirator without training. Call the OPS or OEHS when respiratory protection is required and there are no trained personnel available. When respiratory protection is used for emergency purposes there must be another trained person outside the spill area. This person must have communication abilities with the person in the spill area. Contact Public Safety when no one is available for back-up.

    7. Cover or block floor drains or any other route that could lead to an environmental release.

    8. Use the appropriate media when cleaning spills. Begin by circling the outer edge of the spill with absorbent. Next, distribute spill control materials over the surface of the spill. This will effectively stop the liquid from spreading and minimize volatilization.

    9. Place absorbed materials in an appropriate container using a brush and scoop. Small spills can be placed in polyethylene bags. Larger quantity spills may require five-gallon pails or 20-gallon drums with polyethylene liners.

    10. Absorbent materials used on the chemical spill will most likely require disposal as hazardous waste. Place a completed hazardous waste label on the container. Contact the OEHS at 2352 for information concerning preparing waste for disposal and for a waste pick-up.

    11. Clean the surface where the spill occurred using a mild detergent and water.

    12. Immediately report all spills to your supervisor.

3. Solvent Spills

1. Apply activated charcoal to the perimeter of the spill.
2. Mix until the spill has been completely absorbed.
3. Transfer the absorbed solvent to a hazardous waste bag, tie and attach an appropriate label.
4. Contact the OEHS for pick-up.
5. Clean the area with soapy water.

4. Corrosive Spills (Acids and Bases)

Hydrofluoric acid requires special treatment. Products are commercially available for absorbing hydrofluoric acid. Purchase of hydrofluoric acid spill and personnel exposure material (see first aid kits) is mandatory for laboratories using hydrofluoric acid. Bases can be equally as harmful as acids. Never add a strong acid to a strong base. Use the appropriate neutralizer supplied in the spill kit and follow these steps:

1. Apply neutralizer to the perimeter of the spill.
2. Mix thoroughly until evolution of gas has stopped.
3. Check the mixtures pH with pH paper.
4. Transfer the waste to a bag, fill out the appropriate waste label and call the OEHS for a pick-up.
5. Clean the spill area with soapy water.

5. Mercury Spills

Mercury is classified as a persistent bioaccumulative toxin (PBT). Additionally some forms of organic mercury readily absorb through gloves and skin. Laboratories utilizing mercury must be prepared with an appropriate cleanup kit. Kits are available through laboratory and safety supply companies.

When more than ten milliliters of mercury has been spilled:

1. Alert others in the area.
2. Mark off the area.
3. Contact the OEHS immediately.

Procedure for use with commercially available mercury clean-up sponge:

1. Dampen the sponge with water and wipe the contaminated area.
2. Perform the procedure slowly to insure complete absorption of mercury onto the sponge.
3. Place the sponge in its plastic bag, tie shut and fill out an appropriate waste label. Call the OEHS for disposal.

Related Information
Spill Response:
Mercury Spill Disposal and Site Cleanup
What To Do If You Have A Mercury Spill
Spill Kits And Emergency Spill Kits From Dawg

PPE - Personal Protection Equipment:
Eye Protection In the Work Place
Hand and Arm Protection - Choosing The Right Type Of Glove
Approved Disposable Particulate Respirators

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