Lessons Learned from an Acid Spill Incident
An incident where a summer student spilled a drop of acid on her foot highlights need to make sure that Workers:
- know the proper protective equipment to be worn in labs
- have received the necessary training to perform their jobs safely
- have the proper supervision.
A student was checking soil samples that were treated with nitric and hydrofluoric acid. The samples were sitting on a hot plate in a fume hood. To check the sample, the student took the watch cover off and held it in her hand outside the hood. The watch cover had some acid on it and the acid solution dripped onto her foot.
- To check the sample the watch cover was removed from the fume hood.
- The student was wearing clean room foot covers over sandals while she worked in the lab. The lab is set up as a clean room. She did not notice the drop of acid for some time until her foot felt "funny". She removed the foot cover and saw the acid burn. The burn had blistered and was approximately 1 cm in diameter with a wide red ring around it. It took approximately one hour for the student to report to the Health Unit.
- The training that the student had received included the hazards associated with the acids. However, there was no emphasis on the proper procedures to use when conducting soil sampling.
- The student was working unsupervised.
- NIST foot protection policy stresses when and where steel-toed safety shoes are required but it does not adequately address proper types of footwear to be used in laboratories.
- Workers should know the proper personnel protective equipment (PPE) necessary for the tasks they are performing in a laboratory. The level of PPE necessary will depend on the work being done. At a minimum, workers performing tasks in laboratories with hazardous materials must wear:
- Low-heeled leather shoes that cover the entire foot. Clogs, open-toed shoes, sandals and cloth shoes do not provide protection against spilled hazardous materials and should not be worn in laboratories.
- Clothing that protects the body from hazardous material. This means long pants and lab coats. Shorts should not be worn in laboratories.
- Safety glasses
- Workers should have training on both the hazards of the materials they will be using and the procedures necessary to safely use the materials and equipment associated with the work. The tasks needed to perform the work should be reviewed for the potential risks associated with them. After the review, the workers should be trained on the safe procedure selected.
- Supervision is a key element in maintaining a safe and healthful workplace. This means that supervisors must ensure that employees are trained to safely perform their tasks in the laboratories.
- Students should never be left unsupervised in an NIST laboratory. They also must demonstrate proficiency before being allowed to work with hazardous materials. Particular attention needs to be paid to proper training of the students who work at NIST.
- While at NIST Laboratory and Health and Safety Instructions are a good source of information for NIST employees, they do not provide specific details on how to assess laboratories for hazards and what type of PPE should be worn to protect workers in those laboratories from hazards. The NIST Safety Office will work with the NIST staff to update the programs on PPE.
Last modified 29-August-2012 by website owner: NCNR (attn: Jeff Krzywon)