Tales from the Lab: Lab Safety and Cleaning Your Dedicated Lab Furniture

Periodically, we post about lab accidents as part of our mission to promote lab safety and its connection to our line of dedicated lab furniture. Seldom, however, does a lab safety accident occur that dovetails with our previous posts in such a clear and compelling fashion as this one. In this case, a lab accident, which fortunately wasn’t disastrous, clearly illustrates the need to carefully and completely follow cleaning protocol.

What Happened?

This incident involved a researcher was preparing his lab for sterile work by wiping down his lab bench with a diluted mix of ethanol. We outline this process in this post about keeping your dedicated lab furniture sparkling clean. This researcher used the correct 70% ethanol mixture and a paper towel, as we outline in our instructions.

Unfortunately, he did not dispose of the paper towel properly when he was finished. Instead, he left it sitting on an adjacent desk. After letting the lab bench dry, he lit a Bunsen burner on the bench. The fumes from the paper towel were close enough that it caught fire when he lit the burner.

The researcher acted quickly, using a handy beaker and water to extinguish the flames. This, unfortunately, generated enough smoke to set off the fire alarm. He properly cleaned up the area and evacuated the lab, seeking out fire responders to let them know what had happened, and that the situation had been contained and resolved.

What Else This Lab Safety Accident Revealed

Naturally, there was an investigation of the incident and what could be learned from the mistakes that were made. The researcher used water, but smothering the flames is recommended. The researcher was wearing a plain white lab coat, not a flame-resistant lab coat. As a result, new lab safety procedures were put in place to require a flame-resistant coat when working with flammable materials and Bunsen burners. A fire safety drill was performed to remind all staff of appropriate protocol and procedures.

What Lessons Were Learned about Cleaning Dedicated Lab Furniture

Additional suggestions and precautions are revealed by this lab safety accident. If ethanol catches fire, it should be smothered with a dry cloth. Your dedicated lab furniture, as well as any other furniture in the vicinity, should be examined for flammable materials before lighting a Bunsen burner. After cleaning your lab bench, make certain all ethanol has evaporated before proceeding with any further tasks. Make certain all ethanol has evaporated from your gloves as well—or, better yet, properly dispose of the gloves and the paper towel used after you clean your lab bench. Only then should you proceed with handling any burners or flammable materials.

As we noted in our prior post, ethanol is both an effective and a cost-effective cleaner. However, it is only a good cleaner for your dedicated lab furniture when it is used properly. When you make lab safety is your primary objective, and focus clearly on the tasks at hand, you can maintain a safe work environment and avoid lab safety accidents like the one above.

We make lab safety our primary objective with many elements of our IonBench MS, including strong caster wheels for safe movement and accessibility, vacuum pump enclosures to reduce noise, and a rough pump overheat protection alarm. To learn more about the safety features of our IonBenches, contact Tim Hawkins via email or at 1-888-669-1233.