Proper Protective Equipment
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Required in an industrial organic chemistry lab setting
- Lab glasses: They will need side shields. You may or may not be allowed to wear contact lenses; if not, your company will supply you with prescription safety glasses with side shields. You will wear them at all times you are in a laboratory. Goggles (the stick-to-your-face kind) aren't really necessary.
- Lab coat: It will be supplied by your employer. If you are in the laboratory, you will be wearing it, even if you're just talking to someone or using the computer and not doing chemistry.
- Gloves: It is expected that you will never touch your hood or compounds (or anything in it) with your bare hands.
- Long pants: No shorts in industry.
- Closed-toed shoes: No sandals here!
Okay, so if I'm in an academic setting, what should I be wearing?
At all times you are working in the lab and facing or near something that could be hazardous, you should have your lab glasses on. If you are personally handling something that is or could be in contact with compound, you should have gloves on. A lab coat is strongly recommended, unless you are prepared for all your clothes to have holes in them.
What kind of lab glasses do I need?
Usually you need general lab glasses, which are often available through the campus bookstore or chemical stockroom. The American Chemical Society recommends glasses that have been certified ANSI Z87, which covers a variety of styles that all meet certain requirements. For ordinary lab work, these glasses will suffice. When choosing these glasses, make sure that you are entirely comfortable wearing them to ensure that you will wear them.
When working with fine particles, lots of liquids, or with particularly corrosive liquids, it is wise to get goggles that seal totally over your eyes, preventing exposure to flying dust or liquids.
If you are working with lasers or ultraviolet light, there are also special light-filtering glasses that can be purchased.
Some labs allow you to wear contact lenses underneath your goggles. Be cautious doing this, as if you eyes are exposed to chemicals, your contacts could hold them in place. If you need to wear glasses, you have two options: you can either purchase a goggle variety designed to fit over glasses, or you can pay for more expensive goggles that have your prescription built in to the lenses. Both options work well.
What kind of lab coat should I get?
Usually the standard white nylon or polyester coat is sufficient. These are available from any number of suppliers. It should button from the hem all the way up to the collar, have long sleeves that are gathered at the wrists, and should hang down to about your knees. For short term use, disposable coats made from polyethylene fiber are also available.
For more specialized experiments, you may need other protective clothing such as an apron, booties, face mask/shield, or even a full bodysuit. Discuss with your instructor or your advisor what experiments you will be doing and obtain the equipment that they suggest.
What kind of gloves should I be using?
Nitrile rubber gloves have become the lab standard. They hold up well against water, solids, and a variety of organic solvents. Nitrile gloves are available in several varieties, such as blue, aloe, and purple.
Latex gloves are better for biological work, as they hold up particularly well to bodily fluids, microbe culture media, and aqueous solutions. They do not protect very well at all against organic liquids, however, so use with caution. Usually, a chemist resorts to latex gloves when working with pyridine, as this chemical is stopped by latex but not by most other glove types. Be careful of latex allergies when using these gloves.
Cryogloves and insulated gloves are used for handling very hot or cold things. Cryogloves should be used anytime your are handling liquid nitrogen, liquid ethane or other cryofluids, and when handling large quantities of dry ice. Thermal gloves should be used for grabbing hot glassware from a drying oven or working with crucibles.
Leather gloves (e.g. gardening gloves) should be used for mating glassware with rubber tubing; they are much more penetration-resistant than your typical nitrile gloves.
Most labs have a "base bath", used for cleaning particularly dirty glassware that does not respond to soap, water, and scrubbing. These baths are highly corrosive as they are full of strong base, usually potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide in a combination of water, methanol, and isopropanol. There should be heavy-duty corrosive-resistant gloves available for putting glassware into and removing it from these baths. Use the heavy gloves over your ordinary gloves, and wear a lab coat. Use the gloves until the glassware has been thoroughly rinsed with water.
There are many other types of specialty gloves available, and these options can be perused in any lab supply catalog. Find something that works well for your needs.
What kind of clothing is not recommended in a lab setting?
Shorts, skirts, and open-toed shoes are never to be worn in the lab. You should also not wear anything that has strings or sashes coming off it, such as hooded sweatshirts, or flowing tops. Full sleeves are not recommended, as they can easily be dragged over dirty bench-tops and get contaminated.
Jewelry should not be worn. Rings and bracelets are easily comtaminated, and some reagents will actually react with the metal or even the stone. Necklaces are less of a problem, unless they are very long and will dangle in your work.
Long hair should always be tied back so it does not drag in your reaction or any spills that may occur.
You should only wear clothing in the lab that you would not be sorry to lose. This means don't wear that priceless silk/angora sweater you got for your birthday, or that awesome new pair of sneakers. If there is a spill, usually clothes are damaged. Wear simple, sturdy items.
Lastly, in case of accidents, it can be helpful to store an extra shirt and pair of pants at your office. You never know when a spill or fire may occur, even if you yourself are vigilant about safety.
Isn't this a big waste of time? What are the chances that this is really going to save me/my eyes/my skin?
Ask any chemist about this, and they all have stories about accidents involving themselves or others. Sometimes it's a pressure-valve giving way and generating shrapnel, sometimes its sulfuric acid that spilled over their arm, somtimes people accidentally set themselves on fire.
There is also the story of Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji, a researcher at UCLA. She spilled syringe full of tert-butyl lithium in pentane upon herself and caught fire. She was not wearing a lab coat. The burns covered 43% of her body, and she later died.
Lab accidents happen too often, even when people are working hard to be safe. Protective equipment and clothing can mean the different between death or disfigurement, and a short recovery or complete escape.