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Environmental Health & Safety

Laboratory Safety Unit

Emergency Readiness for Research Laboratories

All laboratory personnel must be prepared for emergency situations. One such emergency is the loss of utilities. The primary intent of this document is to address potential problems affecting employee safety and health that may arise if there is a disruption or major outage of basic services such as electricity, telecommunications, and water. The following pages list potential problems that research departments may encounter, how to prepare for these problems, and a contingency plan in the event problems arise. Although we can not predict all potential problems, the information provided should assist your department in their emergency preparations.

Potential Problems

Loss of Power and Heat

    Aqueous chemicals may freeze and crack if the temperatures get below freezing in the lab. These aqueous solutions could contain chemicals, biological material, or radioactive material.

    Chemicals requiring refrigeration may warm. This could cause a potential buildup of vapor in chemical bottles, especially if the decomposition product of a chemical is a gas. Prolonged exposure (more than a few days) to warm conditions could cause bottles to rupture due to over-pressurization. Smaller ampoules containing volatile material could rupture sooner.

    General ventilation to the labs and local exhaust systems, such as chemical fume hoods, will shut down. The loss of ventilation will exacerbate any problems with spills and prevent the work or use of chemicals. Vented chemical storage cabinets would not operate properly. This could cause vapor to accumulate in the labs and building. This vapor could be both toxic and flammable.

    Cold rooms, refrigerators, and freezers containing animal carcasses could warm after a few days (depending on building temperature) causing an odor problem. The frost in freezers could thaw depending on building temperatures producing water that could react with chemicals stored in the freezers.

    Incubators and gloveboxes could be compromised.

    Biological safety cabinets and incubators would shut down.

    Autoclaves would not operate without electricity and/or steam.

    Fire Alarm Warning Systems would not operate.

    Data retrieval systems would be impacted.

    Water in pipes and in the coils of the HVAC system could freeze and rupture. Water could mix with water-reactive chemicals acids, bases, combustible metals, etc.) and cause significant problems (i.e., fire, release of toxic gases, etc.)

Loss of Water

    Water cooling systems for equipment (i.e., distillation apparatus, some cold rooms) would not work.

    Sprinklers, emergency eyewash units, and safety showers would not work.

Equipment Malfunction Due To Embedded Microprocessor Chips

    Refrigerators, freezers, temperature controlled rooms could fail.

    HPLCs, Gas Chromatograms, Stills, and other computer controlled lab equipment could fail.

Recommended Preparations

Facilities is responsible for building microprocessor-based environmental controls and safety systems. These include fume hoods, room pressure controls, special alarms and monitors for gases. If you have systems that have specific needs, Facilities should be contacted immediately so action can be taken as soon as possible.

Departments need to develop a call tree to support mitigating efforts. For each laboratory, the names and phone numbers of responsible personnel should be listed. A copy of the call tree needs to be sent to the University Fire Marshal (300 East River Road, Room 23, RC Box 278878) annually.

Toxic and flammable gases to equipment should be turned off.

All chemical containers must be capped at all time to prevent vapors from escaping.

Inventory potentially infectious materials in the lab and prepare to decontaminate and dispose of these materials should freezers and/or incubators fail. Do not allow biological waste that needs to be autoclaved to accumulate.

Identify equipment, such as ultra-low freezers, that must have continuous power. Check with Facilities to ensure these unit are on emergency power. You can identify emergency power outlets because they have white power outlets.

Ensure that lab door signs have up-to-date information for names and phone numbers.

Do not allow lab operations to resume if power, water, or fire warning systems fail.

If a lab has been without power for more than a few hours, enter any laboratory cautiously. If an odor is present, allow the ventilation system to operate for a period of time before entering. Contact Environmental Health & Safety (x5-3241) prior to re-entry if you suspect storage issues relating to hazardous materials or potentially infectious materials.

Report failure of any storage device (refrigerator, freezer, scintillation counter) that contains radioactive material to the Radiation Safety Office (x5-3781).

Any chemicals that could potentially freeze (i.e., aqueous solutions) should be placed in secondary containers.

If refrigerators, freezers, etc. malfunction due to microprocessor problems or extended power outages, move chemicals into other refrigerators and freezers. However, DO NOT store flammable liquids in standard refrigerators.

Remove chemicals from areas where water pipes may freeze overhead.

Contact EH&S at (585) 275-3241 or e-mail EH&S Questions.

This page last updated 2/28/2017. Disclaimer.