Best Practices for Working with Hydrogen in a Laboratory
Ensure that all personnel have received hydrogen safety training. Training should include review of material safety data sheets (MSDSs) before using an unfamiliar chemical, and familiarization with the properties, hazards, toxicity, exposure symptoms, detection/warning signs, and material and chemical incompatibilities. See Training.
Regular safety meetings should be held by all projects that involve working with hydrogen in a laboratory, including periodic safety plan reviews. Meetings provide researchers a forum to discuss problem areas along with potential fixes and procedures that have worked well. In addition to the regular meetings, safety reviews should be conducted whenever:
- A new person is starting an experiment
- The equipment or procedures have been modified
- There has been an incident or near miss
Review design and proposed operations of an experiment before beginning, including the written instructions in the form of standard operating procedures (SOP). See Operating Procedures. SOPs should
- Specify maximum permissible quantities of hydrogen and other hazardous materials
- Identify personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Summarize procedures
- Include an emergency response plan. See Emergency Plans.
Before laboratory tests or chemical reactions are begun, evaluations should be done for hazards that can be encountered or generated during the work. Evaluations should include hazards associated with:
- Hydrogen properties and reactivity with other chemicals in the process
- Properties and reactivity of intermediates and end products that might be formed
- Catalysts and materials with catalytic-like properties
- Operation of the equipment at the operating conditions
Unattended or automatic laboratory operations involving hydrogen should be provided with:
- Regular surveillance for abnormal conditions
- Controls to automatically shut down operations and turn off gas flow if adverse conditions develop
- A remote emergency stop (E-Stop) control outside the lab in a safe location
Other recommended best practices include:
- Having at least two personnel participate in an experimental operation using the “buddy system” when appropriate
- Periodically checking all piping for leaks
- Reviewing and adhering to best practices for safe handling of compressed gas cylinders. See Cylinder Safety.
- If there is a need for frequent replacement of hydrogen cylinders, consider use of a small hydrogen generator. See Use of an Electrolyzer.
- Remote operation and shielding may be used as a secondary precaution to mitigate fire and explosion hazards.
- Implementing a maintenance schedule for laboratory equipment and instruments; for more details, please refer to Maintenance and Inspection.
- Incompatible chemicals such as oxidizers should not be stored or used in the vicinity of hydrogen without a specific safety review that includes a hazard analysis.
- Materials not in use should be returned to their proper storage location.
- Fume hoods should not be used for chemical storage.
- Hydrogen Hazards – Operations personnel must be aware of the hazards of handling hydrogen.
- Emergency Response - Everyone must we aware of what to do in an emergency.
- Purging - Air must be purged from any system before hydrogen is introduced, and hydrogen must be purged from any system before it is opened to the atmosphere.
- Heating Equipment guidance
- Pressure Equipment guidance
- Ventilation Equipment guidance
- Labeling and Posting - Only properly designed and labeled materials and equipment should be used for experiments.
Agilent Technologies, Hydrogen Safety Guide
American Chemical Society, "Safety in Academic Chemistry Laboratories" (pdf, 246 kb)
Generic MSDS (pdf, 25 kb)
OSHA 29 CFR 1910.1200, Hazard Communication
NFPA 45, Standard on Fire Protection for Laboratories Using Chemicals