Spill Drill

Spill drill

Transport liquids and sooner or later something will spill.  As a lab manager, you need to be prepared for that, as do the staff.

One of the cheapest things you can get to make sure that a spill is contained is get some cheap, bulky clothing (I have 2 sizes hanging in our lab – Large and XXL – fitting isn’t important).  The reason for this is that, if someone spills something dangerous on themselves, the clothing needs to go.  I can’t find the reference at the moment, but fatalities are three times more likely to occur if contaminated clothing is not removed.  So, make sure there is something on hand that can protect your staff’s modesty.

Next, spills on the floor should be neutralized.  Leaving those spills for which you need a special substance – calcium gluconate for hydrofluoric acid spills, for example – you can make your own spill containment mix with equal parts of sand, bentonite (clay) kitty litter, and soda ash (also baking soda, NOT baking powder).  200 g of this is enough to soak up most spills, and this will slow or eliminate dangerous reactions.

Next, all this has to be incorporated into a good drill procedure.  First of all, evacuate all staff for two hours, as this is the length of time in which even the nastiest fumes will have dissipated.  Neutralize and contain the spill where it happens – you should have a good spill kit on hand, in addition to the mix mentioned above – and try and get away as soon as possible.  Make these points clear in your training.

If the spill is on someone, never let that person out of your eyesight.  In case the casualty faints or suffers hysterics or some other form of disturbance, it is essential that he is constantly kept company while you let others call for the ambulance etc.  There is one exception, and that is in the case of a casualty of the opposite sex to you.  In such a case, call another member of staff of the same sex as the casualty to keep the casualty company while you arrange for emergency procedures.

Over the years I’ve found many scientists who scoff at this, and say that we’re all grown ups and we understand the needs for getting rid of contaminated clothing.  Well, it is one thing to be aware of those needs when you are in a formal drill setting, but it is quite another to hold true to those words when you are freaking out because sulphuric acid is eating through the skin.


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