Lessons Learned: Mercury Spill at RMI South
Mercury Spill at RMI South
While cleaning a refrigerator used for research, a student employee cut their finger on broken glass, through their nitrile glove. The employee informed their supervisor, was offered first-aid, and went back to work wearing nitrile gloves over Kevlar gloves, to prevent further injury. This was all done properly, but the situation changed once the employee noticed mercury droplets in the fridge.
The employee immediately exited the room and informed their supervisor, and access was restricted to the space while EH&S and UC Davis Fire’s HAZMAT team responded.
A Proper Lab Cleanout Should Have Prevented This Situation
The refrigerator and lab space were inherited from a previous researcher and all hazardous materials should have been removed, as well as all equipment decontaminated. When taking over a new space, particularly one where hazardous materials and contaminated equipment are still present, look for obvious hazards (e.g., broken glass, spilled chemicals, unlabeled materials, heavy equipment) and consider mitigation and controls that may be necessary prior to beginning clean-up.
If you’re inheriting lab space, try to arrange a time to learn about any hazards from the research group vacating the space. During clean-up, employees should work in groups and understand how to respond in the event of an injury/emergency.
The Employee Made a Good Call
Inorganic, metallic mercury is a neurotoxin and can harm the kidneys, digestive and immune systems, as well as inducing strong toxicological effects if inhaled. This employee had the presence of mind to stop their work, seek first-aid and report the hazard immediately.