ing Twelve Tips for Work
y Glassware Safely with Laborator
If you examine your recent accident and injury reports, we bet that the most frequent type of injury will be cuts or lacerations. Given the vol- ume of glassware used, the frequency
of daily use, and the diverse types of
glassware in many laboratory operations,
chances are great that someone is going
to have an accident that results in cuts,
slashes, or slices. Minor cuts are the most
frequent result of laboratory glassware accidents. But more serious accidents present hazards from flying glass, exposure to
chemical solutions, and potential fires.
Consider these recent scenarios.
While filtering an ethidium bromide solution through activated
carbon into a standard Erlenmyer
flask using house vacuum, the
extraction flask imploded, spraying broken glass and solution into
During an attempt to upscale an
Ozonolysis procedure, the reaction flask exploded embedding
flying glass into the face, neck,
and (luckily) safety glasses of the
A 250ml glass flask became over
pressurized and burst spraying two
lab workers with glass. The worker
holding the flask was cut on the
hands, face, chest, and stomach
while the other worker standing
across the room received cuts on
the stomach. The worker holding
the flask noted glass shards embedded in his safety glasses.1
As an example take a look at our
data. During the period between 2006
and 2008, the STARS report for the
University of Florida shows the group
cause code for cuts, punctures, and
scrapes accounted for 742 of the 3,359
workers compensation claims reported.
And the incurred costs for those claims
totaled more than $100,000.2
Animal research facilities are no
different than most laboratories and at
risk when it comes to tasks using specialized glassware in potentially dangerous
procedures. We guarantee your facility
has many laboratory jobs where glassware could present hazards to workers.
The biggest thing for working safely with
laboratory glassware is hazard awareness.
In addition to reducing injuries, hazard
awareness can save time by preventing
ruined procedures and reactions and save
money by minimizing broken glassware
and wasted reagents. Read on for the
Safety Guys’ dirty dozen tips on safe use
of laboratory glassware.
Begin with the right PPE. At a minimum, personal protective equipment
for lab work should include a lab
coat, proper gloves, and eye protection. Long pants and closed toe shoes
are also a must.
Pay attention to apparatus set up.
Many procedures require clamping
glass to supports, ring stands, etc.
Take care not to over-tighten any
glassware clamps. Hand-tighten
only to firm, but not extreme, pressure. Over-tightening can produce
Always examine glassware for any
chips. Chips weaken glassware and
can lead to possible breakage and
injury. Since specialty glassware is
expensive, repairs may prove economical. Make sure any glassware
sent for repair is empty and clean.
If solvents are used, rinse the item
with water and let dry completely.
Take special care when washing
glassware by hand. This single task
is the source for most of the injuries.
Wear heavy duty gloves and handle
Beware of potentially hot glass. The
problem is that glassware looks the
same whether it is hot or not. We
recommend you develop standard
operating procedures (SOPs) that
follow routines and set up out of the
way areas for allowing hot glassware
to cool. Keep appropriate gloves
hanging near autoclaves and other
apparatus where glassware is routinely heated.
Handle glass tubing carefully.
Another common procedure in labs
is inserting glass tubing into rubber
stoppers or similar operations. These
tasks are safer and easier if the glass
tube is first lubricated. Laboratory
grease is best but may not be suitable for all applications. Remember
even deionized water is better than
nothing. Be sure to wear appropriate
gloves or protect hands with rags or
Ditto for plastic tubing. Lubricate
the nipple or side arm of the flask
and then gently work the tubing on,
using gloves of course. The bigger
problem we run into here is when
removing plastic tubing. Do not
try to pull it off. Put the tubing and
nipple against a strong support and
cut the tubing close to the end of
the glass. Finish by then cutting the
tubing lengthwise along the nipple
and removing the waste material.
Pay attention to fittings. After tubing, the many different types of glass
fittings present the next biggest potential for accidental cuts. From the
barbed glass nipples to the ground
glass joints, when it comes to mating
fittings problems arise. Take care
when making and undoing connections. Choose hardware that is less
prone to “freezing.”
Use care when dealing with frozen
joints. Applying laboratory grease
can reduce the likelihood of “
freezing.” If grease is not suitable, Teflon
sleeves may be an option. Soak
frozen joints overnight to loosen.
Failing the soak, heat may be used.
First try a heat gun. Also, a gas
torch works well but all flammable
solvents must be removed first and
proper technique used. Heat the
outer surface quickly, hopefully while
keeping the inner glass piece from
heating too much. Tug gently while
heating and do not heat for more
than about 30 seconds.
Equipment under pressure or vacu-
um requires extra care. Before using
any glassware for this type of work,
carefully inspect each piece for any
surface scratches which can lead to
weakness and breakage. Pressurized
and vacuum pump systems should be
set up in a fume hood with the sash
down. If out on a bench, use shields
where practical. Design systems with
relief devices to reduce chances of
breakage. Keep in mind that round
vessels will withstand more pressure
or vacuum than flat-sided ones.
Every laboratory uses glassware. By observing our twelve step program, you can
greatly reduce the number of accidents
and injuries from cuts and lacerations.
Be safe out there.
1. Laboratory Safety Incidents:
Glass vessel rupture, Laboratory
Health and Safety Committee,
American Industrial Hygiene
Association, Fairfax, VA. 2011
2. University of Florida STARS
Report FY 08/09, 09/10,
10/11, Florida Department of
Financial Services, Division of
Workers Compensation, Tallahassee, FL. 2011
Vince McLeod is an American Board
of Industrial Hygiene Certified Industrial
Hygienist and the senior IH with the University of Florida’s Environmental Health and
Safety Division. He has 25 years of experience in all facets of occupational health and
safety and specializes in conducting exposure
assessments and health hazard evaluations.