Revision 1/2018

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Hazard Description

Hazard Description

Chemical irritants are materials that cause reversible inflammation or irritation to a body surface, including eyes, respiratory tract, skin or mucous membranes, upon contact.  Many chemical irritants also cause have other hazardous properties.  Primary irritants exert no systemic toxic action.  The degree of irritation depends on the chemical concentration, duration of contact, and personal factors (health status, sensitization). 

Understand the symptoms and routes of exposure to the chemical irritant. 

Be aware that some irritants are sensitizers or have delayed symptoms.  Sensitizers are chemicals that can cause an allergic reaction upon repeat low level exposures.

Breathing chemical irritant gases can also cause the buildup of fluid in the lungs or can interfere with the exchange of oxygen. 

GHS exclamation point pictogram red diamond with black exclamation point
               Harmful

Manufacturer labels and safety data sheets (SDSs) contain information on chemical hazards.  The chemical label will have the irritation pictogram if the chemical may cause skin, eye or respiratory irritation.  Hazard information will be listed in Section 2 of the SDS.  SDSs are available from the manufacturer or EHRS can provide.

The following GHS  health hazard statements apply to irritant chemicals

Code Health Hazard Statement Hazard Class (GHS Chapter) Hazard Category
H314 Causes severe skin burns and eye damage Skin corrosion/irritation (chapter 3.2) 1A, 1B, 1C
H315 Causes skin irritation Skin corrosion/irritation (chapter 3.2) 2
H316 Causes mild skin irritation Skin corrosion/irritation (chapter 3.2) 3
H317 May cause an allergic skin reaction Sensitization, skin (chapter 3.4) 1
H318 Causes serious eye damage Serious eye damage/eye irritation(chapter 3.3) 1
H319 Causes serious eye irritation Serious eye damage/eye irritation(chapter 3.3) 2A
H320 Causes eye irritation Serious eye damage/eye irritation(chapter 3.3) 2B
H335 May cause respiratory irritation Specific target organ toxicity, single exposure; Respiratory tract irritation(chapter 3.8) 3
Approvals

Approvals

If you or your lab has not worked with this hazard before and you are considering a procedure that requires you to do so, we recommend contacting EHRS for guidance.

All work that involves the handling or transfer of irritant chemicals requires the approval of the P.I.  The P.I. must ensure that the person or team who will be working with the irritant chemicals understands the hazards and has received adequate training and supervision for the procedure. 

For any task that requires safety controls beyond those specified in this SOP, a task-specific Hazard Control Plan (HCP) must be written.  The HCP must be sent to EHRS for review.  EHRS will upload the HCP to the “documents” section of the lab’s BioRAFT page.

Training Requirements

Training Requirements

No researcher may work independently with the hazardous material described in this SOP until the Principal Investigator (or their designee) has ensured that the researcher:

  • Has completed all required EHRS laboratory safety training programs
  • Understands the hazards of the materials and risks of the processes involved
  • Has read and understand the contents of this SOP
  • Demonstrates the ability to execute their work according to the requirements in this SOP
Facility Requirements

Facility Requirements

General Ventilation

Irritant chemicals may not be handled or stored in a room or facility with recirculating exhaust.

Chemical Fume Hood

Most work with Irritant chemicals in open or closed systems must be done in a designated area of a laboratory inside of a properly functioning chemical fume hood, biosafety cabinet, or filtering workstation if a chemical is a respiratory irritant or splash hazard.

In some cases, small quantities of irritant chemicals with low toxicity (by inhalation) may be handled outside of a chemical fume hood or biosafety cabinet.  Contact EHRS to request a risk assessment to determine whether this can be permitted for a specific chemical and task.

Emergency Irrigation

Emergency irrigation (safety shower, eyewash) must be accessible within a 10-second travel distance of the area where the work is performed.

Signage and Labeling

Signage and Labeling

A legible manufacturer’s label including hazard information must be present on all commercial containers of irritant chemicals.

If irritant chemicals are transferred to another container for storage or to make stock solutions for later use, special labeling requirements apply.  See the “Researcher-Created Labels” section in Section IV:  Chemical Container Labeling in this CHP for a complete list of requirements.

Storage and Transport

Storage and Transport

Proper storage and transport of irritant Chemicals must be determined by assessing all of the hazards and physical properties of the chemical. 

See Section VI:  Chemical Storage and Transportation in this CHP for a complete list of requirements.

Hazard Controls

Hazard Controls

Engineering Controls

Chemical Fume Hood

Most work with Irritant chemicals in open or closed systems must be done in a designated area of a laboratory inside of a properly functioning chemical fume hood, biosafety cabinet, or filtering workstation if a chemical is a respiratory irritant or splash hazard.

In some cases, small quantities of irritant chemicals with low toxicity (by inhalation) may be handled outside of a chemical fume hood or biosafety cabinet.  Contact EHRS to request a risk assessment to determine whether this can be permitted for a specific chemical and task.

The fume hood is designed to capture chemical vapor and the hood sash acts as a shield in case of chemical splash.  The sash must be kept closed as much as feasible.

Vacuum Protection

Mechanical vacuum pumps must be protected using cold traps and, where appropriate, must include a filter to prevent particulate release.  The pump exhaust must be vented into an approved exhaust duct or chemical fume hood.

Work Practices

A list of recommended work practices for hazardous chemical handling is included in Section V: Chemical Handling in this CHP. Of particular relevance to acutely toxic chemical use:

Considerations for purchase

  • Do not use irritant chemicals if less-hazardous alternatives are possible.
  • Purchase, dispense, and use the smallest quantity of irritant chemicals possible. 
  • Purchase the lowest concentration of irritant chemicals that will meet your research needs.

Considerations for work space

  • Use disposable work surface covers (“bench protectors”) in areas where irritant chemicals are handled to prevent contamination of work surface.  Change bench protectors daily when irritant chemicals are used, and properly dispose of contaminated covers.

Considerations for handling

  • Plan your work to minimize the risk of contact with irritant chemicals
  • Do not handle irritant chemicals when working alone.
  • Immediately close all containers of irritant chemicals after use.
  • Due to the risk of splashes and equipment failures, not use a syringe and needle to perform transfers of irritant chemicals in volumes of greater than 5 mL. 
  • Do not dispense volatile irritant chemicals directly onto a laboratory balance in the general lab space.  Instead, transfer the material into a sealable, pre-tared container inside the fume hood; then take the sealed container to the balance.  Adjust the amount of material inside the container until the desired mass is reached.  Make all adjustments inside the fume hood.
  • The use of irritant chemicals in laboratory animals may require additional work practice controls.  Contact EHRS if your protocol involves acutely toxic chemicals.

Additional work practices for reducing the risks of any lab procedure involving irritant chemicals must be described in a written Hazard Control Plan.

Personal Protective Equipment

Consider the potential routes of exposure and health consequences when selecting personal protective equipment (PPE) for tasks involving irritant chemicals. 

In addition to the minimum lab apparel and PPE requirements, other protective equipment may be necessary to reduce risks.  When additional equipment (such as tight-fitting chemical splash goggles, chemical-resistant gloves, or disposable lab coats) are required, a Hazard Control Plan must be written to document the risk assessment and controls.

Contact EHRS for assistance with risk assessments, glove compatibility, and other PPE selection.

The minimum PPE requirements for all chemical handling tasks, and information about specialty PPE can be found in the "Personal Protective Equipment" section of Section V:  Chemical Handling in this CHP.

Waste and Decontamination

Waste and Decontamination

Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling any chemical and whenever you leave the lab.

Use good housekeeping practices to avoid contamination of surfaces, garments, personal belongings, and self.

Decontaminate all surfaces that have come in contact with irritant chemicals and clean-up small spills promptly.  See the chemical Safety Data Sheet or contact EHRS for assistance with determining an appropriate decontamination method.  See “Spills” below for instruction on what to do in the event of a large or hazardous spill of an irritant chemical.

For complete hazardous waste guidelines, see the waste section of the EHRS website: Laboratory Chemical Waste Management Guidelines

Emergencies

Emergencies

Emergency Contacts

General emergency response information can be found at Emergency Info

Spills

General procedures for chemicals spill response can be found in Section X: Chemical Spills in this CHP.

Do not hesitate to call EHRS for assistance with spill cleanup.

24 hours: 215-898-4453

Contact Penn Police (511) only if the spill involves a fire, imminent risk of fire, an injury requiring an ambulance, or if there is a hazard that may affect others in the building.

List of Irritant Chemicals

List of Irritant Chemicals

Examples of common laboratory chemicals that are primary irritants:

Sodium dodecyl sulfate

MS-222 (tricane)

Chemical irritants with other hazards

Ammonia*

Phosgene*

Formaldehyde*

Sulfur dioxide*

Ozone

Nitrogen dioxide

Halogens

Dichloromethane

Related SOPs and Fact Sheets

Related SOPs and Fact Sheets

Fact Sheet:  Osmium Tetroxide

References

References

This SOP was based on the previous version of “EHRS SOP for Irritants” and the following additional resources:

  1. OSHA's Guide to The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS)