Laboratory Safety Overview
The increasing role of hydrogen as an energy carrier in the transition to clean energy is driving an increase in research and development related to hydrogen and laboratory experimentation involving hydrogen. To assure the safest possible environment for researchers, it’s critical to understand and follow best practices, particularly in academic settings and in organizations that may lack experience in working with hydrogen.
This best practices guide touches on areas of broad importance in creating and maintaining safe laboratories and safe experiments. It is recommended that any researcher or organization undertaking new or modified hydrogen-related experiments seek in-depth training for all involved personnel and commission an external review of planned experiments before proceeding.
Relevant references (either actual PDF files or links to materials on the Internet) are provided in the right-hand column, as well as links to lessons learned from laboratory incidents involving hydrogen.
Before You Start
- New experiment designs or proposed significant alternations to ongoing experiments should be given a peer review that meets the requirements of the facility safety practices and the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ).
- Laboratory designers and new laboratory users should first seek and read project-specific and/or laboratory-specific plans so they understand the safety goals and methods they must adopt.
- Appropriate personal protective equipment (e.g., safety glasses, laboratory coats, gloves, face shields) for the project should be defined based on specific hazards. Typically, working with gaseous hydrogen requires wearing safety glasses or goggles. When working with liquid hydrogen, insulated gloves and protective shoes should be worn in addition to eye protection.
- Anyone designing a laboratory or experiment or working with hydrogen in a laboratory:
- should have been provided with basic hydrogen safety training (or re-training if it’s been a long time since they were trained)(see Training).
- should be familiar with the basic properties of hydrogen (see So you want to know more about Hydrogen)
- flammable and explosive over a broad range of concentrations
- easily ignitable
- burns with an invisible flame in daylight
- highly diffusive
- embrittles some metals
- New laboratory users should have clear guidance and instructions from the supervisor, advisor, professor, or principal investigator on the required training and approvals necessary before doing anything in a new laboratory or on new laboratory equipment or projects. Be sure to get clarification for any unclear guidance, instructions, or responsibilities.
- Whether you are designing a laboratory workspace or operating one, you should use a graded approach to safety planning and risk assessment based on the quantities of hydrogen involved.
- Identify safety vulnerabilities to be addressed:
- What hydrogen hazards associated with this project are most likely to occur?
- What hydrogen hazards associated with this project have the potential to result in the worst consequences?
- Reduce or eliminate the higher risks with prevention and mitigation measures.
- Preferably use engineering controls such as ventilation or properly vented pressure relief valves.
- After engineering controls, use administrative or procedural controls such as purging to further reduce hazards.
- Then consider personal protective equipment and use of shields, etc.
- Never do the planning by yourself. Always involve a safety planning team including outside expertise.
- Always plan for the worst-case scenario but give some thought to the most probable scenario and be ready for that as well.
- See Safety Planning for more detail.