09 November, 2012

Fire safety. Labcoats. Link to ChemBark.

I attended a fire safety training course today with some of my colleagues and some Department of Chemistry PhD people. We got to play around with all the different types of fire extinguishers and put out Pet. ether fires and acetone fires. We also used fire blanket to put out a fire in a barrel. The grand finalé was a demonstration of a fire that could happen in the lab. Beakers of solvents were set on fire and then knocked over (with the handle of a broom), leaving a bench in flames and a pool of fire on the floor. Volunteers from the audience (not me, my scales are far too delicate) then attacked the inferno with various extinguishers (a large foam extinguisher worked best, moving from the floor fire, to the bench).

That's a lot of fire extinguishers...

One thing that caught my attention though, was the lab coats that were there. One was hanging up and one was lying flat on the bench (to demonstrate that one should drop and roll when one is on fire in a lab coat). But also, one was made from polyester, whereas one was 100% cotton (to be a proper scientific experiment they should have had a) one cotton lying down, b) one cotton hanging up, c) one polyester lying down, d)one polyester hanging up) I digress. Obviously the synthetic material burned faster and became brittle and charred, whereas the cotton turned black, but was still pliant and identifiable as a fabric. When I got back to my lab afterwards I checked my labcoat. 65%polyester blend. Oh F* I'm Going To Die In A Horrible Fire. Even worse, I'll be wearing polyester blend when I do it.

This evening at home I used a popular search engine to find out more, and ChemBark wrote an excellent post on this subject two years ago (soon after the Sheri Sangji case). I strongly encourage you to read it (go! now. Use the link there in the first sentence. I'll wait here. If you've reached this far, you clearly have an interest in lab safety. Go on.) He was discussing what to look for when buying a labcoat. Where I work, I am provided with a labcoat the same as everybody else's. After reading ChemBark's post I'm nervous about not having a better lab coat. Where I work we can pick out our own safety shoes and lab goggles and there's different types of gloves for everyone, but everyone gets the same labcoat (in various sizes). Anybody have any further thoughts on this (a lot of good ideas in the Comments in that ChemBark post)? Has anybody pushed this issue at their place of work and how did you go about it?


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