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Laboratory Fire Safety

Labs, especially those using solvents in any quantity, have a very high potential for flash fires, explosion, rapid spread of fire, and high toxicity of products of combustion.

by University of Oklahoma
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  • Small bench-top fires in lab spaces are typical and not uncommon.
  • Large lab fires are rare.
  • Fuel load and hazard levels in labs are typically very high.
  • Labs, especially those using solvents in any quantity, have a very high potential for flash fires, explosion, rapid spread of fire, and high toxicity of products of combustion (heat, smoke, and flame).


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  • Plan work. The majority of lab fires have resulted from mental or procedural errors or carelessness.
  • Minimize materials. Have present in the immediate work area and use only the minimum quantities necessary to work in progress. Not only does this minimize fire risk, it reduces costs and waste.
  • Observe proper housekeeping. Keep work areas uncluttered, and clean frequently. Put unneeded materials back in storage promptly. Keep aisles, doors, and access to emergency equipment unobstructed at all times.
  • Observe proper safety practices.
  • Store solvents properly.
  • Observe restrictions on equipment (i.e. keeping solvents only in an explosion-proof refrigerator).
  • Keep barriers in place (shields, hood doors, lab doors).
  • Wear proper clothing and personal protective equipment.
  • Avoid working alone.
  • Plan. Have a written emergency plan for your space and/or operation.
  • Training. Exercise the emergency plan and learn to use the emergency equipment provided.


  • Know what to do. You tend to do under stress what you have practiced or pre-planned.
  • Know where things are: The nearest fire extinguisher, fire alarm box, exit(s), telephone, emergency shower/eyewash, and first aid kit, etc.
  • Be aware that emergencies are rarely "clean" and will often involve more than one type of problem. For example, an explosion may generate medical, fire, and contamination emergencies simultaneously.



  • Other occupants of the immediate space (yell) 
  • Other occupants of the facility (use the fire alarm)
  • Emergency responders (the alarm will do that for you, but a phone call makes certain)


  • The immediate area of the problem.
  • The space within which the problem has occurred.
  • The building within which the space is located.


  • Lower hood sash, close lab door(s), close corridor doors.
  • IF SAFE TO DO SO, attempt to extinguish


  • Types of Fire/Types of Extinguishers
    (see Everything You Wanted To Know About Fire Safety for details on extinguisher types) 
  • An Extinguisher is a "1st Aid" Tool - Don't expect it to control a big fire:
  • For small, isolated fires only
    If the fire is too big don't try to fight it
  • Short duration
    Depending on the size, 10 seconds to 30 seconds of spray
  • Short range
    Depending on the size/type, 5-10 feet
  • Fire ahead, escape behind
    Keep yourself between the fire and your exit
  • Spare extinguisher & observer
    Have an observer with a spare extinguisher to back you up
  • If in doubt, bail out!
    If you're not sure if you can fight the fire, you can't.


Remember the acronym, "P.A.S.S."—

P ......Pull the Pin.

A ......Aim extinguisher nozzle at the base of the flames.

S ......Squeeze trigger while holding the extinguisher upright.

S ......Sweep the extinguisher from side to side, covering the area of the fire with the extinguishing agent.