Risk Management & Safety

Response to a chemical spill must occur at several levels. For laboratory workers, some spills must be cleaned-up at the first level—theirs. Other spills must be managed by Risk Management & Safety. The first question, then, which must be answered is: "When is a spill really a spill?"

A spill is defined as "a material out of control". In a practical sense, the quantity of material is not important. The essential issue is whether the hazards, the location, and the quantity cause the situation to be beyond the control of the laboratory worker.

Experience provides some guidelines for deciding whether a spill should be cleaned-up by laboratory personnel or by spill response personnel. For convenience and safety, a minimum quantity beyond which all spills of hazardous materials must be reported has been established. Policy states that all spills greater than 1 quart (1 liter) must be reported to Risk Management and Safety (RMS) at 895-4226. While this may seem overly stringent to some, experience indicates that over-reporting is preferable to under-reporting.

In addition to the minimum quantity, several other spills must be reported, regardless of the quantity (beyond de minimis).

  • All spills of extremely flammable materials (flash point less than 20°F) must be reported.
  • All spills of extremely toxic materials (5 mg/kg LD50) must be reported.
  • All mercury spills must be reported.
  • All personal contaminations must be reported.
  • All leaking containers must be reported.
  • All uncontrolled compressed gas releases must be reported.

Personnel are responsible to have procedures for spills which are below the reportable level. These procedures are explained below.

Personal Safety

The primary consideration for laboratory personnel when a material is spilled is safety. Safety for every person in the laboratory and in the building is of paramount importance. If the spill could potentially harm someone, call RMS at 895-4226 or Public Safety at 911. Otherwise, the laboratory worker who will clean-up the spill must follow specific procedures to do so safely and effectively.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Before attempting to clean-up a spill, the lab responder must put on a minimum amount of personal protective equipment (PPE).

  • Safety glasses
  • Lab coat
  • Nitrile or neoprene gloves

Clean-up materials

Laboratories must have certain supplies available before attempting to clean-up a spill. The actual materials to be used will depend upon the hazards posed by the spilled material. A recommended list of supplies is presented below:

  • Absorbent pads
  • Absorbent socks
  • Acid neutralizer
  • Activated carbon
  • Caustic neutralizer
  • Dust pan & brush
  • Heavy duty plastic trash bags
  • Laboratory tongs
  • One gallon or five gallon plastic bucket with lid
  • UNLV Hazardous Waste Tags

Note: This procedure is not applicable to spills of Mercury or radioactive materials.

Clean-up Procedure

  1. PPE: Put on the appropriate PPE. If, during the spill or subsequent actions, any person comes in contact with a chemical, refer to the manufacturers Material Safety Data Sheet for First Aid guidance.
  2. Control: Control the source of the spill, if it is still present. A bottle, for example, which was knocked over, will still have some material in it. The responder should carefully upright the container, place it on an absorbent pad in a safe location, and replace the lid on the container. Any spread of spilled material must also be controlled. This is best done by placing absorbent pads or socks around and on the spill. Many laboratory spills involve broken glass. The spill responder must be careful to avoid getting cut.
  3. Absorb/Remove:
    1. Acid, Caustic, or other Non-Flammable Liquids: These are most easily absorbed with absorbent pads and socks. Place used absorbent pads and socks in a trash bag. Frequently, laboratory spills will spread into drawers and behind or under equipment. The responder must be careful to locate all such contaminated areas.
    2. Flammable Liquids: Flammable liquids should be absorbed on activated carbon or absorbent pads and socks. Use approximately 2 pounds of activated carbon per pint (0.5 liters) of liquid. Use the dust brush or spatula to thoroughly mix the activated carbon with the liquid. Use the dust pan and brush to collect all residue. Remove large pieces of broken glass as described in step 4.0 and place all other debris in a plastic trash bag or appropriate container.
  4. Remove broken glass: Using tongs, or carefully using gloved fingers, remove all large pieces of glass and place them in an appropriate container.
  5. Decontaminate:
    • Acidic Liquids: Apply acid neutralizer on all surfaces affected by the spill. Soak up the neutralizer and apply fresh neutralizer. Remove the residues with absorbent pads or paper towels, then thoroughly wash the affected area with hot soapy water. Use absorbent pads to finish cleaning the area.
    • Caustic Liquids: Apply caustic neutralizer on all surfaces affected by the spill. Soak up the neutralizer and apply fresh neutralizer. Remove the residues with absorbent pads or paper towels, then thoroughly wash the affected area with hot soapy water. Use absorbent pads to finish cleaning the area.
    • Flammable Liquids: Thoroughly wash the area with hot soapy water. Use absorbent pads to finish cleaning the area.
    • Container: Use absorbent pads, neutralizers, and hot soapy water, as appropriate, to remove all traces of spilled material from the container. Remember to clean the bottom of the container.
  6. Inspect: Carefully check the entire affected area for spill residue, hidden contamination, or unsafe conditions, and act accordingly.
  7. Package Spill Residues: Place all spill residues and contaminated PPE in plastic bags. Seal the bags and place in the bucket or other appropriate container. Attach a properly completed UNLV Waste Tag on the outside of the container. Place the bucket in the Satellite Accumulation Area.
  8. Restock Spill Supplies: Gather and restock supplies as needed.
This document was last modified on August 25, 2010.