Environmental Health and Safety

Vacuum Pump Safety

Mechanical vacuum pumps used in laboratories pose many hazards. There are mechanical hazards associated with the moving parts. There are chemical hazards of contaminating the pump oil with volatile substances and subsequently releasing them into the lab. There are also fire hazards when pumps malfunction or overheat and ignite nearby flammable or combustible materials.

Follow these guidelines for safe pump operation:

Physical (injuries/fires)

  1. Ensure that pumps have belt guards in place during operation to prevent hands or loose clothing from getting caught in the belt pulley.
  2. Ensure that electrical cords and switches are free from defects.
  3. Do not place pumps in an enclosed, unventilated cabinet allowing heat and exhaust to build up.
  4. Do not operate pumps near containers of flammable chemicals, flammable chemical wastes, or combustible materials such as paper or cardboard.
  5. Use correct vacuum tubing (thick walls) not thin Tygon-type hoses.
  6. Replace old tubing; crumbly tubing can degrade performance.
  7. Use the shortest length of tubing that reaches where needed.

Chemical

  1. Do not use solvents which might damage the pump.
  2. Always close the valve between the vacuum vessel and the pump before shutting off the pump to avoid sucking vacuum oil into the system.
  3. Place a pan under pumps to catch oil drips.
  4. Check oil levels and change oil when necessary. Replace and properly dispose of vacuum pump oil that is contaminated with condensate. Used pump oil must be disposed as hazardous waste.
  5. With oil rotary pumps many vapors condense in the pump oil. Solvents in the oil degrade its performance (and eventually ruin the pump), create a chemical hazard when the oil is changed, and are emitted in an oil mist vented from the system. Other vapors pass directly into the exhaust stream. To avoid these problems:
    1. Trap evaporated materials with a cold trap before they reach the pump. Depending on the material that is to be trapped, this can be a filtration flask either at room temperature or placed in an ice bath. For more volatile solvents more sophisticated options exist (e.g. dry ice trap).
    2. Vent the pump exhaust properly.

Personnel

  1. Conduct all vacuum operations behind a table shield or in a fume hood and always wear safety glasses, lab coat, and gloves.
  2. Keep a record for each pump to record oil change dates and to keep track of the maintenance schedule.

For more information, contact EHS Lab Safety at 512-471-3511 or ehs-labstaff@austin.utexas.edu.