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7 Most Effective Chemistry Lab Safety Rules and Precautions

Updated on November 2, 2015

Do you want to come home crying because your finger has burned (or worst... cut wide open?) by concentrated acids? Or, do you want to wake up at the hospital bed because you unknowingly inhaled poisonous gases during your chemistry lab experiment? I'm sure these things might be the worst nightmares of your life, but do you know that many students are rushed to the hospital daily because of their carelessness in the science lab?

No matter who you are or what you are doing in the Chemistry lab, safety should always come first. Even a simple mistake can be disastrous. Read on for effective rules to follow when performing experiments in the Science laboratory.

Students performing an experiment in a High School Chemistry Lab
Students performing an experiment in a High School Chemistry Lab | Source

As a Science student, I know that surviving Chemistry lab experiments can SEEM intimidating. But if one follows simple rules, every experiment is fun and safe.

1. Always Wear Aprons and Lab Coats

An apron or a lab coat is mandatory - be it for teachers or students or even lab assistants and guides. I know many students don't like wearing the apron, not because it is messy to pack but because it can be a fashion disaster? Who pays attention to fashion and trends when it is the matter of your lives?

Safety should always come first and your looks should matter far less than your safety and your life. An apron saves you from burns, prevents any damage and it keeps your trendy fashionable clothes clean. I had a friend whose sweater was burned by acid. Few drops of acid sprinkled on his clothes and this resulted in a hideous black hole on his blazer and the inner sweater.

2. Safety Goggles and Eye Wears

Safety Goggles
Safety Goggles | Source

Your eye is the most valuable part of your body. Not only valuable, it is the most delicate too. That's why small dust particles lead to red eyes for days. Now imagine what the chemicals can do for your eyes. A glass (one specially designed for laboratory works) saves your eyes from fumes, spills and other disgusting smells too.

3. Don't test or taste the chemicals directly

Using your mouth or nose is a big no-no

This mistake is common with students who are not yet familiar with intermediate level high school lab experiments and is prevalent during experiments like lab preparation of gases. Even if it's oxygen gas, it's not pure. So do not inhale or smell it.

Make use of indicators like moist litmus paper or blow them towards you with the help of your hand. Don't inhale deeply and only smell a small portion of the gas.

4. Caution with the use of chemicals

Always check the label

Some chemicals are already unstable in the presence of light and even from heat absorbed from the room. If you don't look at the labels and/or ask for the applications with the lab assistants, then they can trigger really dangerous explosions and give off poisonous gases.

Check the labels for expiry date (yes, chemicals expire too) and do not open the bottle if it has already expired. If a chemical smells too fruity or sweet, do not go smelling it for hours. (I must admit that I'm guilty of making this mistake on my senior high school class.) A chemical named "Ethyl Acetate" has a really pleasant fruity smell and I took my time "enjoying" it. My teacher warned me that it might be impure and contaminated with chemicals that are poisonous.

Make use of

  • Tungs instead of hand gloves
  • Filter Papers (don't ever use your hand to "pick" out the insoluble particles)
  • Common Sense (always)
  • Help from teachers and lab guides
  • Your friends are valuable sources of information

5. Test for Common Salt

No chemicals in the laboratory should be taken or tasted in directly - not even water! Yes, even water is poisonous. Many students try to actually taste the common salt and they don't know that it's not pure. Not only is the salt impure, but poisonous too.

Here's how to test if it is the salt. We use the flame test. Take some salt in forceps and bring it to the flame. Leave it for about 30 seconds. Now if the salt gives of yellow or orange color, you can be sure that it is the common salt. The common table salt contains Sodium (Na) ion which when excited, gives off bright yellow and orange light as it cools down.

6. Using Litmus Paper

7. Test for acidity and alkalinity

A moist litmus paper is enough to check the acidity or alkalinity of the gas. If the litmus paper turns red, it's acidic and if it turns blue, it's basic or alkaline. Remember, safety comes first. Lab instruments and materials can be replaced, but your vital organs can't.

Do's and Don'ts for Chemistry Laboratory Safety

  • Drink plenty of water before coming to the laboratory. Do the same with your food.
  • Don't eat or drink inside the chemistry lab - whether or not your experiment has started.
  • Be serious. Save those "for fun" and entertainment activities after the lab sessions.
  • Concentrated mineral acids like Sulfuric acid and Nitric acid give off highly corrosive fumes, so wearing masks and eye wears during the experiment is important.

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