Laboratory Incidents and Emergencies
Emergencies, by their nature, are unpredictable and unexpected events that pose a potential threat to health and safety of personnel, property, and the environment. Laboratory personnel should be prepared to respond to emergencies such as spills of a hazardous substance, personal exposures, injuries, fire, or equipment failures.
REMINDER: If you are responding to an incident or emergency:
- Above all else, laboratory personal should take measures to ensure their safety and that of other personnel
- If a situation poses imminent danger to health and safety and cannot be isolated, contained, or controlled, evacuate the room or building (if necessary) and call 911
- University Police can be contacted for non-emergency situations by dialing 703-993-2810.
RESOURCES AND INFORMATION (Learn More)
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A spill kit is an essential safety item for all laboratories. EHS provides a basic spill kit to each laboratory that contains the following items:
- Absorbent material (pads, sheets, or spill socks)
- Nitrile gloves
- Polyethylene bags
- Boundary marking tape
- Red biohazard autoclave bags
- Autoclave tape
- Sharps container
- Warning sign
The spill supplies are stored in a labeled 5 gallon pail with a screw top lid, which can be used to collect waste from the spill as it is being cleaned.
The spill kit does not contain safety goggles, lab coats, or special gloves that may be needed for certain materials. These items should be available in the laboratory where these materials are used.
DO NOT RESPOND TO A SPILL UNLESS YOU HAVE CORRECT SUPPLIES AND PPE.
If you use the spill kit or need additional spill supplies, notify EHS at 703-993-8448 or email@example.com.
The following spill response protocols are appropriate for spills of biological material that occur in BSL-1 or BSL-2 laboratories.
If a spill is beyond your capability to respond safely or you do not have proper spill supplies, contact EHS to request assistance.
Do not respond to a spill if you do not have the appropriate training or experience, you have experienced an exposure or injury that requires attention, or you do not have proper supplies or personal protective equipment.
- If the biological material involved poses an inhalation hazard, stop breathing in order to avoid inhaling airborne material, and quickly leave the room.
- Signal to others to leave, close door, and post a warning sign. No one should enter the laboratory for 30 minutes.
- Go to a support space or adjacent laboratory. Avoid the hallway and publicly-accessed areas.
- Remove contaminated PPE and clothing, turning exposed areas inward, and place in a biohazard bag.
- If a personal exposure or injury has occurred, respond to that first.
- Notify your supervisor of the spill.
- Contact EHS at 703-993-8448 (normal business hours) or University Police at 703-993-2810 (after hours) to report the spill. EHS is available to assist with or conduct the spill response.
- If the nature of the spill requires the use of a HEPA-filtered respirator, do not attempt to handle the spill. EHS will assume responsibility for the situation. If the spill does not pose an inhalation threat and you are qualified and comfortable cleaning up the spill, proceed to the next step.
- If the spill occurred in a biosafety cabinet, keep the biosafety cabinet on and the blower running to maintain directional air flow.
- Assemble spill supplies and use appropriate PPE including lab coat, gloves, and eye or face protection.
- Cover the area of the spill with absorbent pads or towels, and carefully pour disinfectant around the spill. Because the volume of the spill will dilute the disinfectant, a concentrated disinfectant should be used. Allow at least a 20 minute contact time.
- Pick up any visible sharp objects with tongs and discard in a sharps container.
- Wipe surrounding areas (where the spill may have splashed) with disinfectant.
- Disinfect contaminated laboratory equipment as needed.
- If the spill occurred in a biosafety cabinet, remove each item from the cabinet, spraying or wiping each item with disinfectant prior to removal. If material spilled or splashed on the front or back grills of the cabinet, decontaminate the collection pan under the work surface. Allow the cabinet to run for 10 minutes before resuming work.
- Treat contaminated spill supplies and PPE as biohazardous waste.
- Wash hands with antiseptic soap and warm water.
- Complete and submit an Incident Report Form for the spill.
- Complete and submit an Employer’s First Report of Accident form for any injuries or exposures that occurred.
Emergency spills are chemical spills that pose an immediate danger to life or health, may result in damage to property or the environment, or involve unknown or unidentifiable material.
- Evacuate the laboratory immediately for a chemical spill that:
- Involves acutely toxic chemicals or chemicals of high-chronic toxicity;
- Involves unknown or unidentifiable material;
- Poses an inhalation hazard;
- Cannot be quickly isolated, contained, or controlled;
- Poses imminent danger to life or health; or
- Poses imminent danger to property or the environment
- Signal to others to leave, close the door, and post a warning sign.
- Go to a support space or adjacent laboratory. Avoid the hallway and publicly accessed areas.
- Remove contaminated PPE and clothing, turning exposed areas inward, and place in a polyethylene bag.
- Call 911 and provide the following information:
- Your Name and contact information
- Location of the spill (building, room number, and building address)
- The building address is available on Evacuation Plans posted in the building and on the Fire Emergencies web page
- Chemicals Involved and approximate quantity
- Status of the spill (contained, continuing, abated, increasing, etc.)
- Exposures or injuries
- Any other information that can assist with identifying, containing, and responding to the spill.
- If a personal exposure has occurred or you experience symptoms of exposure seek emergency medical assistance.
Chemical Spills (not an immediate danger to life or health)
Employees and students may respond to small incidental chemical spills that occur during the course of a routine work task or project so long as the spill is not greater than four liters (one gallon) or one kilogram and does not pose a threat to human health, safety, or the environment.
Do not respond to a spill if you do not have the proper training or experience, you have experienced and injury or exposure that requires attention, or you do not have the proper supplies or personal protective equipment.
- Notify your supervisor that a spill has occurred.
- Contact EHS at 703-993-8448 (during normal business hours) or University Police at 703-993-2810 (after hours) to report the spill. Provide your name and contact information, the location of the spill (building and room number), the chemical(s) involved and approximate quantity, and any exposures or injuries that may have occurred.
- NOTE: If the spill is greater than four liters (one gallon) or one kilogram, or if you are uncomfortable responding to the spill on your own, EHS will arrive on site to conduct spill response.
- Review the SDS to determine the appropriate PPE and cleanup procedures. If the SDS is unavailable, contact EHS for assistance. Do not respond to a spill unless you have reviewed the SDS. Refer to the following sections of the SDS for cleanup information:
- a. Section 3 – Hazard Identification;
- b. Section 6 – Accidental Release Measures; and
- c. Section 8 – Exposure Control and Personal Protection.
- Retrieve spill cleanup supplies and PPE. EHS has placed spill response equipment throughout the university; contact EHS for spill supplies and assistance.
- Wear appropriate PPE as recommended by the SDS.
- Check equipment and containers for leaks, damage, or holes. Place damaged or leaking containers in impervious secondary containment.
- Surround the spill with absorbent materials to contain the spill and prevent further contamination.
- If the spill is increasing in size, use absorbent or impervious material to block the most likely path the spilled material will take.
- Ensure that spill cleanup equipment is compatible with the spilled chemical(s).
- Start from the outside perimeter of the spill and begin absorbing the product using absorbent pads, booms, rags, or other media.
- Collect all contaminated absorbent materials, PPE, and tools and place them in an appropriate rigid, sealable container or sturdy plastic bag.
- Label the container holding the spill debris with a label that has both the date and the name of the spilled material(s) and include the words “Hazardous Waste.”
- Contact EHS to remove and dispose of the spill debris. Do not dispose contaminated cleanup materials in the municipal waste bins.
- Complete and submit an Incident Report Form for the spill.