Phenol Skin Exposure

Updated August 29, 2014

Incident or near miss

While performing a phenol/chloroform DNA extraction in a chemical fume hood, the researcher removed a microcentrifuge tube from the hood and began “flicking” or gently tapping on it.  The lid popped open and a small amount (about 5 drops) of phenol/chloroform splashed onto researcher’s chest /neck area.  Researcher was wearing gloves and safety glasses, but no lab coat at time of incident.


Response action 

Upon being splashed, a nearby lab mate assisted injured researcher.  The researcher removed shirt and went to a locker room shower to rinse affected area for 15 minutes before going to MIT Medical for treatment.  Material Safety Data Sheet was consulted to assist in treating the researcher who suffered from localized skin irritations.  


Immediate Cause – contributing cause(s)

  1. Lid opening unexpectedly during “flicking” of tube


Causal factors (confirmed or suspected) –

  1. Performing “flicking” step outside of chemical fume hood
  2. Lack of lab coat


Recommended corrective action(s) or lessons learned –

  1. Use “safe lock” tubes for DNA extraction with phenol/chloroform so lids stay securely on
  2. Use chemical fume hood
  3. Wear a lab coat that is fully closed so covers chest and neck area
  4. Develop a lab-specific SOP for phenol/chloroform DNA extraction procedure
  5. Discuss incident in lab group meeting and review SOP including phenol safety procedures and exposure response
  6. Consider developing a first aid kit for phenol skin exposures that would include polyethylene glycol - PEG (to be discussed further with EHS/MIT Medical)


What worked well -

  1. Not working alone; quick assistance by co-worker
  2. Good response protocol followed including removing clothing, rinsing for 15 minutes, going to MIT Medical with MSDS available