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Hazardous Materials: Spills, Gas Leaks, and Odors - E.S.C.A.P.E.

EXIT THE AREA -- Immediately after a hazardous chemical is spilled exit the area. If the spill occurred in a laboratory and access to the fume hood is not blocked by the spill and/or hazardous vapors are not present in the area, then raise the sash on the fume hood to increase the airflow.

SHUT THE DOORS AND SECURE THE AREA-- Shut the doors to the area where the spill is located and secure the area, if possible. Most laboratories are under negative pressure, which will pull air from the hallway into the lab, to prevent potentially hazardous vapors from spreading into other areas.

CALL PUBLIC SAFETY Call USI Public Safety (812-492-7777 or ext. 7777) from a safe location and give the following information:

  • Building name
  • Room number or location
  • Type of incident
  • Name of chemical spilled or description of odor if unsure of the chemical
  • Estimate of the volume of chemical spilled

Public Safety may contact Central Dispatch to have fire department respond depending on the size and nature of the chemical spill.

ASSESS THE SITUATION -- Determine if the spill is Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH). IDLH incidents are those that pose a significant and immediate threat to building occupants due to extreme toxicity, imminent explosion, or other life-threatening scenario. These types of incidents are rare. If the spill does not pose a threat to the building occupants, then remain outside the entrance to the laboratory until the spill response team arrives. If you determine the situation to be Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health, then proceed to the next step. 

PULL THE FIRE ALARM -- After determining that the spill poses an immediate danger to the building occupants, pull the fire alarm. Activating the fire alarm will evacuate the building occupants and call the local fire department. 

EXIT THE BUILDING -- Once the fire alarm has been activated, exit the building. Remain at a safe distance from the main entrance of the building. Give complete information to the emergency response teams upon arrival.

Chemical Contamination

Remove any contaminated clothing immediately and flush all areas of bodily contact with copious amounts of water. This should take place in a safe location and while someone else makes the appropriate phone calls.

Ensure that medical assistance is obtained for those injured or exposed (safety shower, medical attention, etc.). Continue to rinse body contact areas with copious amounts of water for at least 15 minutes unless directed otherwise by appropriate emergency medical personnel (physician, nurse, paramedic or emergency medical technician).

Visit campus Health Services or a local hospital for medical care and evaluation. If possible, take applicable Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) with you.

(Instructions for Shelter-In-Place for Contaminations)

Radiation Release

The Radiation Safety Training Guide gives detailed instructions regarding what to do in the event of a release involving radioactive material. Basic instructions include the following:

  • RESTRICT ACCESS: Persons in the immediate area not contaminated in the incident should be asked to leave the area. Establish a restricted area boundary, limiting access to the area to authorized personnel only.

  • MAINTAIN SURVEILLANCE: The restricted area must be kept under constant, direct supervision by an Authorized User (AU) or the Radiation Safety Officer (RSO; contact 812-464-1903) until area is deemed safe for occupancy.

  • NOTIFY: The Authorized User directly supervising the use of material involved in the accident should be notified immediately. In the case of spills, assessment of the accident should be made to determine if accident is minor or major and the proper procedures to be followed.

(More information regarding biohazard spills) - pdf

Biological Spills

ALL spills of biological materials, regardless of biosafety level, should be reported to the Environmental Health & Safety Manager. Extremely large spills should also initially be reported to Public Safety.

If the biological spill poses an inhalation hazard, do not attempt to handle the spill. Environmental Health and Safety will assume responsibility for the situation. 

(More information regarding biohazard spills)

Gas Leaks or Releases

If a compressed gas cylinder or gas piping is leaking or is suspected of leaking or if there is any other known or suspected gas release, or if a person knowledgeable about the source decides that it is hazardous to them or to other building occupants, the following steps should be taken:

  • Immediately notify building occupants to evacuate the area using general evacuation procedures.
  • Contact Public Safety and be prepared to provide the following information:
    • Building name
    • Floor and room number
    • Specific chemical name of involved gas
    • Source of the gas

Unusual or Abnormal Odors

  • If the source associated with the odor is potentially hazardous to persons in the area (e.g. natural gas), contact Public Safety (812-492-7777 or ext. 7777).
  • When reporting an unusual or abnormal odor, be prepared to provide the following information:
    • Description of odor (e.g. natural gas odor)
    • Time(s) of detection
    • Abnormal conditions, activities, or materials at the time of detection (e.g. construction activities)
    • For common or unknown odors, follow the specific procedures listed below:
  • Natural gas smells - Immediately leave the area and contact Public Safety.
  • Rotten egg or sewer smells - These odors typically occur when a drain trap dries out. If the odor is moderate, run water down nearby sinks and check to see if the odor dissipates. If the odor is strong or persists after refilling drains traps, the employee should contact Facility Operations and Planning to report the odor.
  • Fishy or musty smells - These odors often result from leaks in the steam system. The employee should contact Environmental Health and Safety to report the odor.
  • Exhaust or diesel smells - These odors typically enter a building through air intakes when motor vehicles or construction equipment are left idling nearby. These odors are normally dependent on the wind direction and typically last for a short duration. If this type of odor persists, the employee should contact USI Environmental Health and Safety (812-461-5393) to report the odor.
  • If the employee has additional concerns or questions about these or any other unknown odors, contact Environmental Health and Safety (812-461-5393) to report the odor.