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Selecting the Right Lab Coat

By Kenneth Roy

Posted on 2017-08-16

There are plenty of reasons to wear a lab coat. For instance, lab coats are fire resistant, and they protect your skin from splashes and spills in the laboratory. The following are some helpful hints for selecting the right lab coat for your needs.

Hazard assessment

To identify the type of hazard, conduct a hazard assessment created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which includes the following questions:

Does your lab work primarily with chemicals, biological agents, radioisotopes, or a mix of things?

Does your lab work involve animal handling?

Are there large quantities of flammable materials (>4 liters) used in a process or experiment?

Are there water reactive or pyrophoric materials used in the open air (e.g., in a fume hood instead of a glove box)?

Are there open flames or hot processes along with a significant amount of flammables?

How are hazardous chemicals used and what engineering controls are available (e.g. a fume hood or glove box)?

Is there a significant risk of spill, splash, or splatter for the tasks being done?

What is the toxicity of chemicals used and is there concern about inadvertent spread of contamination?

The right barrier

The next step is to make sure the lab coat has the best protection possible. You must understand the hazards and safety standards that apply to your science laboratory. In K–12 classrooms, it’s best to purchase a flame-resistant, chemical-resistant lab coat. Additionally, all fire-retardant clothing must meet the National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 2112 standard. Fire-retardant lab coats should also be worn where pyrophoric reagents are used, NFPA 45 notes.

Appropriate fit and design

In addition, there needs to be the right combination of fit and comfort. Length of sleeves and coat length are critical in providing the correct barrier. Lab coats that are too long in length can cause trip hazards. Tight coats can restrict movement. Also remember to purchase a coat that has openings on the side that will allow you to access your pants pockets without having to remove the coat, which is a potential safety hazard. Select lab coats with snap-on metal buttons instead of buttons threaded into the coat because they can be taken off quickly in case of an emergency. If the coat caught fire, for example, it can be quickly ripped off without the timely unbuttoning process.

Life span

Always select lab coats made of high-quality fabrics with double-stitched seams that will hold up to multiple washing. Also, unlike nylon and polyester, cotton-based fabrics will not melt.

Submit questions regarding safety in K–12 to Ken Roy at, or leave him a comment below. Follow Ken Roy on Twitter: @drroysafersci.

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