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Hazardous substance emergency

University laboratories manage a wide range of hazardous substances. Each of these substances requires a pre-planned response procedure in the event of a spill or leak.

Chemical spills

In the event of a hazardous substance emergency, the following actions should immediately take place:

  1. clear the area
  2. check for any persons involved
  3. isolate the spill (if safe to do so)
  4. contact the Laboratory Manager or Hazard Containment Manager.

Remember: the primary concern is always to protect staff and students' health and safety. No action should be taken during an emergency response that directly or indirectly violates this principle.

Minor chemical spills

A minor chemical spill is one that the laboratory staff are capable of handling safely without the assistance of safety and emergency personnel. All other chemical spills are considered major.

In the event of a minor chemical spill:

  • alert people in immediate area
  • if you are an experienced and trained staff member, put on your personal protective clothing and use the spill kit to contain and clean up the spill
  • if the spilt hazardous substance is flammable, ensure all sources of ignition and heat are eliminated
  • place contaminated materials in to an appropriate container and place in the nearest fume cupboard
  • contact the Hazards and Containment Manager to arrange for the disposal of the contaminated materials
  • decontaminate the affected area using an appropriate material and the salvage equipment
  • analyse the area to ensure that proper decontamination has taken place.
  • report the incident using the University accident/incident form.

David Jenkins
Hazards and Containment Manager
Email: d.jenkins@auckland.ac.nz

Spill kits with instructions, absorbents, reactants, and protective equipment should be readily accessible to clean up minor spills. Fire protection should also be available in the event of a flammable spill.

After the event of a minor chemical ensure that:

  • the supervisor is notified
  • replacement spill kits are ordered as soon as practicable
  • damaged equipment is replaced or repaired
  • clarify if further notification is required to any other agency
  • a review of the emergency procedure and response is undertaken
  • when the affected area is considered safe and operational, re-open the laboratory.

Major chemical spills

A major chemical spill is one that puts the safety of lab personnel in peril.

In the event of a major chemical spill:

  • evacuate the area immediately
  • only where there is no risk to personnel, contain any further spill (seal off container, drop absorbent material on spill)
  • call the Fire Service giving exact location of building, floor and room number
  • consider building evacuation if there is:
    • an uncontrolled open flame
    • an uncontrolled compressed gas release
    • any situation which poses imminent threat to human health or safety
  • report the incident using the University accident/incident form.

Gas leaks

The emergency response procedure for gas leaks applies to several types of gas leaks. These being natural gas leaks, which are external and internal to your building, and compressed gas bottle leaks.

Natural gas

Natural gas has a number of unique properties:

  • it is lighter than air and will dissipate into the atmosphere in the event of a leak outside your building, if the leak is within your building the situation is much more serious
  • it is odourless in its natural state, as a safety precaution an odorant is added to ensure quick detection in case of a gas leak
  • it can explode when exposed to flame or sparks
    • if you can smell gas do not allow anyone to smoke, induce a spark, light flames or use a mobile phone within the vicinity.

It is important to report any suspected gas leaks immediately.

Compressed gas bottles

Compressed gas bottles of highly toxic and corrosive gases that are attached to a regulator must be handled inside a fume hood:

  • these cylinders must always be used with a cylinder key
  • in the event of a gas leak, it is highly probable that the regulator has failed, therefore isolate the cylinder immediately using the cylinder key if safe
  • if the leak is outside the fume hood, the area will have to be evacuated immediately
  • move cylinder outside only if it is safe to do so
  • report the incident using the University accident/incident form.


Emergency response procedure for gas leaks

If gas is smelt or a leak is heard:

  1. turn off the main valve
  2. if possible and safe to do so open windows to allow the gas to dissipate into the open air
  3. rescue any person in immediate danger but only if safe to do so (many would be rescuers have succumbed to fumes when attempting to rescue a colleague)
  4. do not operate any electrical switches including lights
  5. do not use cell phones in area where leak is occurring, even if outside of building
  6. do not allow anyone to smoke
  7. warn others in the immediate area
  8. notify, or have someone notify, UniSafe and Property Services
  9. call Emergency Services (fire, ambulance)
  10. if building evacuation is necessary, please consider:
    a. if the designated assembly point may need to change due to gas fumes that are external to the building, wardens/staff will need to be positioned in appropriate places to direct people to the safe area
    b. activating the fire alarm means operating an electrical switch – consider if it would be safer warning others by word-of-mouth, ringing a hand bell or by using another warning method
    c. if evacuating, ensure that evacuation points are up wind of the building or the source of the gas leak
  11. call the local gas company
  12. meet with and assist emergency response personnel
  13. do not re-enter the building or outside area until cleared by authorised personnel.

Building evacuation

In the event that the building must be evacuated due to a hazardous substance emergency and the emergency services have been called, the following will apply without exception:

  • building wardens will have hazard location plans for the emergency services
  • lab managers or persons in charge and any person who can provide relevant information must be on hand to answer any questions asked by emergency services.