Coats, glasses and gloves, your last line of defense
Marie Curie once said: I have no dress except the one I wear every day. If you are going to be kind enough to give me one, please let it be practical and dark so that I can put it on afterwards to go to the laboratory.
She referred to her wedding dress. And thought about its use in a lab where mouth pipetting was normal, or where she would carry bottles of polonium and radium in the pocket of her coat.
Today of course radioactive materials are far better understood, and it is a good sign if you are wondering just what exactly mouth pipetting actually is. Yes, safety regulations are much stricter. But it’s the people who work safe, that make the lab and its surroundings safe.
Coats, glasses and gloves become carriers,
Because glasses, coats and gloves are there to keep nasty stuff away from our clothes and ourselves, they also become carriers of these unwanted chemicals. Which is exactly why wearing them outside the lab is a very bad idea as you will contaminate these other areas.
Although the skin can be an effective natural barrier to many chemicals, yet, minor cuts or skin-diseases (rash) can increase the likelihood of absorption. Also the eye, and respiratory tract are usually the major route of entry for chemical exposures. Personal protective equipment(PPE) is considered to be the last line of your defense against hazards.
Gloves are worn for two reasons: they protect you from getting injuries from hazardous chemicals or biological samples. And they prevent your working-environment from getting contaminated. It is essential to wear gloves when handling chemicals or environmental samples of any kind. There are several kinds of gloves:
- Nitrile gloves protect against most chemicals and infectious agents.
- Rubber gloves protect against mild corrosive material.
- Neoprene gloves protect against most solvents, oils, and mild corrosive materials.
- Avoid latex gloves as many people are allergic or develop allergies to this material.
Disposable gloves are provided by the department and are resistant to most of the chemicals in the laboratory. However you should realize that disposable gloves are not always protective against strong acids like HF or H2SO4. And disposable also means you have to take them off when you are done working, and are definitely not allowed in common coffee rooms or offices.
You can prevent most eye injuries by wearing your safety glasses. When there is a risk of getting chemicals or particles in the eye, you have to wear safety glasses. For example when working with LC systems some solvents drops might fall from the tubing when changing solvents. Or when you are cutting Fused Silica, you need to protect your eyes from flying particles. No matter how harmless a substance may seem, it will hurt if it is in your eye.
However, also with UV rays and lasers, special safety glasses must be worn to block UV rays and laser-light beyond the human visibility range. And it’s the things you cannot see, that can be the most dangerous.
In one of her autobiographical notes, Marie Curie wrote about the mystery she could see: "One of our joys was to go into our workroom at night; we then perceived on all sides the feebly luminous silhouettes of the bottles of capsules containing our products. It was really a lovely sight and one always new to us. The glowing tubes looked like faint, fairy lights."
Usually historical papers require the use of special equipment such as gloves and climate-controlled rooms to protect the documents from the visitor. If you want to read the originals of the Pierre and Marie Curie collection at the France’s Bibliothéque National, it is exactly the other way around.
One of our joys was to go into our workroom at night; we then perceived on all sides the feebly luminous silhouettes of the bottles of capsules containing our products. It was really a lovely sight and one always new to us. The glowing tubes looked like faint, fairy lights."