It is the responsibility of each laboratory unit to establish emergency plans in the events of fire, chemical spills or other emergencies resulting from accidents within their laboratories. You also need to be familiar with the emergency plans and evacuation routes for your building. Plans may vary slightly, depending on the design of the building, but generally will incorporate the following features:

A. Fire Emergency Procedures


How you react in the event of fire depends on how well you have prepared for a fire emergency. Therefore, departments should ensure that all employees are familiar with the procedure to follow in the event of an emergency as outlined in the University’s Emergency Plan.

Procedure to Follow

Departments that need a special fire emergency procedure due to unique operations should contact the Fire Safety Section for assistance. Most departments can follow the basic building evacuation procedure outlined below.
In the event of an alarm, remember RACE.

  • R: Remove anyone from immediate danger
  • A: Activate the building fire alarm system and call 911.
  • C: Confine the fire by closing all windows and doors.
  • E: Evacuate and leave the building.

Extinguish the fire, if you can do it safely and have received training from EHS. You are NOT required to use fire extinguishers; however, you are required to receive fire extinguisher training from EHS if you want to use fire extinguishers in the event of an incipient-stage fire in your lab. See Chapter 10: Fire Safety for more information.

How to Survive a Building Fire

  • Crawl, if there is smoke.
  • Feel doors before opening.
  • Go to the nearest exit.
  • Always use an exit stair, not an elevator.
  • Close doors.
  • Use a fire extinguisher if the fire is very small and you know how to use it safely.
  • If you are on fire – Stop, Drop and Roll.
  • If you get trapped:
    • Close the door.
    • Seal cracks.
    • Open the windows if safe.
    • Signal for help and phone 911.
    • Do not jump.
    • The fire department will reach you.

If You are Physically Impaired

If you are disabled (even temporarily), you should do the following:

  • Learn about fire safety.
  • Plan for fire emergencies.
  • Be aware of your own capabilities and limitations.

Look for “areas of refuge” like stair enclosures or other side of corridor fire doors. Elevators are not safe during fires. Sometimes it may be safer to stay in your room. If there is an immediate threat to safety, ask others near you for assistance. If no help is available, seek refuge in a room with a window or stairway. If possible, call 911 to report your location and receive instructions from the Emergency Operator.

B. Emergency Response to Chemical Spills

Many laboratory spills are of limited hazard potential, and laboratory personnel can clean up safely. Your laboratory should be equipped to handle small low-hazard spills. You should call EHS (919-962-5507) if a spill situation involves any of the following:

  • a respiratory hazard
  • a threat of fire or explosion
  • more than 100 mL of an OSHA regulated chemical carcinogen or a highly toxic chemical (see appendices to Chapter 7)
  • more than 1 liter of a volatile or flammable solvent
  • more than 1 liter of a corrosive (acid or base) liquid
  • elemental (liquid) mercury spills; refer to section C below

Chemical Spill Response Kit

Your laboratory should be equipped with protective clothing and spill cleanup materials to respond to small low-hazard chemical spills. Specialized chemical and corrosives spill kits are commercially available. In addition, you may obtain these materials to make your own spill kit.


  • 1 Pail, Plastic, 2.5 Gallon
  • 2 Oil Dri, Bentonite Clay, 5LB Bag
  • 2 Plastic Bags, Black, 3ml 23x20x48
  • 1 Dust Pan with Brush, Polypropylene
  • 4 Bags, Zip-lock
  • 1 Pair Disposable, Nitrile Gloves (Large)
  • 2 Tags with Ties for Bags
  • 2 Pairs of Shoe Covers, Disposable Tyvek
  • 1 Label (sticker) “Chemical Spill Kit” for bucket
  • 1 Sign “Spill Area – Keep Out”
  • 1 Instruction sheet “Clean up of Laboratory Spills”
  • 1 Pair Safety Goggles
  • 2 Pair Gloves Neoprene 11″, Long
  • 2 Coveralls Tyvek®, Large

Response Steps for Chemical Spills

Step 1: Leave and Control Spill Area

  • Evacuate personnel from the immediate spill area.
  • Block off immediate spill area – close corridor doors, use lab carts, wastebaskets, etc.
  • Eliminate any fire hazard, especially if spill is flammable or combustible- turn off burners, electrical equipment, etc.
  • Post sign, “Spill Area – Keep Out”.
  • Alert other personnel in laboratory and adjacent areas of a chemical spill including the PI or Instructor.

Step 2: Help Injured Personnel

Take care of injured personnel- move from spill, remove contaminated clothing, flush skin with water, use eyewash and/or safety shower, etc. If there is a chemical splash to the eyes and/or there are burns or respiratory problems, seek medical attention.

Step 3: Evaluate Hazard

Make preliminary evaluation of hazard and identification of risks and decide whether you should call EHS. If it can be handled without respiratory protection, continue with clean up.

Step 4: Clean Up Spill

  • Contain the spill using absorbent clay to stop spill from spreading under refrigerators, cabinets, equipment, drains, or corridors. Then spread clay around the perimeter, damming the spill.
  • Use the clay to absorb the rest of the liquid.
  • Scoop the clay/absorbed chemical mixture into a plastic pail lined with a plastic bag.
  • Seal plastic bag and containerize for disposal.
  • Wash and deactivate the spill surfaces of trace amounts of the spilled chemical. Contact EHS for advice.
  • Fill out Electronic Hazardous Material Pick-Up Request for collected spill material or call EHS for disposal instructions.
  • Replace used materials in spill kit.

Step 5: Review Incident

Review incident to prevent further spills and improve response procedures.

C. Mercury Spills

Mercury pollution is one of the most significant environmental toxins found in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a variety of public health organizations have identified mercury elimination as one of their highest priorities in recent years. Over an eight-year period (2001-2008), roughly seventy percent of chemical spill- response/clean-up has involved mercury. As a result, University personnel involved in the remediation of mercury spills expend a significant amount of resources each year. In addition, improper disposal and/or unrecognized or unreported releases of mercury are a threat to the community and can lead to significant regulatory consequences for the University. As a generator of hazardous chemical waste, UNC Chapel Hill has an obligation under federal and state regulations and to the community to reduce the volume and quantity of mercury waste generated on campus. The University recognizes the threat presented by mercury and is committed to the reduction/elimination of mercury on campus.

Principal Investigators and laboratory Safety Supervisors are responsible for identifying mercury containing devices in their laboratory that should be eliminated. Departments are responsible for providing sufficient resources to provide alternatives and implement reduction/elimination of mercury from departmental laboratories. The Department of Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) is responsible for properly disposing of mercury waste from laboratories and educating the campus about alternatives.

Campus laboratories were to eliminate all non-essential uses of elemental mercury by December 31, 2009. EHS defines “Essential Use” as a circumstance where no acceptable alternative for the current use can be located or where it is found that implementation of an alternative would create a significant long-term financial hardship to the department or research project. Laboratories wishing to maintain inventories of mercury can request an exception via EHS. In the event of a disagreement over the requested exception, the Laboratory and Chemical Safety Committee will review and make a decision regarding the request. EHS works in a cooperative fashion with any department found to have an unusually large inventory of mercury-based items to allow phase-ins of alternatives. Examples of laboratory devices that contain elemental mercury include, but are not limited to thermometers, barometers, and manometers. Mercury waste being eliminated should be referred to EHS for proper disposal.

EHS began citing mercury reduction/ elimination non-compliance during Collaborative Laboratory Inspection Program (CLIP) inspections in 2010.

EHS and the Laboratory and Chemical Safety Committee will serve as technical resources for the implementation of this program. EHS will also serve to oversee the development and implementation of mercury educational materials.

If your lab uses any devices that contain liquid elemental mercury, such as thermometers, manometers, or sphygmomanometers, you must have a small mercury spill kit available to contain the spill. The example below (Figure 1.3) is available from Fisher Scientific, catalog #19021910. Use the contents of the mercury spill kit for initial containment.

Contact EHS for assistance during or immediately after completing initial containment. Prior to EHS arrival, seal off the immediate spill area so that no one can walk on spilled mercury.

Figure 1.3
Mercury spill kit. Contents include mercury-absorbing sponges, amalgamating powder, and containment bags.

D. Requesting Assistance for Chemical Spills

Some spills may be more hazardous and laboratory personnel should not attempt clean up. As stated earlier, call EHS if the spill is more than 100 mL of an OSHA regulated chemical carcinogen or a highly toxic chemical; more than 1 liter of a volatile or flammable solvent; or, more than 1 liter of a corrosive (acid or base) liquid. In such cases, evacuate the room and call EHS immediately.

These more hazardous spills may only involve the EHS HazMatTeam, or the UNC Emergency Response Plan might need to be activated which involves the Chapel Hill Fire Department, UNC Public Safety, local hazmat teams, and North Carolina Regional Response Team #4. In the event of major uncontrolled incidents such as fire, major releases of hazardous chemicals to the environment, or life threatening injuries, call 911 immediately.

Communication between the laboratory, department, EHS, and other response personnel is very important. The Principal Investigator and other laboratory personnel who know the hazardous materials involved and/or the particular circumstances of the accident must be present at the incident command site. Obtain safety data sheets for the chemicals involved to bring to the incident command site.