Chemical Safety | UMSL

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Chemical Safety


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Chemical Inventory Records

Chemical Specific SOPs and Risk Assessments

Safety Data Sheets

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

Chemical Storage

Peroxide Formers

U.S. Chemical Safety Board

Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs)


Chemical Inventory Records

Each lab should maintain a chemical inventory on file with the University Police department, the department of Environmental Health and Safety, and within the respective department’s central office.  Emergency responders will need to know this information in case of a fire.  Without this information, any response may be delayed. For information on how to submit your chemical inventory please contact the EHS Lab Safety Coordinator.

Chemical Specific SOPs and Risk Assessments

For any procedures involving any kind of hazardous materials, each lab should maintain a written record of standard operating procedures (SOPs). These SOPs can be kept in a lab binder or as a digital file accessible to all lab personnel. The purpose of these procedures is to reduce risks by standardizing how chemicals are handled, stored and disposed of.

The Chemical Safety Board has noted that university lab safety plans typically have ignored physical hazards in laboratories.  These include pyrophoric, highly reactive and other materials.  UMSL EHS believes it is prudent to address and identify these materials and after a brief search, decided on two sources.  The first source is the settlement between UCLA Board of Regents and the second source is the California OSHA (CALOSHA), after a research assistant fatality.  The settlement required Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for 10 categories of chemicals totaling 500 substances.

The categories are:

  1. Pyrophoric Chemicals
  2. Water Reactive Chemicals
  3. Potentially Explosive Compounds
  4. Acutely Toxic Chemicals
  5. Acutely Toxic Gases
  6. Peroxide Forming Chemicals
  7. Strong Corrosives
  8. Strong Oxidizing Agents
  9. Strong Reducing Agents
  10. Regulated Carcinogens


A risk assessment of procedures involving hazardous chemicals can help identify areas of high risk and low risk. Begin by breaking down procedures into about 10-12 essential steps.

Then ask;                        

  • What can go wrong?
  • What are the consequences?
  • How could it happen?
  • What are other contributing factors?
  • How likely is it that the hazard will occur?

The American Chemical Society has developed guidelines for identifying hazards in the research laboratory. This draft document is intended to give guidance to Principle Investigators. Identifying and Evaluating Hazards in Research Laboratories provides five methods for performing risk assessments.

Peer review of SOPs can also improve the overall effectiveness of the lab SOP and provide opportunities to discuss areas of improvement. A department may develop a set of SOPs that individual Principle Investigators can then customize for their specific needs.

Risks can also be reduced by implementing the Hierarchy of Controls.


Examples of Controls

  • Elimination or Substitutions include using a safer chemical alternative if possible and only obtaining smallest amount feasible.
  • Engineering Controls include the proper use of chemical fume hoods.
  • Administrative Controls include providing written SOPs and training.
  • PPE Controls include selecting the proper chemical resistant glove, lab coats and safety goggles.   

Safety Data Sheets (SDS)


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Each lab must keep SDS readily available to all lab personnel either in a binder or as a digital record. It is highly recommended that a hard copy be retained for extremely hazardous materials. An SDS can be obtained from the vendor where the chemical was obtained. Always read the SDS and any other technical information before starting work with a new material.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

NIOSH is part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. They produce a free Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards. This is guide provides basic information to help personnel recognize occupational chemical hazards.

prudent practices book cover imageChemical Storage

To prevent chemical reactions that may result in fire, produce dangerous vapors, or produce uncontrolled explosions, the laboratory should select a storage scheme that achieves segregation of incompatible materials. Storage guidance may be found in Safety Data Sheets and from Prudent Practices in the Laboratory Handling and Management of Chemical Hazards published by National Academies Press. This resource, sponsored by the National Research Council, can be purchased or downloaded for free from the NAP website. 


Peroxide Forming Chemicals

Particular care should be taken with chemicals that have the potential to form explosive peroxides over time. UMSL EHS department guidance regarding potential peroxide forming chemicals outlines the proper storage and evaluation procedures associated with these chemicals.

U.S. Chemical Safety Board

CSB Logo

"The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the agency's board members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The CSB conducts root cause investigations of chemical accidents at fixed industrial facilities. Root causes are usually deficiencies in safety management systems, but can be any factor that would have prevented the accident if that factor had not occurred. Other accident causes often involve equipment failures, human errors, unforeseen chemical reactions or other hazards. The agency does not issue fines or citations, but does make recommendations to plants, regulatory agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), industry organizations, and labor groups. Congress designed the CSB to be non-regulatory and independent of other agencies so that its investigations might, where appropriate, review the effectiveness of regulations and regulatory enforcement." (About the CSB)

Case Study:Texas Tech Explosion PDF

CSB Video Room

EHS recommends watching Experimenting with Danger, a video produced by CSB after the investigation of the Texas Tech Explosion.

Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) know your limits image

Hazardous chemicals can present physical or health threats to personnel working in the lab. They include carcinogens, toxins, irritants, and corrosives as well as agents that can damage the lungs, skin, eyes, or mucous membranes. Engineering, administrative, and work practice controls should be in place that keep exposures below the Permissible Exposure Limits (PEL). PELs have been established for numerous chemicals and are listed in the OSHA standard at 29 CFR 1910.1000 Table Z-1.  For chemicals that OSHA has not identified a PEL, refer to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards.