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Study Notes: High Pressure Safety

The particular PPE requirements and safety procedures to do with the management and handling of equipment for HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography) and GC (gas chromatography) are often taken for granted in the laboratory. Implications for the safety of personnel can be serious if such requirements are not followed. Both HPLC (liquids) and GC (gases) operate under pressure and can contain any of a wide variety of liquid or gaseous chemicals.

HPLCs operate under extremely high pressures.

Note that there are separate Study Notes on the safe handling and use of gas cylinders that has implications for laboratory safety when undertaking GC analyses - Study Notes: Gas Cylinders and Safety. You should read this.

HPLC systems work at liquid pressures up to 10,000 psi (~69,000 kPa) above atmospheric pressure (14.7 psi or 101 kPa) whilst GCs operate at gas pressures up to 50 psi (145 kPa) above atmospheric pressure.

Photograph that shows some detail of the HPLC equipment.

High Performance Liquid Chromatography
(HPLC)

A photograph of a gas chromatograph instrument commonly found in an analytical laboratory.

Gas Chromatography (GC)

 

Let us examine the hazardous nature of the HPLC.

  • Pumps, tubing and the column operate under high liquid pressure and have the potential to propel this liquid large distances if there is a fracture or leak.
  • High pressure means that minor leaks are more likely to occur even with high quality joints and tubing. Such leaks may present analytical problems as well as inherent safety risks.
  • Any liquid escaping into a confined space has the potential to spray onto the operator or evaporate, and if toxic, cause serious problems (eg acetonitrile commonly used in reverse-phase HPLC is poisonous and falls into the ‘dangerous goods’ classification. But it is not as poisonous as its alternative name implies - methyl cyanide).
  • Rupture of equipment may spray the area with fine metal particles which may cause physical injury to the operator.
  • Leaking aqueous liquids present an electrical safety risk.

Because of these hazards, only trained operators should use HPLC equipment.

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