Safety Note #13: Emergency Procedures

Chemical Research Safety Note #13
Professor Rick L. Danheiser and the Chemistry Department Safety Committee
November 17, 1995

Emergency Procedures

(Group Safety Coordinators: Please post copies of this Safety Note in every lab in your group)

The incidence of serious accidents in the Chemistry Department has declined dramatically in recent years, due largely to heightened safety consciousness and improved chemical hygiene and safety training. Nonetheless, accidents do occasionally occur, and it is important that all researchers be aware exactly how to respond in the event of an emergency. Study this Safety Note: your familiarity with this information could prevent serious injury or even save a life!

Are You Prepared for Emergencies?

Everyone working in department laboratories should know:

  • Exactly how to summon emergency assistance in the event of a fire, spill, or injury
     
  • The precise location of the nearest safety shower and eyewash, and how to operate it
     
  • The location of the nearest fire extinguisher and spill control equipment, and how to use it
     

Summoning Assistance and General Instructions

  • To summon emergency police, fire, or ambulance assistance, call the Campus Police 24-hour emergency phone line 100. Report the location of the emergency, including both your building and room number. Be as specific as possible about the nature of the emergency and the type of assistance required. By clearly describing the nature of the situation, you can ensure an appropriate response. In the event of uncertainty, Campus Police are instructed to order a "full-force" response!
     
  • Notify other personnel in the area of the emergency. If necessary, activate the nearest fire alarm to order the evacuation of the building. Remember: when a fire alarm sounds, all personnel, without exception, are required to leave the building!
     
  • Be prepared to meet the emergency responders and advise them about the nature of the situation. In the event of fires, explosions, and releases of hazardous materials, a Fire or Incident Command Post marked with colored plastic posts and signs will be set up at the scene by the MIT emergency responders. The MIT official coordinating the emergency response ("Incident Commander") will be found at this post, and personnel from the laboratory involved in the accident should contact this official to provide information and technical assistance. The Incident Commander will also serve as liasion for communicating information to the Cambridge Fire Department and MIT Campus Police. Fire Department and Police personnel will generally not follow instructions from MIT students and faculty unless authorized by the Incident Commander.
     

Specific Procedures for Responding to Fires

MIT Policy states that personnel are not required to fight fires. The following guidelines should be followed to prevent and minimize injury and damage from fires.

  • Fires in small vessels can usually be suffocated by loosely covering the vessel. Never pick up a flask or container of burning material!
     
  • A small fire which has just started can sometimes be extinguished with a laboratory fire extinguisher. Extinguishing such fires should only be attempted if you are confident that you can do so successfully and quickly, and from a position in which you are always between the fire and an exit from the laboratory. Do not underestimate fires, and remember that toxic gases and smoke may present additional hazards.
     
  • Small fires involving reactive metals and organometallic compounds (such as magnesium, sodium, potassium, metal hydrides, etc.) should be extinguished with Met-L-X or Met-L-Kyl extinguishers, or by covering with dry sand.
     
  • In the event of a more serious fire, evacuate the laboratory and activate the nearest fire alarm. Be prepared to meet and advise the Fire Department and Emergency Response Team with regard to what hazardous substances are present in your laboratory.
     
  • Personal injuries involving fires: Minor clothing fires can sometimes be extinguished by immediately dropping to the floor and rolling. If a person's clothing catches fire, they should be doused with water from the safety shower. Fire blankets should only be used as a last-resort measure to extinguish fires since they tend to hold in heat and to increase the severity of burns. Quickly remove contaminated clothing, douse the person with water, and place clean, wet, cold cloth on burned areas. Wrap the injured person in a blanket to avoid shock and get medical attention promptly.

Specific Procedures for Handling the Accidental Release of Hazardous Substances

Plan ahead! Experiments should always be designed so as to minimize the possibility of an accidental release of hazardous substances. Be familiar with the properties (physical, chemical, and toxicological) of hazardous substances before working with them, and develop a contingency plan to deal with the accidental release of each hazardous substance. Make sure that the necessary safety equipment, protective apparel, and spill control materials are readily available.

In the event that a spill does occur, the following General Guidelines for Handling Spills should be followed in the indicated order of priority.

  1. Notify other personnel of the accident. In the event of the release of a highly toxic gas or volatile material, evacuate the laboratory and post personnel at all entrances to prevent other workers from inadvertently entering the contaminated area. In some cases (e.g. incidents involving the release of highly toxic substances and spills occurring in non-laboratory areas), it may be appropriate to activate a fire alarm to order an evacuation of the building. Call 100 to obtain emergency assistance from the Cambridge Fire Department and MIT Industrial Hygiene Office.
     
  2. Tend to any injured or contaminated personnel. If an individual is injured or contaminated with a hazardous substance, then treating them will generally take priority over the spill control measures outlined below. It is important to obtain medical attention as soon as possible; call the Campus Police 24 hour phone line 100 to call for emergency medical technicians who can transport injured personnel to the medical department or hospital.

    For spills covering small amounts of skin, immediately flush with flowing water for no less than fifteen minutes. If there is no visible burn, wash with warm water and soap, removing any jewelry to facilitate removal of any residual materials. Check the MSDS or LCSS to see if any delayed effects should be expected. It is advisable to seek medical attention for even minor chemical burns. For spills on clothes, don't attempt to wipe the clothes. Quickly remove all contaminated clothing, shoes and jewelry while using the safety shower. Seconds count, and no time should be wasted because of modesty! Be careful not to spread the chemical on the skin, or especially in the eyes. Use caution when removing pullover shirts or sweaters to prevent contamination of the eye; it may be better to cut the garments off. Immediately flood the affected body area with warm water for at least 15 minutes. Resume if pain returns. Do not use creams, lotions or salves. Get medical attention as soon as possible. Contaminated clothes should be discarded or laundered separately from other clothing.

    For splashes into the eye, immediately flush the eye with potable water from a gently flowing source for at least 15 minutes. Hold the eyelids away from the eyeball, move the eye up and down and sideways to wash thoroughly behind the eyelids. An eyewash should be used, but if one is not available, injured persons should be placed on their backs and water gently poured into their eyes for at least fifteen minutes. First aid must be followed by prompt treatment by a member of a medical staff or an ophthalmologist especially alerted and acquainted with chemical injuries.
     
  3. Take steps to confine and limit the spill if this can be done without risk of injury or contamination. Every research group that works with hazardous substances should have a Group Spill Kit tailored to deal with the potential hazards of the materials being used in their laboratory. Group Safety Officers are responsible for maintaining these spill control kits. Spill kits should be located near laboratory exits for ready access. Typical spill control kits might include: (a) spill control pillows, (b) inert absorbents such as vermiculite, clay, and sand, (c) neutralizing agents for alkali spills such as sodium bisulfate and citric acid, and (d) large plastic scoops and other equipment such as brooms, pails, bags, dust pans, etc.
     
  4. Clean up the spill. Specific procedures for cleaning up spills will vary depending on the location of the accident (elevator, corridor, chemical storeroom, laboratory hood), the amount and physical properties of the spilled material (volatile liquid, solid, or toxic gas), and the degree and type of toxicity. It is MIT Policy that the responsibility for having a spill cleaned up rests with the person causing the spill. If the individual responsible is unknown, or unable to clean up the spill due to injury, then responsibility for dealing with the spill rests with the Department. Custodians are not permitted to clean up spills of hazardous materials. The Environmental Medical Service, Safety Office, and Campus Police will provide technical advice, but are not responsible for the spill clean up.

    Outlined below are some general guidelines for handling several common spill situations.
    • Materials of low flammability which are not volatile or which have low toxicity. This category of hazardous substances includes inorganic acids (sulfuric, nitric) and caustic bases (sodium and potassium hydroxide). For clean-up, wear appropriate protective apparel including gloves, goggles, and (if necessary) shoe-coverings. Neutralize the spilled chemicals with materials such as sodium bisulfate (for alkalis) and sodium carbonate or bicarbonate (for acids). Absorb the material with inert clay or vermiculite, scoop it up, and dispose of it according to the appropriate procedures detailed in the Chemical Hygiene Plan.
       
    • Flammable solvents. Fast action is crucial in the event that a flammable solvent of relatively low toxicity is spilled. This category includes pet ether, hexane, pentane, diethyl ether, dimethoxyethane, and tetrahydrofuran. Immediately alert other workers in the laboratory, extinguish all flames, and turn off any spark-producing equipment. In some cases the power to the lab should be shut off with the circuit-breaker. As quickly as possible, the spilled solvent should be soaked up using spill control pillows. These should be sealed in containers and disposed of properly.
       
    • Highly toxic substances. Do not attempt to clean up a spill of a highly toxic substance by yourself. Notify other personnel of the spill and contact the Industrial Hygiene Office (253-2596) to obtain assistance in evaluating the hazards involved. The Cambridge Fire Department and the IHO have special protective equipment to permit safe entry into areas contaminated with highly toxic substances.
       
    • Handling Leaking Gas Cylinders. Occasionally, a cylinder or one of its component parts develops a leak. Most such leaks occur at the top of the cylinder in areas such as the valve threads, safety device, valve stem, and valve outlet. If a leak is suspected, do not use a flame for detection; rather, a flammable-gas leak detector or soapy water or other suitable solution should be used. If the leak cannot be remedied by tightening a valve gland or a packing nut, emergency action procedures should be effected and the supplier should be notified. Laboratory workers should never attempt to repair a leak at the valve threads or safety device; rather, they should consult with the supplier for instructions.

      The following general procedures can be used for relatively minor leaks where the indicated action can be taken without the exposure of personnel to highly toxic substances. Note that if it is necessary to move a leaking cylinder through populated portions of the building, place a plastic bag, rubber shroud, or similar device over the top and tape it (duct tape preferred) to the cylinder to confine the leaking gas.

      (i) Flammable, inert, or oxidizing gases: Move the cylinder to an isolated area (away from combustible material if the gas is flammable or an oxidizing agent) and post signs that describe the hazards and state warnings. If feasible, leaking cylinders should always be moved into laboratory hoods.

      (ii) Corrosive gases may increase the size of the leak as they are released and some corrosives are also oxidants or flammable. Move the cylinder to an isolated, well-ventilated area and use suitable means to direct the gas into an appropriate chemical neutralizer. Post signs that describe the hazards and state warnings.

      (iii) Toxic gases - Follow the same procedure as for corrosive gases. Move the cylinder to an isolated, well-ventilated area and use suitable means to direct the gas into an appropriate chemical neutralizer. Post signs that describe the hazards and state the warnings.

      When the nature of the leaking gas or the size of the leak constitutes a more serious hazard, self-contained breathing apparatus and protective apparel may be required. Evacuate personnel from the affected area (activate the fire alarm to order the evacuation of the building) and call Campus Police (dial 100) to obtain emergency assistance.

Medical Emergencies

In the event of a medical emergency, it is important to remain calm and to do only what is necessary to protect life.

  • Summon assistance by calling the Campus Police 24 hour emergency line 100. Police trained as emergency medical technicians will respond and can transport injured personnel to the medical department or hospital.
     
  • Do not move an injured person unless he or she is in danger of further harm.
     
  • If a coworker has ingested a toxic substance, have the victim drink large amounts of water (never give anything by mouth to an unconscious person) and obtain medical assistance at once. Attempt to learn exactly what substances were ingested and inform the medical staff as soon as possible.
     
  • If a coworker is bleeding severely, elevate the wound above the level of the heart and apply firm pressure directly over the wound with a clean cloth, handkerchief, or your hand. Obtain immediate medical assistance.
     
  • Do not touch a person in contact with a live electrical circuit - disconnect the power first!
     
  • Procedures for handling medical emergencies involving fires and exposure to hazardous substances are discussed in previous sections above.

Further Information

Additional information on emergency procedures can be found in the Chemical Hygiene Plan and Safety Manual (especially Part VB and Part IX) and Prudent Practices in the Laboratory (particularly Chapter 5, Section 5.C.11 and Chapter 6, Sections 6.F and 6.G).