Laboratory Safety

This section presents best practices for safe laboratory design and operations. It is divided into two subsections --- one for designers of laboratories where hydrogen will be used and one for researchers who will actually be working with hydrogen in a laboratory setting. Links are provided to a series of topics of interest to a laboratory designer and another set of topics of interest to a laboratory researcher. 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 hydrogen incidents that have occurred in the past.

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 AHJ.
  • Laboratory designers and new laboratory users should first seek and read project-specific and/or laboratory-specific plans so they understand the organization-specific and project-specific safety goals and methods they must adopt.
  • As with laboratory safety in general, be sure to wear appropriate PPE (e.g., safety glasses, laboratory coats, gloves, face shields) based on specific hazards. Typically there are no specific PPE requirements for working with gaseous hydrogen, other than wearing safety glasses or goggles when working with a compressed gas. However, when working with liquid hydrogen, insulated gloves and protective shoes should be worn in addition to eye protection.
  • Anyone working with hydrogen in a laboratory:
    • should have been provided with some basic hydrogen safety training (or re-training if it’s been a long time since they were trained) (see Safety Culture)
    • should be familiar with the basic properties of hydrogen (see Facility Design)
      • flammable and explosive over a broad range of concentrations
      • easily ignitable
      • burns with an invisible flame in daylight
      • highly diffusive
      • non-toxic
      • 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.

Getting Started

  • 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 it by yourself the first time.
  • Always plan for the worst-case scenario, but give some thought to the most probable scenario and be ready for that as well.

Best Practices for Working with Hydrogen in Your Laboratory

  • Focus on the best practices related to your specific work scope: