Dealing with Laboratory Emergencies: Guidelines

September 28, 2023


Most lab emergencies are chemical spills, fires or explosions, electrical shock, and injury to personnel. The majority of laboratory accidents are because of poor planning or inattention. So, it's safer to avoid incidents (being proactive) instead of having to take any actions in the event of emergencies (being responsive).

First, ensure your safety, and then call emergency services whenever needed. The severity of your response will be contingent on the severity of the incident and established laboratory procedures to handle such situations. Be calm and take the appropriate actions based on the nature and severity of the incident. For more info continue reading!


Be aware of the possibility of hazards in the laboratory before performing work in the lab. You can avoid accidents by observing safety rules. Ensure you are safe when working with dangerous chemicals or severe working conditions. Know in advance what needs to be done in the event of incidents. In an emergency, remain cool and ensure your security first.

After that, contact emergency responders to help and notify people in the immediate vicinity of the emergency and the potential consequences for them. Do the right thing to reduce the possibility of injuries or damages.


1. General Emergency

There are distinct guidelines to follow. However, there are some general guidelines to be followed for any emergency.

Be sure to be safe and be at peace.

Contact local emergency responders or a safety agency (i.e., Environmental Health and Safety (EHS)) whenever possible to inform the situation.

Inform those around you of what has happened and set an emergency alert as and if needed.

2. Chemical Spills

Chemical spills are among the most frequent accidents in a lab requiring chemicals. Unsafe or improper opening and handling of chemicals could result in chemical spills. The large-scale spills of a hazardous chemical, or even a small amount of hazardous chemical, could risk lab personnel's lives.

Therefore, care must be exercised while working in the presence of chemicals. Always wear the appropriate personal protection apparatus (PPE) to avoid body exposure in the event of an incident.

Chemical spills on surroundings

Find the location where the spill occurred. Inform your lab colleagues about the incident. Remove the area around the spill, if required.

Determine the chemicals that have been spilled and the quantity of the spilled. Based on the hazardous properties and the quantity of chemicals that have been spilled, appropriate actions must be taken. Consult the safety data sheet for the chemical (SDS) for risk assessments.

Minor spills are those that involve spills that are less than one gallon (gallon) of chemicals with low hazards or less than 20mL of dangerous chemicals:

Make sure you wear the correct PPE before performing any activity. It is important to ensure that you are not exposed to chemical substances.

If you can, alter the source of the spill to prevent any further problems.

If possible, shut off the nearby heat or ignition source if the substance is inflammable.

Be sure to avoid breathing in any vapors of the chemicals that have been spilled. This is particularly true of substances that are highly toxic and explosive.

Find the spill kit and make use of the appropriate tools to contain and confine the spill.

Use adsorbents that are suitable to absorb your spill, and then neutralize them when the chemicals are basic or acidic in nature.

Removing the waste and putting it in the appropriate container.

Send a report to EHS to get rid of any chemical waste resulting from spills.

Fill the kit that spills.

Major spills refer to spills that exceed one gallon in low-risk chemicals or more than 20mL of highly hazardous chemicals. If a major spill happens:

Make sure to evacuate the area of spilled water immediately.

Check that the personnel around are aware that a large incident has occurred.

Refrain from trying the task of cleaning a huge spill, even if you are wearing PPE.

3. Explosion or Fire

The possibility of explosion or fire can arise through leakage, overheating, and spillage from flammable chemicals or gases that are exposed to high temperatures or, flames that are open or sparks from electricity in laboratories. Be aware when working with explosive or flammable substances and avoid sparks of electricity or heat nearby. Be sure to operate electrical equipment safely and any other heat source to avoid an explosion or fire.

If you see a fire that involves an individual's clothing, avoid running, as it could cause more flame. Remain calm, fall to the ground with your hands covering your face, then roll to extinguish the fire. If you can, take a safety shower to quell the flame.

In a lab explosion or fire, ensure your safety first. Call emergency personnel immediately for assistance.

Escape the building with caution and set off fire alarms. Inform people in the vicinity as soon as possible.

Don't use elevators. Utilize stairs and look for the closest exit.

If you can, turn off the power source before you evacuate.

Use a moist towel to protect the nose and mouth in the event of heavy smoke.

In the event of a minor fire, make sure you use a suitable fire extinguisher. Also, ensure there is an exit option should you fail to extinguish the fire. In this article, we have listed the various types of extinguishers available and reviewed the situations in which each type of extinguisher should be utilized.

Fire types.

Class A: Common solids that can be combustible, like wood, paper, clothes, etc.

Class B: Flammable liquids like petroleum oil, gasoline, and paint, as well as gaseous flammable substances like methane, propane, and butane.

Classes C: Electric devices such as motors and appliances.

Class D: Combustible metals like sodium, aluminum, and potassium.

Class K: cooking oil and oils such as vegetable or animal fats.

Different types of extinguishers.

Foam and water: for class A only. Not suitable for Class B and C fires. The foam and water extinguish the fires by reducing temperature and helping remove oxygen from objects.

Carbon Dioxide Carbon Dioxide: For class B or C fires. It is not effective in Class A fires. Carbon dioxide helps put out fires by dissociating oxygen from the object and removing heat.

Dry Chemical: Multipurpose dry chemical is suitable for classes A, B, C, and A, and normal dry chemicals work in Class C and B alone. Dry chemicals can put out fires by halting the chemical reaction.

Wet Chemical: For fires of class K flames only. The wet chemical helps to extinguish fires by removing heat and separating oxygen from the fuel elements.

4. Personal Injury

Besides the risk of chemical spills, fire, or explosions, other dangers can occur within the laboratory, including electric shock or bleeding, heat burn, or poisoning. Here are a few general guidelines to consider for personal injuries.

Evaluate the situation before making any decision.

If they're conscious, ask the person what has happened to them. Check for any evidence of injury if the individual is unconscious or non-responsive.

Contact emergency services in your area immediately if someone is in danger. In case of imminent danger, do not move the injured person.

Whenever possible, turn off the power to a victim who has received an electric shock. Touching the person is not a good idea. Avoid electrical contact using non-conductive materials such as glass, wood, or rubber.

If you notice bleeding from minor cuts is present, flush the area with water to prevent contamination and then treat the wound using first aid kits. If the cut is more severe, seek medical attention. Start first aid for assistance, if it is possible.


Carlos Diaz
I believe in making the impossible possible because there’s no fun in giving up. Travel, design, fashion and current trends in the field of industrial construction are topics that I enjoy writing about.

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