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Monitoring Monday – Laboratory Safety

Monitoring Monday – Laboratory Safety

Join us "Mondays" as the Clean Water Team shares information and resources on water quality monitoring. This post-Hilary Tuesday we will look at laboratory safety.



Laboratory environments pose unique sets of hazards, including chemical, biological, physical, and radiological hazards. Having a strong set of overall laboratory safety rules is essential to avoiding disasters in the lab. This also applies to laboratory like process conducted outdoors.

Risk management is a continuous process to identify, assess (evaluate), control, and monitor risks. As new procedures, chemical, and equipment is used, or new laboratory and storage space is occupied, your safe laboratory practices and procedures will need to be re-evaluated and your health and safety plan updated.

To protect staff and volunteer from exposure to hazardous chemicals and risks associated with your laboratory, there is a system of defense which needs to be implemented. These can be divided into four basic areas:

  • Recognize (Identify Hazards)

  • Assess Risks

  • Minimize Risks

  • Prepare for Emergencies


A hazard is a potential source of danger or harm and can result from working with chemicals, equipment, and instrumentation. Ask yourself, "What am I working with? What are the hazards?" Common hazards in the laboratory include animal, biological, chemical, physical, and radiological.

  • Know the hazards of the chemicals you are working with. Prior to using a chemical with which you are unfamiliar, consult the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) or other appropriate references. (See previous Monitoring Monday message about Safety Data Sheets).

  • Know the hazards of the equipment you are using. Consult the manufacturer’s instructions and provide detailed training for your laboratory personnel. Special consideration should be given to appliance that generate heat (incubators, Quanti-Tray Sealers…), pressure (sterilizers and autoclaves), or UV light (handheld UV lights and cabinet UV lights).

  • Learn how your equipment and supplies should and will be moved, transported, and stored. Size, shape, volume, and weight along with contents should be considered when determining hazards.


Water quality assessment methods and laboratory practices should be designed to minimize potential risks. After a hazard(s) is recognized an assessment or evaluation of risk from potential exposure to the hazard must be conducted. This process assesses how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how serious it could be.

Start by identifying potential routes of exposure followed by judging the relative risk posed by the hazards. Follow a similar approach to determine hazards from the equipment, and instruments being used. Then develop controls to minimize, reduce, or eliminate the potential risks identified.


Controlling exposures to hazards in your laboratory is vital to protecting your staff and volunteers. The hierarchy of controls is a way of determining which actions will best control exposures. This hierarchy has five levels of actions to reduce or remove hazards. The preferred order of action based on general effectiveness is:

  • Elimination

  • Substitution

  • Engineering controls (Environmental Settings and Considerations)

  • Administrative controls

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE)

Elimination removes the hazard at the source. This could include not using a certain toxic chemical.

Substitution is using a safer alternative to the source of the hazard. Are there methods or instruments that could be effective substitutes and reduce the potential for harmful effects and do not create new risks.

Elimination and substitution can be the most difficult actions to adopt because certain chemistry may be required to analyze some water quality samples. However, a good opportunity to use elimination and substitution is when selecting new equipment or procedures. For example, using dissolved oxygen meters instead of a titration method.

Administrative Controls establish work practices that reduce the duration, frequency, or intensity of exposure to hazards.

  • Establish good lab practices.

  • Utilize written safety protocols/policies/procedures, supervisory activities, and employee training/resources.

    • Maintain up to date SDS records. Keep these records accessible both in and adjacent to your laboratory.

    • Documenting all written and verbal instructions.

  • Require laboratory safety training.

    • Maintain laboratory training records.

    • Prohibit general access of non-science staff or volunteer to laboratories where hazards may occur.

  • Only allow work under direct supervision and never allow work to be done alone in the laboratory.

    • Additional eyes in a situation may notice hazards one person would not initially see.

    • Having other people around will provide faster support in the event of an emergency.

  • Limit access and exposure to all chemicals, regardless of toxicity

  • Keep the laboratory work area clear of clutter. This will reduce the possibility of an accident.

Engineering Controls (Environmental Settings and Considerations) reduce or prevent exposure to chemicals or physical hazards. These controls can include ergonomic workspaces, ventilation and proper lighting, or the use of specific equipment and devices. Examples include the following:

  • Work in properly ventilated areas.

    • Minimize chemical exposure through consistent and proper use of laboratory fume hoods, glove boxes, or other ventilated enclosures.

  • Transport chemicals safely

    • Using secondary containers such as acid buckets or plastic totes.

    • Securing containers on carts.

  • Properly storing chemicals and wastes (including batteries).

    • Safely storing chemicals in a laboratory or stockroom requires diligence and careful consideration. Correct use of containers and common lab equipment is critical. Label these spaces accordingly.

    • Flammables should be kept in a compliant flammable liquids storage cabinet that’s installed away from any ignition sources.

  • Disposal of used waste (chemical, biological, sharps…) properly as directed by the SDS and applicable laws.

    • Use dedicated waste containers for sharps, biohazardous waste, radioactive waste, and organic chemicals.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards. PPE selection and use is determined through your workplace hazards assessment. Your PPE program should include employee training, inspection, replacement of damaged or worn-out PPE, and monitoring for continued effectiveness of your PPE choices.

Examples of personal protective equipment include protective clothing (aprons, lab coats), hand protection (nitrile gloves at minimum), and eye protection (chemical splash goggles and safety glasses). PPE is worn in addition to appropriate street clothing, which includes long pants (or equivalent) that cover legs and ankles and non-perforated, closed-toe shoes that completely cover the feet.

Some hazards require additional PPE (such as UV-absorbing glasses when using a UV light sources. Safety Data Sheets are a good resource for recommended personal protective equipment when working with hazardous chemicals.


It is essential to react promptly and deliberately to emergencies, Laboratory personnel should learn what to do in various emergencies and be prepared to act accordingly – for example, fires, injuries, and spills. Safety devices such as showers, eye washes, fire extinguishers, and spill kits, should be available, clearly labeled, and their use and location known to all those working in a laboratory. Emergency phone numbers, alarms, escape routes should be clear to everyone, and emergency numbers posted on the lab door.

  • Encourage personnel to always be alert and proceed with caution when in the laboratory.

    • Any unsafe conditions should be immediately notified to the supervisor.

    • Reports should also be made if an instrument or piece of equipment fails during use or isn't operating properly.

  • Plan how your program will address spills or failures.

    • Document and provide training for emergency response training for accidents or injuries in the laboratory.

    • Have spill response kits immediately accessible so that spills can be properly contained and disposed of.

    • Have a selection of tongs or other mechanical devices that can be used to clean-up broken glass.

  • Provide for, map out, and label the locations and operating procedures for all safety equipment. This includes eyewash stations, safety showers, first aid kits, fire extinguishers, alarm pulls, and defibulators.



Safety is the number one priority. Laboratory personnel, staff, and volunteers should be expected to operate in a safe and productive manner. Work should always be pre-planned. All safety and emergency procedures should be known and followed. Within the laboratory everyone should practice good housekeeping and personal hygiene. Chemicals will be used safely, and all dangerous activity or situations must be reported. To further assist your program, keep its staff and volunteers safe, here are some general health and safety themes to share.

The most important lab safety rule, “Follow the instructions!” Whether it's listening to your supervisor or following a Standard Operating Procedure, it's critical to listen, pay attention, and be familiar with all the steps, from start to finish, before you begin. If you are unclear about any point or have questions, get them answered before starting, even if it's a question about a step later on in the protocol. Know how to use all of the lab equipment before you begin.

Why is this the most important rule? If you don't follow it:

  • You endanger yourself and others in the lab.

  • You could easily ruin your experiment.

  • You put the lab at risk of an accident, which could damage equipment as well as harm people.

Plan your work.

  • Before conducting any lab work, you should access the hazards related to the work, including what are the worst possible things that could go wrong, how to deal with them, and what are the prudent practices, protective facilities, and equipment necessary to minimize the risk of exposure to the hazards.

  • Always know the hazards of the materials you are using (e.g., corrosivity, flammability, reactivity, and toxicity). Read the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for information on all chemicals you plan to use. Make sure all Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is on hand.

  • Skin contact should always be avoided. Avoid inhalation of chemicals and never “sniff” to test chemicals. Inspect equipment and apparatus for weaknesses, cracks, or damage before beginning work.

  • Never lift glassware, solutions, or other types of apparatus above eye level.

  • Never use mouth suction to fill a pipette or siphon.

  • Inspect electrical equipment and cords for frayed wiring or damage before use.

  • Ensure you are fully aware of your facility's/building's evacuation procedures.

  • Make sure you know where your lab's safety equipment—including first aid kit(s), fire extinguishers, eye wash stations, and safety showers—is located and how to properly use them.

    • Not sure where safety equipment is located? Review lab safety signs and look for them before starting an experiment.

  • Know emergency phone numbers (or where they are posted) to use to call for help in case of an emergency.

Stay focused and aware of your surroundings.

  • A lab can be a very busy environment. Researchers are working side by side on differing projects that can have different hazards. It is important to be aware of your surroundings and the work that is going on around you.

  • Work with purpose. Labs can also be an environment filled with distractions. When working with hazardous material it is critical that you focus on what you are doing and try to eliminate distractions.

  • Avoid using headphones. Listening to music while doing repetitive work can be relaxing but it eliminates one of your five senses used in situational awareness. If you cannot hear what is going on around you, it is possible to miss the sound of a glass container breaking or a warning from a colleague. To better hear what is around you, try listening to music at lower volume, or with only one ear covered.

The Safety Ethic

I value safety, work safely, prevent any risk-behavior, promote safety, and accept responsibility for safety. I will…

  • Conduct myself in a responsible and professional manner at all times.

  • Dress for work in the laboratory. Wear clothing and shoes that cover exposed skin and protect you from potential splashes. Tie back long hair, jewelry, or anything that may catch in equipment, open containers, or jars.

  • Practice good personal hygiene. Washing hands after removing gloves, before leaving the laboratory, and after handling a potentially hazardous material.

  • Never eat food, drink beverages, chew gum, apply cosmetics (including lip balm), or handle contact lenses in the laboratory.

  • During normal operations, not work alone in a laboratory setting.

  • Always wear appropriate PPE.

    • Remove Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as gloves and lab coats before leaving the lab.

    • Remove gloves before handling common items like phones, instruments, door knobs, etc.

  • Keep all work areas clean and uncluttered. Wipe down benches with cleaners or disinfectants regularly.

  • Never use lab equipment that you are not approved or trained by your supervisor to operate.

  • Never leave active experiments unattended

  • Report when any accident, injury, exposure to a chemical, or a spill occurs no matter how trivial the accident, injury, or release may appear.

    • If you are splashed in the face, use running water from an eyewash station or emergency shower for at least 15 minutes or until emergency assistance arrives and provides you with different instructions.

This generic safety ethic outline can be adapted to suit your program's needs.



The information provided in this message are for general informational purposes only. Any information about providers and services contained on this website does not constitute endorsement or recommendation.


4 Essential Steps for Keeping Flammable Liquids in the Laboratory

Battery Safety:

CDC Laboratory Safety Portal: Laboratory Safety

  • Competency Guidelines for Laboratory Professionals

CDC Laboratory Safety Training

  • Laboratory Communications Toolkit

General Lab Safety (Video)

Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS)

Identifying and evaluating hazards in research laboratories : guidelines developed by the

Hazards Identification and Evaluation Task Force of the American Chemical Society's

Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Laboratories

  • Standards - There are several specific OSHA standards that apply to laboratories as well as other OSHA standards that apply to various aspects of laboratory activities. This section highlights OSHA standards and documents related to laboratories.

  • Culture of Safety - With the promulgation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Laboratory standard (29 CFR 1910.1450), a culture of safety consciousness, accountability, organization, and education has developed in industrial, governmental, and academic laboratories. Safety and training programs have been implemented to monitor the handling of chemicals from ordering to disposal, and to train laboratory personnel in safe practices. A crucial component of chemical education for all personnel is to nurture basic attitudes and habits of prudent behavior so that safety is a valued and inseparable part of all laboratory activities throughout their career.

  • Hazard Recognition and Solutions - The laboratory environment can be a hazardous place to work. Laboratory workers are exposed to numerous potential hazards including chemical, biological, physical and radioactive hazards, as well as, musculoskeletal stresses. Many workers are unaware of the potential hazards in their work environment, which makes them more vulnerable to injury. The following references provide links to indices of occupational hazards associated with laboratories.

Prudent Practices in the Laboratory

Reducing risks in a laboratory: an ergonomic approach

Stanford Environmental Health & Safety: Lab Safety

The 10 Most Important Lab Safety Rules


Erick Burres

Phone: 213 712 6862 mobile

Mailing address: Erick Burres – Clean Water Team C/O SARWQCB - 3737 Main Street, Suite 500, Riverside, CA 92501

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