Loose or torn clothing should be avoided without wearing a lab coat because of the ignition, absorption, and entanglement in machinery risks. Dangling jewellery, finger rings or other tight jewellery and excessively long hair should also be avoided.
When properly used, lab coats (Figure 3.3.a):
- Provide protection of skin and personal clothing from incidental contact and small splashes.
- Prevent the spread of contamination outside the lab (provided they are not worn outside the lab).
- Provide a removable barrier in the event of an incident involving a spill or splash of hazardous substances.
There are no design or test criteria specified in regulations or guidelines specific to lab coats. What this means is that:
- Lab coats are not tested for normal conditions that may be experienced in a research lab with respect to chemical use, or joined research activities.
- Manufacturers of the lab coats do not provide information about the capability of a lab coat for a combination of hazards. If a coat is “flame resistant”, it may not be chemical resistant or acid resistant.
- If a coat is sold as flame resistant, this means it is not tested involving flammable chemicals on the coat. The flame resistance test criteria includes simulation of the possibilities of a flash fire, or electric arc flash, not a chemical fire. “Flame resistant” term refers to the characteristic of a fabric that avoids burning in air.
Figure 3.3 Lab coat (a) and apron (b)
(Courtesy of Egebant)
Lab coats should be provided for protection and convenience. They should be worn at all times in the lab areas. Due to the possible absorption and accumulation of chemicals in the material, lab coats should not be worn in the lunchroom or elsewhere outside the laboratory.
Choosing the right lab coat
Lab coats are made of different materials, and depending on the type of hazard in the lab, it is significant to select the lab coat. Determination of the type of hazard in the lab is the first step in this selection process.
Some questions to consider are the following:
- Do you primarily work with chemicals, biological agents, radioisotopes, or a mix of things?
- Are there large quantities of flammable materials (>4 liters) used in a process or experiment?
- Are there water reactive or pyrophoric materials used in the open air, e.g. in a fume hood instead of a glove box?
- Are there open flames or hot processes along with a significant amount of flammables?
- How are hazardous chemicals used and what engineering controls are available, e.g. a fume hood or glove box?
- Is there a significant risk of spill, splash or splatter for the tasks being done?
- What is the toxicity of chemicals used and is there concern about careless spread of contamination?
One coat may not work for all lab operations. Users might need to provide a basic poly/cotton mixture coat for most operations, but have accessible lab coats of treated cotton or Nomex for work involving pyrophoric materials, extremely flammable chemicals, extensive amounts of flammable chemicals, or work around hot procedures or operations. If there is a possibility of a chemical splash, rubber apron over the flame resistant lab coat should also be used.
Flame resistant (FR) lab coats
Work with pyrophoric, spontaneously combustible, or extremely flammable chemicals presents an especially high potential for fire and burn risks to the skin. The use of fire retardant or fire resistant (FR) lab coats is recommended to provide additional skin protection where the individual will be working with these chemicals. The primary materials used for FR lab coats are FR-treated cotton or Nomex.
Lab coat use
When lab coats are in use, the following should be observed:
- Wear lab coats that fit properly. Lab coats are available in a variety of sizes. Some lab coat services also offer custom sizes (e.g., extra long sleeves, tall, or woman’s fit). Lab coats should fasten close to the collar to provide optimal protection.
- Lab coats should be worn fully buttoned or snapped with sleeves down.
- Wear lab coats only when in the lab or work area. Remove lab coats when leaving the lab/work area to go home, to lunch, to the restroom, or meetings in conference rooms, etc.
Laundry services are not equipped to handle significant contamination of lab coats with hazardous materials. In the event of a significant spill of a hazardous material on the lab coat, remove the coat immediately. If skin or personal clothing is impacted, it will be necessary to proceed to an emergency shower. Remove any contaminated clothing, and shower. Generally, significantly contaminated coats and clothing will be considered a hazardous waste, and must be managed based on the type of contamination.
Lab coat cleaning
Lab coats must not be cleaned at home. For lab coat cleaning, please contact LS.
In the case of some procedures in the laboratory, such as washing glassware, large quantities of corrosive liquids in open containers are handled. In this situation, plastic or rubber aprons should be worn over the lab coat.
A high-necked, calf- or ankle-length, rubberized laboratory apron (See Figure 3.3.b) or a long-sleeved, calf- or ankle-length, chemical- and fire-resistant laboratory coat should be worn whenever laboratory manipulation or experimentation is conducted.
References and sources for information from the relevant websites and documentation of different universities, NGOs and government agencies used in the preparation of this website are provided at references.