Mass Spec Lab Safety: Electrical Hazards

Electricity represents both a necessity and a danger in every lab. In this second part of our “back to basics” mass spec safety series, we review more of the various types of lab safety issues one can encounter when operating mass spec technology.

In part one, we covered mechanical hazards. This time around, we will discuss the electrical hazards associated with mass spectrometry.

Internal Voltage Hazards

When functioning properly, some areas of mass spectrometers can expose operators to lethal voltage levels. High voltages can remain within a mass spec even when it is powered off, and capacitors can remain charged even though the instrument has been disconnected from all power sources.

As your MS literature undoubtedly says, do not use this instrument “in a manner not prescribed.” If your mass spec is not operating properly, do not take it apart to investigate it yourself. Call in either the professionals who manufactured your MS or a qualified repair technician.

Lab Safety Interlocks and Shields

Because of the danger of such high voltages, mass spectrometers have protective covers or shields to prevent lab techs from accessing the ion source probes. Do not power up or operate your MS unless those protective shields have been properly installed. Interlocks have also been integrated into your mass spec as a lab safety feature to prevent electrical shock. Do not override those interlocks.

When it’s time for routine maintenance, disconnect the ion source from the mass spec. Removing the ion-source housing will disable the high-voltage connection. Beware, however: As mentioned earlier, MS capacitors can remain charged even when your mass spec is disconnected from its power source.

Grounding Hazards

The mass spectrometer was developed long before grounded electrical outlets were required (and hopefully none of your mass specs are that old), but it would never be wise to operate your modern MS today without a correctly installed protective earth conductor.

Always have your electrical outlets checked by a qualified electrician before installing a mass spectrometer and make certain that the protective earth system maintains its integrity. (In fact, it’s an excellent idea to have all outlets in your lab checked at the time of installation, as you may need to rearrange your lab at some point in the future and plug your MS into a different outlet.) Operating an ungrounded mass spec effectively turns the entire instrument into a lab safety hazard.

Electrical Circuit Protection and Hazards

Your mass spec has been designed for operation with a specific electrical mains supply. If you operate the instrument with an improper mains or insufficient circuit protection, multiple lab safety issues will arise: You could damage the electrical wiring system. You could cause an electrical fire—possibly within the walls of your lab, where it would be extremely difficult to suppress. And you could damage your expensive mass spectrometer.

Before installing or operating any mass spectrometer, make certain that the branch circuit protection satisfies the requirements of your MS system. Also confirm that your mass spec voltage matches the mains supply coming into your lab.

Mass Spec Safety Starts with You

Electricity is a powerful resource—and with any power comes real danger. As we’ve said throughout this series, complacency is itself a lab safety hazard. Do not take electricity for granted. Periodically return to the basics and remind yourself of electricity’s potential hazards in a lab setting.

For help in grounding your mass spectrometer on the most stable platform possible, learn more about our IonBench MS, or contact us at 1-888-669-1233 with any questions you may have about mass spec safety or our dedicated lab furniture.