Current Safety Alerts

Laboratory Safety Alert: Laboratory Equipment Fires

Laboratory dry heat ovens caused fire

Photo courtesy of Sonya Butler, BU EHS

If not operated properly, the use of a drying oven can potentially cause a fire in the laboratory. Such was the case on November 24, 2012 and January 10, 2013, when the plastic materials being dried along with glassware in the ovens overheated and melted, creating smoke and setting off the fire alarm and fire suppression system.

In one of the incidents, smoke and fire from the melted plastic materials triggered the building’s sprinkler system and drenched the entire area with water. In the second incident, overheated plastic bottle caps produced smoke and responders used a fire extinguisher.

Personnel who use laboratory equipment such as drying ovens must follow appropriate and safe operating procedures. Here are a few guidelines to follow:

  • Ensure that new users are initially trained on the proper and safe operation of the equipment.
  • Refer to the manufacturer’s manual to determine operating limitations of the oven and have full, clear written instructions on the equipment or nearby.
  • Use appropriate personal protective equipment such as heat-resistant gloves, eye and face protection, and lab coats when retrieving or handling hot materials from the oven. When feasible, hot items should be given proper time to cool and tongs or other tools should be used to handle hot items.
  • Check the thermostat during operation to ensure that is at the right temperature setting programmed by the operator.
  • DO NOT use plastic, rubber, or paper materials in high-temperature environments. If plastic or rubber material is used, assure that the temperature of the oven will not cause the materials to melt and potentially cause a fire.
  • DO NOT use glassware soaked or rinsed in organic solvents as it poses a danger of explosion.
  • DO NOT exceed the recommended temperature.
  • DO NOT dry chemicals that are volatile or sensitive to heat.
  • DO NOT use chemicals that might pose a hazard because of acute or chronic toxicity. Continuous venting to the outside atmosphere is required in these conditions and by the process reviewed by EHS in consultation with the Laboratory Safety Committee.
  • DO NOT use mercury thermometers to monitor the temperature of the oven. Accidental breakage and spills can cause the potential release of, and exposure to, mercury. Use a non-mercury substitute thermometer.
  • DO NOT over-stack loads in the oven.
  • DO NOT plug in via an extension cord.
  • If you have a model that has an exposed heating element below the drying area, DO NOT place objects that can fall through the shelf directly onto the heating element below.
  • Ensure the equipment is properly maintained and report any faults to your supervisor immediately so they can be rectified.
  • For safety-related concerns, call EHS at 617-353-4094 on the Charles River Campus or 617-638-8830 on the Medical Campus.
  • In the event of a fire, call BU Police at 617-353-2121 on the Charles River Campus or the Control Center at 617-414-6666 on the Medical Campus. Pull the fire alarm if you notice fire or smoke coming from an oven or other piece of equipment.

You can get more information at:
BU Laboratory Safety Toolkit Resource Page
NCBI: Working with Laboratory Equipment