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How to Handle Chemical Spills in Laboratories

Learn how to evaluate and safely handle chemical spills in your laboratory.

Never work alone when hazardous chemicals are involved.

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1. Plan and prepare for spill response.

  • Post the UCSD Emergency Guide flipchart near lab phones. Make sure lab personnel read and understand the chemical spill response procedures.
    • If the chemicals in your lab require specific instructions not listed in the Emergency Guide, establish standard operating procedures for special conditions in your facility.
    • Make sure everyone working in the lab reads and understands the procedures.
  • Assemble a spill kit, tailored to clean up small spills of chemicals commonly used in your lab.
    • Keep it fully stocked and easily accessible.
    • Train personnel how to use its contents and when it is safe to clean up a spill.
  • Make sure everyone working in the lab knows:

2. Evaluating spills - do you need help?

Large or extremely dangerous spills

  • Spills that present an immediate hazard (fire, explosion, chemical exposure, etc.)
  • Any spill of highly dangerous chemicals
  • Moderate or large-scale chemical spills

If the spill is large or if you're unsure how to classify it, call for help. See Step 3.

Small, incidental spills

  • Spills that can be cleaned up by lab personnel without putting themselves or others in danger.

If you're confident lab staff can handle the spill safely, go to Step 4.

3. Get help for large or dangerous spills.

For large or dangerous spills, call for help and follow chemical spill procedures.

  • Call EH&S Hazardous Materials Response:
    • Call (858) 534-3660 during business hours.
    • After hours, call Campus Police at (858) 534-4357 (534-HELP).
  • Follow the Emergency Guide's instructions for major chemical spills:
    • Avoid breathing vapors.
    • Quickly identify the spilled material if you can do so safely.
    • If the spill involves a flammable liquid, turn off all ignition sources if you can do so safely.
    • Alert people in the area and evacuate, closing all doors.
    • If someone has been splashed with chemicals, flush the affected area with water for at least 15 minutes. Call Poison Control, (800) 222-1222, for advice and seek medical attention as recommended.
    • Keep people away from the spill area until EH&S responders arrive. Lock doors and post warning signs.
    • Have someone available who is knowledgeable about the spilled material to provide information to EH&S responders.

4. Clean up small spills safely.

If you're confident lab staff can safely handle the spill, follow these procedures:

  • Alert people in the area. Avoid breathing vapors and try to determine what spilled.
  • If someone has been splashed with chemicals, immediately flush the affected area with water for at least 15 minutes. Call Poison Control, (800) 222-1222, and seek medical attention as recommended.
  • Wear personal protective equipment including safety goggles, gloves, and a long-sleeved lab coat during cleanup.
  • Confine the spill to a small area. Use a commercial kit or absorbent material from your spill kit to absorb spilled materials.
  • Clean the spill area with water.
  • Replenish your spill kit supplies, so the kit is ready when you need it.

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