Hazardous materials: Spills, gas leaks, and odors - E.S.C.A.P.E.
Exit the area -- Immediately after a hazardous chemical is spilled, you must exit the area. If the spill occurred in a laboratory and access to the fume hood is not blocked by the spill and/or hazardous vapors are not present in the area, then raise the sash on the fume hood to increase the airflow.
Shut the doors and secure the area -- Shut the doors to the area where the spill is located and secure the area if possible. Most laboratories are under negative pressure, which will pull air from the hallway into the lab, keeping potentially hazardous vapors from spreading into other areas.
Call 911 (or 9-911 from an on-campus phone) from a safe location and give the following information:
- Building name
- Room number or location
- Type of incident
- Name of chemical spilled or description of odor if unsure of the chemical
- Estimate of the volume of chemical spilled
Assess the situation -- Determine if the spill is Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH). IDLH incidents are those that pose a significant and immediate threat to building occupants due to extreme toxicity, imminent explosion, or other life threatening scenario. These types of incidents are rare. If the spill does not pose a threat to the building occupants then remain outside the entrance to the laboratory until the spill response team arrives. If you determine that the situation is Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health, then proceed to the next step.
Pull the fire alarm -- After determining that the spill poses an immediate danger to the building occupants, pull the fire alarm. Activating the fire alarm will evacuate the building occupants and will also notify the local fire department.
Exit the building -- Once the fire alarm has been activated, exit the building. Remain at a safe distance from the main entrance of the building. Give your information to the emergency response teams that will be arriving.
Learn more about hazardous material safety
Remove any contaminated clothing immediately and flush all areas of bodily contact with copious amounts of water. This should take place while someone else makes the appropriate phone calls and in a safe location.
Ensure that medical assistance is obtained for those injured or exposed (safety shower, medical attention, etc.). Continue to rinse body contact areas with copious amounts of water for at least 15 minutes unless directed otherwise by appropriate emergency medical personnel (physician, nurse, paramedic, or emergency medical technician).
Visit your campus Health Services or a local hospital for medical care and evaluation. If possible, take applicable Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) with you.
The Radiation Safety Procedures Manual gives detailed instructions on what to do in the event of a release involving radioactive material. Basic instructions include the following:
- At IUPUI, contact the Radiation Safety Office at 317-274-4797. Other campuses may contact the Office of Environmental Health and Safety.
- Notify everyone in the area of the release and limit access.
- Prevent the spread of contamination (e.g. cover with absorbent paper/chucks).
- All individuals involved should remain in the area until monitored for contamination.
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If the biological spill poses an inhalation hazard, do not attempt to handle the spill. Environmental Health and Safety - Biological Safety will assume responsibility for the situation. If the microorganism does not pose an inhalation threat and you are qualified and comfortable cleaning up the spill, proceed to the next step. If you are unclear if the spill represents an inhalation hazard always treat it as it is an inhalation hazard.
Cover the area of the spill with absorbent pads or towels, and carefully pour disinfectant around the spill. Because the volume of the spill will dilute the disinfectant, a concentrated disinfectant should be used. Allow at least a 20-minute contact time.
Note: Pick up any visible sharp objects with tongs and discard in a sharps container (Never use your hands to pick up sharp items).
ALL spills of biological materials, regardless of biosafety level, must be reported to the Environmental Health & Safety department for the respective campus. Extremely large spills should be initially reported to IUPD.
Read the complete spill procedures in the IU Biosafety Manual
Gas leaks or releases
If a compressed gas cylinder or gas piping is leaking or is suspected of leaking, or if there is any other known or suspected gas release, and if a person knowledgeable about the source decides that it is hazardous to them or to other building occupants, the following steps should be taken:
- Immediately notify building occupants to evacuate the area using general evacuation procedures.
- Contact IUPD at 911 and be prepared to provide the following information:
- Building name
- Floor and room number
- Specific chemical name of involved gas
- Source of the gas
Abnormal or unusual odors
When reporting an unusual or abnormal odor, be prepared to provide the following information:
- Description of odor (e.g. natural gas odor).
- Time(s) of detection.
- Abnormal conditions, activities, or materials at the time of detection (e.g. construction activities).
If the source associated with the odor is potentially hazardous to persons in the area (e.g. natural gas), contact IUPD at 911. For other common or unknown odors, follow the specific procedures listed below:
Natural gas smells - Immediately leave the area and contact the IU Police Department at 911.
Rotten egg or sewer smells - These odors typically occur when a drain trap dries out. If the odor is moderate, run water down nearby sinks and check to see if the odor dissipates. If the odor is strong or persists after refilling drains traps, the employee should contact Physical Plant or Campus Facilities Services to report the odor.
Fishy or musty smells - These odors often result from leaks in the steam system. The employee should contact Environmental Health and Safety to report the odor.
Exhaust or diesel smells - These odors typically enter a building through air intakes when motor vehicles or construction equipment are left idling nearby. These odors are normally dependent on the wind direction and typically last for a short duration. If this type of odor persists, the employee should contact Environmental Health and Safety to report the odor.
If the employee has additional concerns or questions about these or any other unknown odors, contact Environmental Health and Safety to report the odor.