PSFC Rapid Electroplating

PSFC Rapid Electroplating

Plasma Science and Fusion Center

Office of Environment, Safety, and Health

190 Albany Street, NW21 2nd floor
617-253-8440 (Catherine Fiore)
617-253-8917 (Matt Fulton)
617-253-5982 (Bill Byford)
617-258-5473 (Nancy Masley)
Fax 617-252-1808

Be Safe or Die

Reviewed and Approved By:

PSFC Supervisor

PSFC Supervisor

Catherine L. Fiore, PSFC Safety Officer

Standard Operating Procedures for Rapid Electroplating

Author: F. Silva/A. Eckmann

Version: 1.4

Date: March 20, 1992, updated 12/28/1998 by C. Fiore

Persons Responsible: Frank Shefton - NW21- 173

Frank Silva - NW21-105

Bob Childs - NW21-109

Ed Thibeault - NW21-205

Chris Reddy - NW21-204


This document will outline the hazards involved with the use of the Rapid

Electroplating Process, Inc. rapid portable plating system. It will detail procedures to be followed to minimize the risk of exposure of Plasma Science and Fusion Center employees to electroplating chemicals and electrical hazards.

The rapidportable plating system is primarily used to plate a silver surface onto electrical components. This generally involves first preparing a metal surface with a copper activating solution, plating out a copper layer, treating the copper layer with a silver activator and then plating out a silver layer.


This procedure covers employee safety during the handling and use of electroplating chemicals when using the rapid portable plating system to silver plate copper and aluminum metal components.

Safety Analysis:

Failure to follow this procedure could result in primary skin and eye irritation from direct contact with the electroplating solutions; toxicity or poisoning from cyanide compounds due to absorption of electroplating solutions through the skin, inhalation of hydrogen cyanide or cyanide-containing vapors, or accidental ingestion by smoking or eating after skin contact with cyanide-containing compounds.




The supervisor or responsible person shall designate and train employees who are required to use the Rapid Portable Plating unit. The supervisor or responsible person shall ensure that necessary supplies are available to clean up spills of electroplating solutions. The supervisor or responsible person shall ensure that the Rapid Portable Plating unit is used in accordance with good work practices in adequately ventilated areas.


The supervisor or responsible person shall be familiar with the hazards associated with cyanide-containing electroplating solutions and appropriate spill and emergency procedures described in this document.

Rapid plating operations shall only be performed in well-ventilated areas.

Required Supplies:


  1. Read the Material Safety Data Sheets for all of the electroplating solutions contained in the Rapid Portable Plating unit, prior to initial assignment to perform rapid electroplating.

  2. Set up the work area in a well-ventilated location. Use local ventilation, such as a drop or fume hood if the size of the job permits. If a long work run is anticipated, set up the work near the overhead garage door and keep it open throughout the electroplating procedure. If working near the garage door, do not leave the setup unattended.

  3. Ensure that there are adequate paper towels, sand, or vermiculite nearby in the event that the electroplating solutions are spilled.

  4. Ensure that an eyewash is located nearby to flush the eyes in the event of eye contact. If there is not an eyewash nearby, another employee who can escort the affected employee to an eyewash shall remain in the vicinity of the operation.

  5. Ensure that gloves, an apron, and eye protection or face shield are worn. Cyanide-containing compounds may be absorbed through the skin and through open wounds. Ensure that there are no acids or food products in the work area.

  6. Prepare the aluminum surface for copper plating.

    1. Inspect the palm sander for signs of defects, especially cuts or nicks in the cord insulation. Also inspect the plating equipment connect wires.

    2. Buff surface with electric powered palm sander (Milwaukee finishing sander, double insulated) with Scotchbrite pad attached. After buffing, clean the surface with acetone.

    3. Check the general work area for grounding. All electrical outlets should be grounded. NEVER connect ground to metal table or surface other than piece being worked on. When not in use, clip the ground to the plating equipment case.

    4. Place the part on wooden blocks on the table. When treating metal surfaces, follow the manufacturer's instructions.

    5. Treat surface with Aluminum Activator #5 solution. Use the #59 wand. Drench the wand in the aluminum activator #5 container. "Scrub" activator back and forth onto the metal until a light gray finish appears, then wipe off the piece with a paper towel. Aluminum Activator #5 contains sodium hydroxide, which may cause severe skin and eye burns.

  7. Plate a copper layer onto the workpiece.

    Treat surface with Copper Coatalyte #314 solution. Use the #444 wand. Drench the wand in the Copper Coatalyte #314 container. Swab this solution onto the workpiece without current first. Clip the connect to the workpiece, and continue swabbing. Swab onto plate from lowest edge of the workpiece first using short, circular rubbing action. Wipe off excess material with a paper towel.

  8. Prepare the copper surface for silver plating.

    Treat surface with Rapid Activator #4 (Copper Activator). Use the #49 wand. Drench the wand in the Rapid Activator #4 container. Swab this solution onto the workpiece with rubbing action. Wipe off excess solution with a paper towel.

  9. Plate a silver layer onto the workpiece.

    Clip the connect to the workpiece. Treat surface with Silver Coatalyte #316 solution. Use the #446 wand. Drench the wand in the Silver Coatalyte #316 container. Swab this solution onto the workpiece from the lowest edge of the workpiece first, using a short, circular rubbing action. After a suitable finish has appeared, detach the connect from the workpiece and turn the plating unit OFF. Wipe off excess material with a paper towel.

  10. Segregate waste material.

    Gloves,rags, brushes, paper towels or other materials which are contaminated with the coatalyte solutions must not be placed in the regular trash because of the cyanide content of the solutions. They should be placed in a separate platic bag and clearly labeled with a red hazardous waste tag containing the name of the contaminant material. These may be held until full in a satellite accumulation area. Once the bags are full, contact C. Fiore so that they may be removed to a hazardous waste accumulation center. Empty containers may be rinsed 3 times with water (the rinse water should be placed into a container for hazardous waste disposal) and placed into the regular trash.

    It is especially important that these wastes be segregated from acids, as contact with acids could generate hydrogen cyanide gas.


The supervisor shall supply this procedure to affected employees and verify that they understand it. Employees should understand the health hazards of cyanide solutions, and the routes of exposure. The fact that toxic quantities of cyanide may be absorbed through intact skin, and through open wounds should be emphasized, as well as the importance of washing hands thoroughly after use. The conditions whereby hazardous concentrations of hydrogen cyanide gas may be generated should also be emphasized.

Spill Procedures:

The major cause of release of hydrogen cyanide from the electroplating solution would be accidental contact with acid, acid salts, and weak alkalies. Industrial hygiene measurements have shown detectable concentrations of hydrogen cyanide just above an open container of the Copper Coatalyte solution under normal atmospheric conditions. Therefore, in the event of a large spill of the material, (i.e., the entire contents of a 500 ml container), employees shall restrict access to the work area and dial 100.

Small spills of a few milliliters may be absorbed or wiped up using paper towels. After absorbing any excess liquid, contaminated surfaces may be cleaned using soapy water and rinsing thoroughly.

Silver, copper, and sodium cyanides are all regulated as "acutely" hazardous wastes in accordance with CMR 310 30.00, Hazardous Waste Regulations. Therefore, paper sheets or mats placed on top of work surfaces, paper towels, and gloves which are contaminated with the Coatalyte or any other cyanide-containing solutions, as well as empty Coatalyte containers, may not be placed in the ordinary trash. All paper mats, sheets, and towels used in the rapid plating process shall be placed in plastic bags, and tagged as cyanide-containing waste using a red hazardous waste label. The Safety Office shall be contacted to pick up these wastes. Full waste bags shall be stored in a hazardous waste accumulation area (contact C. Fiore), away from other chemicals, until they are picked up by the Safety Office for hazardous waste removal.

It is especially important that these wastes be segregated from acids, as contact with acids could generate hydrogen cyanide gas.

Emergency and First Aid Procedures:

Signs, Symptoms, and Routes of Exposure. Cyanide intoxication may be felt as weakness of the arms and legs, reddening of the eyes, headache, confusion and sometimes nausea. Initially cyanide poisoning causes a red or ruddy complexion because the tissues are not able to use the oxygen that is brought to them by the blood (this appearance is usually noted postmortem). Exposure to cyanide compounds may occur through skin absorption, and especially through mucous membranes or open wounds.

Skin Contact. Immediately flush the affected area with water for 15 minutes. Any contaminated clothing should be removed immediately. Contaminated clothing may hold chemicals in contact with the skin without being immediately noticed. If prolonged skin contact occurs, if skin irritation develops at the area of contact, or if contact of the Coatalyte solution comes into contact with mucous membranes or open wounds, the affected employee shall be immediately taken to the Medical Department for examination.

Eye Contact. In the event of eye contact, a nearby person shall dial 100. Flush the eye of the affected employee with water continuously for 15 minutes, or until medical help arrives. The affected employee shall be immediately taken to the Medical Department for examination.

Inhalation. Inthe event that an individual is overcome with vapors, dial 100 for emergency assistance. The area where the individual has been affected may be hazardous to others trying to assist.

Loss of Consciousness due to Ingestion or Absorption. In the event that an individual becomes unconscious due to ingestion or skin absorption, dial 100 for emergency assistance. Performing CPR on a person who has succumbed to cyanide poisoning may be hazardous.

Fire Hazards. Toxic gases including nitrogen oxides, metal oxides, cyanates, and hydrogen cyanide may be given off if these chemicals are involved in a fire. Carbon dioxide or acid-based extinguishing media may result in the formation of hydrogen cyanide gas. Therefore, do not attempt to put out any fires involving these chemicals.


• American Industrial Hygiene Association, "Hygienic Guides" (1982 - hydrogen cyanide)

• Manufacturer Material Safety Data Sheets for specific electroplating chemicals in use

This page maintained by Catherine L. Fiore FIORE@PSFC.MIT.EDU