Chemical safety and hazards
Chemical safety - general information
The supervisor of registered postgraduate students and research staff is responsible for ensuring a suitable and sufficient assessment is made for each operation performed. Members of academic staff carrying out personal research are responsible for making risk assessments of each operation performed.
The supervisor and members of staff have responsibility for the safe handling, storage and disposal of substances used in their research work.
The COSHH Assessment Form
All chemicals deemed as hazardous on their material safety data sheet (MSDS) must be risk assessed and a COSHH form completed at the time of ordering the chemicals. Blank COSHH forms can be downloaded.
Chemicals not deemed as hazardous may be ordered without a COSHH form but no order should be placed until the MSDS is studied and any necessary COSHH form completed.
A copy of the completed COSHH form should be attached to a relevant electronic risk assessment form.
The safe working procedure and means of disposal described in the COSHH assessment MUST be adhered to at all times.
Points to consider when filling in the COSHH form
How dangerous is the chemical? Toxic doses are not usually reported on the MSDS, but this is useful information in evaluating the risk. DOSE is a useful source of these data.
Can you minimise the hazard? Use the smallest amounts, the most dilute solutions and the smallest volumes possible. Your COSHH form should include this information.
Can you manage the worst case scenario? Your risk assessment must not be completed in a spirit of optimism.
How can toxic materials be contained? e.g. working in a spill tray in a fume hood.
How will the substance be disposed of?
Disposal of chemicals
The disposal methods for each chemical must be documented within its COSHH form. The procedures documented in the COSHH form must be adhered to at all times.
All laboratories are equipped with bottles for temporary storage of solvents. These bottles must be clearly marked as to their contents. Once the bottle is nearing ¾ full, inform your supervisor who will arrange for its collection and disposal.
It is illegal to dispose of organic solvents down the drain. Waste chemicals must not be accumulated over a long period of time.
Sources of safety data
It is vital that anyone who works with a chemical is aware of its hazards and has documented a safe way of working and safe disposal. This information is present on the MSDS accessible from the link below.
Chemical safety - specific information
Safety Department links
Types of hazard - general information
Hazard is the potential to cause harm but there are different ways in which this can occur. Some of the various types of hazard are defined below.
Risk assessments and COSHH procedures also cover substances that have an immediate effect.
Toxic/very toxic - A toxic substance is able to cause injury to living organisms as a result of chemical interaction producing toxicity. Often, in humans, toxic substances work by overloading an organ such as the liver or kidney.
Harmful - A harmful substance is a material which, following contact with a human organism (under the working conditions of everyday life) can cause disease, health variations, or other adverse effects - either at the time or in later periods of life of the present or future generations. Synonym: Noxious substance.
Corrosive - a corrosive substance will attack other materials. In contact with skin, a corrosive substance can cause painful deep-seated and slow to heal burns.
Irritant - Irritant substances may affect the skin causing problems with dermatitis, or they can affect the respiratory tract. Some people overreact to some irritants which are sensitisers and cause allergic reactions.
Chronic or delayed hazards
Risk assessment and COSHH procedures also cover substances that have chronic or delayed effects, for example, substances that are carcinogenic, mutagenic or teratogenic.
Carcinogen - A carcinogen is an agent that is capable of increasing the incidence of malignant neoplasms. The induction of benign neoplasms in some circumstances may contribute to the judgement that an agent is carcinogenic.
Mutagen - Mutagens can bring about a change in the amount or structure of the genetic material (DNA) of a cell.
Teratogen - Teratogenic substances may cause an embryo to develop abnormally, and to be born with defects or be still born.
N.B. Chemicals may cause health hazards from a single dose, from an accumulation of smaller doses, or from continuous exposure over long periods. The effects may be acute illness, or a chronic long term disease. Single doses do not necessarily cause only acute disease (they could cause sensitisation); neither are cumulative doses the only causes of chronic disease.
Types of hazard - specific information