Chemical Hazards in Your Chemistry Lab

Before beginning a chemistry lab, many colleges and high schools require that you take an entire course on proper precautions to take in the lab as well as the hazards of certain chemical combinations. Working with chemicals can be a dangerous process that even the experts are incredibly cautious about.

It is absolutely essential to first know what chemicals you’re working with or surrounded by at all times. In chemistry labs, all chemicals should be properly labeled along with a short description of what the chemical can and cannot come in contact with. The chemical hazard you will most frequently come into contact with are flammable chemicals. These can be in the form of any of the following: diethyl ether, acetone, hexanes, ethanol and methanol. If you come in contact with any of these chemicals during a chemistry lab, it’s important that you keep them as far away from flames as possible.

Depending on the flammability rating of the chemical (a number 0-4), you may not even be able to have these chemicals in the room if a fire is burning. For example, diethyl ether has a flammability rating of 4, while acetone, methanol, ethanol and hexanes have a rating of 3. You should never use ether in a lab that has a fire burning, as it can extremely flammable and cause a volatile reaction. The other chemicals mention are more likely to have a combustion type of reaction– something that should also be avoided.

There are also types of chemicals called “corrosives” that present another hazard in a chemistry lab. These types of chemicals include: hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, phosphoric acid, nitric acid and sodium hydroxide.

Since strong acids and bases are often used in chemistry labs, it’s important to know that these types of chemicals possess a heath rating of 3. This means that even a short exposure to them can cause serious damage and fatal injuries. If any of these chemicals are spilled on the skin, they can cause a chemical burn. These chemicals are also very harmful to your eyes, nasal canal and respiratory passage. Because our bodies are so sensitive to these kinds of chemicals, it’s important to always wear protective gear while in the chemistry lab. This includes goggles, gloves, protective clothing and protective shoes. Be especially careful not to spill or inhale any of these chemicals because of the harm they can cause.

For handling chemicals, it’s important to use protective, glass cases such as graduated cylinders, flasks and other glassware to keep the chemicals safe and free from spillage. Glassware is normally used because it’s transparent, strong and easy to handle. However, glassware also has a high potential for cracking or breaking. It’s important that before you place chemicals into a graduated cylinder or other glassware device, that you examine it carefully for cracks or other ruptures. This is highly important because broken glass can cause chemical leakages that can expose your body to harmful substances.

In the event that a chemical does come in contact with you, it’s important to know ahead of time the proper steps to take. The chemistry laboratory is liable to have sinks and other types of equipment for washing chemicals off of the body in the event of a spillage accident. If you are exposed to a harmful chemical, it’s important to wash whatever part of your body was exposed with cool water and soap and immediately leave the room. Consulting a doctor after the fact may also be a wise decision.

Finally, knowing about the hazards of chemicals in a chemistry lab is important because it can save you from a lot of physical and emotional trauma in the event of a disaster. With all that you’ve learned, you may even be able to help out one of your peers as well.