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Lab & Chemical Safety Summary                 

Lab Safety Main Topics

I. INTRODUCTION undercon.gif (293 bytes)

Supervisors, principal investigators and managers have the primary responsibility for maintaining laboratory and other work areas under their supervision as safe, healthy places to work and that applicable health,  safety, and environmental regulations are followed.

A wide variety of hazardous materials are used on campus. In many cases these materials present multiple hazards. To maintain a safe and healthy workplace,

1) potential hazards must be identified and appropriately controlled. 

2) users must be thoroughly familiar with both the workplace hazards and appropriate work practices for controlling them.

In addition to basic training on hazards and regulation, safety information should be incorporated into work group meetings and documented.  Supervisors need to check periodically that proper work practices are being implemented.  In addition, users can conduct and document self-inspections.  Forms and technical assistance are available from Environmental Health & Safety.


Hazard Communication

    Hazard Communication, aka HazCom and Right-to-Know, refers to the OSHA regulations that require establishing written documentation and methods to provide users with information on chemical hazards and precautions. These methods include employee training and the use of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) and container labels.  EH&S provides training on the hazard communication standard regulations for NMSU on a monthly basis.

Written HazCom Program and Chemical Inventory

    Federal, state, and local regulations require users to provide a written HazCom Program and keep inventories of hazardous materials.  EH&S coordinates the NMSU HazCom Program and compiles the campus inventory from departments and subsidiary HazCom programs.  A master copy of the NMSU HazCom Program is available for review in our office and on the web page. EH&S provides a copy of the master inventory of all hazardous materials on campus to NMSU Fire section. This ensures the information is available to emergency responders in the event of a chemical spill.

It is the responsibility of supervisors, Principle investigators or lab managers to ensure that the purchase of hazardous materials (cleaners, solvents, laser dyes, compressed gases, etc.) is reflected in their area's chemical inventory, and that this information is provided to EH&S.  They are also responsible for ensuring that the chemical inventory is updated at least annually. Information on how to maintain a chemical inventory is available.  Assistance for creating and updating a chemical inventory can also be obtained from EH&S.

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs)

    When hazardous materials (including compressed gases) are purchased, the Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) are requested as part of the purchase agreement and must also be obtained for hazardous materials purchased   by other means (from a local vendor or over the counter)  MSDSs provide critical information on the hazards of the chemical and on handling, storage, and emergency response guidelines. By law, workplaces (including laboratories) must keep the most current copy of all MSDSs received. MSDSs on new materials should be discussed with users 'upon receipt' as well as in Safety meetings. The MSDSs must be kept where they are readily accessible to all users.


    Labels on chemical containers (including compressed gas cylinders) must not be removed or defaced until the container is empty. Containers should be stored so that labels and hazard precautions are visible. Secondary containers (such as dispensing bottles) must be labeled with their contents (common name in English) and all appropriate hazard warning. A durable NFPA or similar labels are preferred and are available from most safety supply vendors


    All persons using hazardous materials must be trained to ensure that they are aware of the hazards of chemicals present in their work area. The training must cover the regulations, the physical and health hazards of the substances and the measures workers can take to protect themselves from these hazards, including emergency procedures and personal protective equipment. The location and availability of reference material such as MSDSs on the substances must also be included.

Compressed Gases

    Many compressed gases can cause serious health effects at low concentrations. Because of the toxicity of these gases, EH&S specifies minimum requirements for storage, use, and handling of toxic gases on campus. This requires an on-site the safety evaluation of new toxic gas installation. Researchers can expedite the purchase of toxic gases by contacting EH&S for an evaluation of each planned toxic gas installation before ordering the gas.


Chemical Storage Practices

    Proper storage of hazardous materials is an essential element of a successful safety program. When storing hazardous materials, issues such as inventory and labeling, material compatibility,  secondary containment, and spill protection must be addressed. In addition, state building codes and fire codes dictate specific requirements for the storage of hazardous materials.

    Safe Storage of Lab Chemicals and Flammable Liquid Storage in Labs (Ref: NMSU Lab Safety Guide) give details on safe hazardous materials storage practices. Additional information can be obtained from MSDSs or by contacting EH&S and requesting an evaluation of current chemical storage practices.

Chemical Transportation

    When transporting chemicals across campus, hazardous and costly spills and injuries may occur if safe transportation procedures are not used. These procedures include the use of secondary containment, and other minimum acceptable practices.  EH&S should be consulted when moving an entire laboratory.

    When hazardous materials or wastes are to be transported off campus, strict US Department of Transportation regulations apply. These include restrictions on packaging and labeling, as well as restrictions on authorized drivers.


Chemical Hygiene Plan (for labs)

    NMSU labs that use hazardous materials are required to comply with the OSHA Lab Standard.   In summary, the department or lab group  must designate a Chemical Hygiene Officer and have a effective, written Chemical Hygiene Plan (CHP).  The plan must include provisions for employee training and medical consultation, criteria for the use of personal protective equipment and engineering controls, special precautions for particularly hazardous substances, and a Chemical Hygiene Officer responsible for implementation of the CHP.  A NMSU Model Plan is available on the safety web. The template must be tailored for the specific laboratory before it is used. Laboratory personnel must be trained on the Lab Standard, the Chemical Hygiene Plan and laboratory safety.  EH&S provides this training for NMSU on a monthly basis.

    Departments and Principle Investigators are responsible for ensuring that their laboratories keep an updated written Chemical Hygiene Plan and that they and laboratory personnel follow its provisions.  EH&S assists by reviewing the lab, the Chemical Hygiene Plan, in monitoring exposure (or potential) and by providing information and classes on the Lab Standard and lab practices.

Engineering Controls

    Another element necessary for the safe handling of hazardous materials is the use of engineering controls such as general ventilation, chemical fume hoods, and gas cabinets. Engineering controls are the most effective way to control exposures to volatile hazardous materials because they usually don't rely solely on human behavior.  EH&S can help evaluate the effectiveness of existing or proposed engineering controls, but it is the  responsibility of the Department and supervisors to ensure that engineering controls, such as fume hoods, are used properly.

Fume Hoods

    All campus chemical fume hoods must be checked at least annually  to ensure they are in proper working order. Fume hoods that are found to have insufficient flow (typically less than 80 linear feet per minute) must not be used to handle volatile hazardous chemicals until Physical Plant repairs them. Fume hoods provide maximum protection when used properly with the sash positioned between the user and the hazardous material.

Administrative Controls

    When engineering controls are not adequate or available to control exposures to hazardous materials, administrative controls may be used. The most common form of administrative control is limiting the user's exposure time. Principle investigators and Managers should contact EH&S for assistance in establishing appropriate administrative controls where engineering controls are unavailable.

Personal Protective Equipment

    Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as impermeable gloves, safety glasses, and protective clothing should always be worn when handling hazardous materials. Proper PPE is essential when engineering controls or administrative controls are not sufficient to control or address the hazard. PPE is only effective when correctly chosen, inspected, and maintained. EH&S personnel are available to assist campus personnel in the correct selection and maintenance of PPE.  

    Guidance on proper PPE is commonly provided on MSDSs.  Information on protective eyewear is available that provides guidance on general requirements, policy and PPE usage (click on the appropriate link)

Respiratory Protection

    Respirators can provide limited protection against low levels of certain airborne contaminants when used properly by a trained and medically qualified individual. EH&S provides respirator training,  fit-testing, and medical qualification as part of the Respiratory Safety Program.

    It is dangerous and against the law to use a respirator on the job without being evaluated and trained annually. Principle investigators and Managers are responsible for ensuring that respirators are correctly stored and used, and that staff who use respirators are enrolled in the Respiratory Protection Program.

Exposure Monitoring

    Principle investigators and Managers should be aware of the operations in the work areas they supervise and arrange for EH&S to monitor personal exposures wherever unhealthy conditions are suspected.  Monitoring to determine exposures to toxic air contaminants should be performed by EH&S whenever potentially unhealthy concentrations of contaminants are generated in the work area and not immediately removed by fume hoods or other controls. Exposure monitoring may also be needed if a respirator is being worn in order to ensure that the respirator is providing adequate protection to the user.

Minimizing Volatile Chemicals

    To minimize the environmental release of toxic air contaminants  responsible lab practices must be followed when using volatile toxic or carcinogenic chemicals. These practices include substituting less volatile chemicals or trapping vapors from laboratory processes wherever possible.

    Researchers should avoid storing open containers of volatile contaminants and should scale down experiments where possible. In particular, evaporating unwanted hazardous materials is prohibited.


    Unwanted hazardous materials must not be discharged into the environment, poured down the drain, or disposed of in the common trash. Strict environmental laws govern the disposal of all hazardous materials. After users properly package and label unwanted hazardous materials, EH&S picks up these materials for proper disposal. EH&S provides training on hazardous waste disposal. 

Waste Minimization

    To reduce disposal recharge costs and to minimize the impact of campus research on the environment, EH&S encourages waste minimization practices. Such practices can include reducing the scale of processes, adjusting instruments and machinery to generate less waste and treating or destroying hazardous components as the last step in laboratory experiments.  EH&S offers no-cost consultation and instruction on minimizing hazardous waste to campus departments.

Chemical Redistribution

    Many usable but unwanted chemicals can be exchanged between users. Users can search the Safety web for chemicals needed or donate unwanted but usable chemicals. Chemicals received are free; chemical donors avoid paying chemical waste disposal charges. Certain hazardous materials (including those containing polychlorinated biphenyls, asbestos, or potentially explosive chemicals) cannot be exchanged. For more information, call EH&S.

Drain Disposal

    Disposal of chemicals into the sanitary sewer is regulated by federal and state laws and regulations, by the local  Municipal Utility District ordinance and by the Waste Water Discharge Permit. These laws and regulations prohibit any drain disposal of hazardous wastes and limit the allowable waste water concentration of a number of specific substances. Discharge of any hazardous chemical wastes into the campus sanitary sewers or storm drains is also prohibited.

    Drain disposal of certain materials is allowed within the constraints outlined in the guidance for Drain Disposal of Chemicals. In general, only certain water-soluble materials of pH 5-10 may be disposed down the drain. Highly toxic, bad smelling, or irritating chemicals should not be disposed of down the drain.

Empty Containers

    Disposal of empty containers that previously held a hazardous material is strictly regulated by law. Whether a container is "empty" in the legal sense of the word depends on the physical state and degree of hazard of the material that was in the container. Furthermore, guidelines for an empty container's disposal vary depending on its size and construction (e.g., containers larger than 5 gallons must never be disposed of in the common trash)  Information outlining disposal restrictions for empty hazardous material containers is available.


    Small spills of hazardous materials that employees can safely clean up in their workplace should be handled by the department. Do not attempt to cleanup spills that cover a large area, are highly toxic, or are in otherwise hazardous or confined areas. Also highly concentrated acids or potentially explosive chemicals such as crystallized ethyl ether or dehydrated picric acid should only be handled with assistance from the Emergency Response Team.  Call 911 for the Fire Section Team.  They are equipped or will request support to deal with these problems. 

    In addition modest spill of highly toxic, corrosive, or reactive materials or those that leave residues should only be cleaned up with assistance from EH&S.   Examples of these materials include toxic heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic, and lead.  During off-hours, EH&S can be contacted through 911.

    The spill area should be evacuated and access restricted, until properly trained and protected personnel are available.  If you can do so without endangering yourself, you should shut down any apparatus or equipment.  If flammable materials are spilled, ignition sources must be immediately extinguished until the spill has been cleaned up.

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