Fire Preparedness in the Lab for National Safety Month 2013

National Safety Month



This National Safety Month, being proactive is a core theme of all of the National Safety Council’s advice. Here at ChemSW, we’re turning every stone to uncover all the safety improvements we can make. So far, the talk has centered around daily wellbeing with a healthy lifestyle, moderate exercise, and preventing slips and falls. Being proactive can prevent health issues later on, and it can also save lives in an emergency. What happens if there is a fire in the lab? That depends on what the facility management team and lab personnel did before the emergency to prepare.

In order to create a safe lab environment, building and fire codes are in place to first avoid a fire and then to slow down the spread of the flames. Control areas separate the hazardous materials that don’t play well with others.  We have accurate inventory lists to ensure compliance with fire code reporting and give the first responders a clear picture of what is inside the facility.

Training is a key component of fire prevention and also reacting to a fire. There are many agencies as well as internal training sessions that can provide life-saving advice to employees. More information can be found online and at community-based emergency training courses.


While we’ve been looking for ways to improve our workplaces for National Safety Month this June, a court case has been determining the future of UC lab facilities. At the center of the case was a tragic lab fire in 2009. A research associate, named Sheri Sangji, was working with a pyrophoric chemical, tert-butyllithium, which ignites upon contact with air. While transferring the chemical with a syringe, the chemical sprayed onto her hands, arms, and torso, and she suffered burns. Ms. Sanhji was not wearing a lab coat. She died from injuries a few weeks later. In the court case, a settlement was reached that will standardize the training and safety compliance of labs across California.

The court settlement will be adding enhanced requirements to Title 8 of the California Code of Regulations, which applies to all lab operations. The three most significant new areas are training, standard operating procedures, and personal protective equipment. The road to this point has been tragic and painful for all parties involved. There is hope that these new safety requirements will prevent future lab incidents.

As a group, Principal Investigators have extraordinary influence in the lab. They inspire student researchers and teach science in action. They have the potential to set the tone and enforce policies. Principal Investigators in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry will be affected by the lab safety changes in the settlement. They must meet requirements for participating in lab safety training, knowing the lab’s policies and procedures, providing and requiring the use of personal protective equipment and reporting injuries and illnesses.

Working with hazardous chemicals gives researchers a sense of caution and responsibility as it is. With the proper tools and safety training, accidents can be minimized. Across the whole research community, all personnel should complete lab safety training.  Too many times, student researchers cite not having enough time as the reason not to participate in safety and fire training. It would be wonderful if safety compliance was the norm and everyone participated willingly. Personal protective equipment use will also be under the microscope as part of the settlement.



Fire is a powerful and intense natural disaster. We must be careful that it doesn’t unleash its fiery fury on us. Luckily, there are many regulations and sources of advice for fire safety. It is within everyone’s reach to make lab safety the best it can be!

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